No rest for Tucson footy fans: Preseason soccer isn't over
Schantz: FC Tucson benefitting from publicity, longer run up to PDL season
The last Desert Diamond Cup team vacated the Old Pueblo early last week leaving only one soccer team still doing preseason in Tucson: our own FC Tucson.
FC Tucson’s preseason began with a scrimmage in January against the New England Revolution and it will last until their first scheduled match in the Premier Development League, a Cinco de Mayo contest in California against the Fresno Fuego.
Only one other PDL team in the Southwest Division, the Ventura County Fusion, can boast of such a long run-up to their season. Like FC Tucson, the Fusion’s February was full of practice matches against Major League Soccer teams.
In addition to giving the team more practice against some tough opponents, the preseason schedule has given FC Tucson another advantage.
“You play MLS teams, it attracts attention,” says Rick Schantz, head coach of FC Tucson, who says that players “from around the country” are contacting the team.
FC Tucson’s longer preseason enables them to get a better look at those players, too. Instead of bringing in a player based on a résumé and game video, Schantz can do something that usually only top flight teams are able to do: bring the players in as try-outs.
“We can say get on a plane so we can watch you for a week,” he said.
FC Tucson vs. the Eddies
FC Tucson’s preseason continued Saturday against FC Edmonton, a Canadian second division team known to fans as the “Eddies.” The match ended in a 1-1 draw, with the Eddies' only goal coming from a mishandled pass back from an FC Tucson defender.
Even without a win, Schantz is seeing something good from FC Tucson as they get ready for the PDL season.
“The team is a bit more experienced, more high caliber,” he said comparing the team to last year’s line-up.
“It’s a professional team, we’re proud of our performance against them,” he added. “If that’s where we’re at, I’m pretty happy.”
Sanchez returns to Tucson
The game marked the FC Tucson debut for Travis Sanchez. The former Pima Community College standout has played for two years at Oregon State. He recently returned to Tucson and will be completing his degree online.
Sanchez didn’t score in the match against the Eddies, but scored an important goal against UCLA in 2009. That goal tied up the match and it was the first time the Beavers earned a point against the Bruins.
We didn't say over the hill
The game also served an important purpose for Schantz, a chance for him to whittle down the number of “over-age” players on the team.
The rules for the Premier Development League allow only eight players over the age of 23 on the roster, which in turn has a maximum of 26 players. A PDL rule mandating two players 17 and younger is no longer in effect, according to an email from the league.
Schantz brought in several over-age players to bolster the lineup to provide good competition against MLS teams. Now is the time to figure out who he wants to stay with the team.
“I’ve narrowed it down to six or seven of the over-age players,” he said.
The core of players, over-age and otherwise, will be supplemented by college players, like Minh Vu and Glenn Vass, returning to Tucson at the close of the school year.
When that happens, says Rick Schantz, “This team is going to be pretty dangerous.”
From Trinidad to Tucson to Thailand to ...?
One over-age player that was on the roster was Kareem Smith. The former Trinidad and Tobago defender played in tune-up matches against New England and San Jose and his leadership in the defense kept Tucson in those games despite being over-matched.
He left the squad on the eve of the match against Kansas City to try his fortunes with a team in Thailand.
He’s back, but only temporarily, as he considers offers from other teams.
Toia gets a second chance
Another player that made the squad this weekend was former Real Salt Lake player Donny Toia. Toia scored the teams lone goal against the Eddies.
Toia is a Tucsonan who had come up through the RSL academy system, but was cut from the team last month.
Schantz is happy to help Toia get another chance, but wants him to be able to move on.
“We’re hoping that he doesn’t stay with us long,” he said.
He’s already getting looks from the USL-Pro team Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Riverhouds have historically been one of the better regarded teams in the USL, and made the semi-finals of the playoffs last year.
So, FC Tucson is a temporary stop for Toia? Schantz hopes it is for him and many other players.
“We don’t want to be the stopping point,” he said. “We want to be the launching pad.”
The pre-season continues for FC Tucson when they face Arizona Western College at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Kino Sports Complex. The public is invited.