FC Tucson soccer
FC Tucson victorious in home opener
CDO and Pima standout scores winning goal
FC Tucson's Donny Toia scored the team's only goal, but it was all that was necessary to defeat the visiting Southern California Seahorses on Saturday night at Kino Sports Complex. Tucson ended the soccer match on top, 1-0.
The Seahorses pressed deep into Tucson's half early in the match. It took until minute 17 for Tucson to see its first serious threat on goal with Travis Sanchez taking a header that went too high. It opened things up for the home team: The remainder of the half featured threatening shots from Toia and Thomas Iwasaki. Even defender Dominic Papa was able to get into the action with two shots.
It wasn't until near the close of the half, in minute 44 according to the official account, that Tucson scored. Toia's shot from the top of the box made it past the outstretched hands of Seahorses 'keeper Cody Suppe. Suppe didn't have time to collect the ball from the back of his net before Toia ran to the sidelines to celebrate in a rain of black and red streamers.
Tucson continued to dominate early in the second half, but couldn't score the second goal. The Seahorses regained control of the game in the last 20 minutes and had several great chances, particularly from speedy midfielder Sung Moon. Tucson held out and ended their first home match with a victory.
Change of plans
After the game, coach Rick Schantz admitted that the team didn't have the start it wanted.
"The game plan was to go high pressure, and we sure didn't do that," he said.
Schantz was forced to make one change early: Travis Sanchez scored a spectacular goal against Pali Blues, but was pulled out during the first half. The substitution was tactical, said Schantz.
"The system wasn't working. We couldn't get the ball in the middle of the park," he said. "By the change of a forward coming off and putting in a dynamic attacking center mid, it turned our midfield a more attacking midfield."
The "dynamic center mid" was Aaron Long. The team quickly took control and Toia scored his goal.
The team also lost a step or two near the end of the game. Although most of the team has been training and playing together since February, they are still trying to work in players who haven't had time to train with the squad.
"We are definitely not match fit," he said. "Four of the players came in from college. Aaron Long drove from Riverside yesterday; Max Alvarez drove in from Sacramento yesterday as well."
Even with the break downs near the end of the game, it is the second shut out in a row notched by FC Tucson.
"I was extremely impressed by their defensive work rate," Schantz said. "It's something that I'm super proud of with this group. They don't give up."
Chasing the game
Schantz may have been frustrated by the team's slow start, he may be interested to know that there were similar feelings on the other side of the field.
"It was a slow start for us," said Seahorses coach Todd Elkins, who played with the Seahorses' sister club, the Charlotte Eagles, during their championship season in 2000. "Both teams were struggling a little bit, making dumb mistakes early on in the game."
"Tucson took a hold of the game earlier than we did," he admitted. "We were chasing the game a little bit."
Elkins made a change up near the end of the match to bring more players into the attack, but he admits that his team's offense lacked an edge.
"It was frustrating because our attack is better than that. We didn't show it."
On a mission
The Seahorses are not just a soccer team, they are part of a group called Missionary Athletes International. Their goal is to spread Christianity in addition to securing a good place on the league table.
So, how does a team maintain themselves as evangelists and ambassadors with the rough and tumble of a contact sport?
"It's one of the more difficult arenas to demonstrate our faith," Elkins said.
Elkins listed some of the difficulties: "If there are times you feel you've been wronged or fouled, not to retaliate, not to think ill of a player, not to be frustrated with the referees."
"Those are some of the challenges," Elkins said. "We like that it tests us."
Goalkeeper Cody Suppe enjoys the challenges, and they are part of the reason why he went back to the Seahorses after a short stint with FC Tucson.
"I wouldn't say it's pressure," he said. "I say you have a responsibility. It's more of a privilege."
"We play the game to win with Christ at the back of our mind because he's the reason we play."
Showing the love
Donny Toia knew precisely where to run after he scored his goal. The former Real Salt Lake player ran over to the bleachers where the Cactus Pricks, FC Tucson's supporter's group, were sitting.
"When you have all these fans come out here for this first home game, you want to run out there because they are cheering as much as they can," he said. "You want to give back the love that they give you."
FC Tucson will have its second home game in a friendly match with the Phoenix Monsoon on Wednesday.