FC Tucson locked in scoreless draw vs. New Mexico
Still things to work on for local squad after pre-season warmup
Folks who know college soccer knew the University of New Mexico Lobos were going to be a tough opponent when they came to Kino North Stadium on Saturday night to face off against FC Tucson. They were proven right. The hard-fought match ended in a 0-0 tie.
After the match, FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz admitted that his team still has some preparing to do.
“We got winded, then we got pinned back quite a bit,” said Schantz. “Tactically, we were a bit confused and I think the guys were over-thinking a bit too much.”
The Lobos quickly showed why they ended last season ranked number five in the country. Niko Hansen, who led Conference USA in goals by a freshman last year with seven, threatened FC Tucson keeper Billy Thompson in the opening minutes. Thompson was up to the task with a save in the fifth minute, but Hanson would continue to be a challenge for Thompson for the rest of the half.
FC Tucson’s first half featured Jamaican player Odaine Sinclair as a lone forward. Unfortunately for them, he got very little service as the team struggled to get the ball through New Mexico’s tough midfield.
That midfield struggle led to frustration on both sides and play got a bit more physical. New Mexico’s James Rogers appeared to kick Eli Galbraith-Knapp in the stomach in minute 39. Despite being the kicker, it was Rogers who lost his balance and crumbled to the ground. The play got Galbraith-Knapp a yellow card. The sequence infuriated FC Tucson fans, and also a contingent of New Mexico fans who were hoping for an ejection.
The second half saw some change ups for FC Tucson. Long time FC Tucson netminder Dallas Jaye replaced Thompson to give both a chance to play, while Sinclair was paired up with a second forward to create more offense.
The second forward, by the way, was one of several trialists whose names couldn’t be reported by the press during the match. His resemblance to former Phoenix FC forward Tommy Ramos is likely a coincidence.
FC Tucson’s attack was sharper, but what chances there were came from the midfielders, particularly Ricardo Velazco. Velazco combined with Andres Acosta for the only recorded shot on goal for the team when Acosta delivered him the ball in minute 78. The shot was saved by New Mexico’s Patrick Poblete.
Poblete, a bit flatfooted, tried to fall on the ball but an FC Tucson player took a shot with the rebound. Unfortunately for him, it went right to Poblete.
The match ended in a nil-nil draw. New Mexico’s spring season ended with their trip to Kino, while FC Tucson’s PDL season begins next week with a study in contrasts. They play against BYU Cougars on Thursday, and then they head to Las Vegas to play against new PDL side Las Vegas Mobsters.
'We didn't come here to defend'
At the start of the second half, Schantz abandoned the lone forward formation. In addition to the two forwards, Ricardo Velazco was called into a more offensive role. Velazco, along with Martino Rapella, spent much of the second half as an attacking midfielder. The two wing backs played up the field a bit more, leaving the two center backs alone in to break up New Mexico’s attack.
“I said ‘guys, we didn’t come here to defend and try to play counterattacking soccer,’” the coach said. “You gotta go get into ‘em. They pushed up and I thought their response in the second half was fantastic.”
All the way from Italy
FC Tucson, and most of the other teams in PDL, pick up the bulk of their players from the college ranks. Some find their way to the team through other means. Such is the case with Martino Rapella.
Rapella was spotted by sometime FC Tucson assistant coach Ron Fox playing Tucson’s Metro League. The Italian born Rapella has some experience as a professional too. He played for Calcio Lecco in Italy’s Serie D.
“I’m just like the other guys,” Rapella said despite his background. “I have my ideas. I come from a country where soccer is a religion. If I see something that’s the opposite, I try to bring my ideas.”
Rapella, and soccer fans everywhere, were appalled by the events surrounding the Coppa Italia on Saturday afternoon. Several violent clashes between supporter groups for the two teams, Napoli and Fiorentina, resulted in several Napoli fans and a plain clothes police officer being shot. It was revealed later that the fans were not shot by Fiorentina fans, but Napoli fans in the stadium nonetheless delayed the start of the game for 45 minutes by throwing flares onto the field in protest.
For Rapella, it was a reminder of the ugly side of the game in his home country.
“It’s sad,” he said. “The thing I like here is there is a huge support, but it’s healthy. Back in Italy, soccer is controlled by hooligans.”
“They say let’s damage buildings and fight the other fans,” said Keaton Koch, head of the FC Tucson supporter group, the Cactus Pricks. “That’s the one part of soccer culture that hasn’t translated to the US or Canada … which is a good thing.”
The Cactus Pricks have picked up some aspects of European soccer culture: borderline profane chants, flags, drums, large banners, but the other aspects he’d just prefer to stay away from.
“It’s all beautiful,” he said. “When it comes to destroying the cities you visit and kicking the crap out of fans, that’s not good.”
And up the road
Phoenix FC beat the Charlotte Eagles 2–1 in Peoria for their third win in a row after a shaky start. Goals came from Kadeem Dacres and Bradlee Baladez.