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FC Tucson: Struggling men to play at home, women testing winning streak in Las Vegas

Tucsonenses, Heinz & Reveille Men's Chorus help celebrate Forever Pride Night at Kino

FC Tucson’s women’s team hope to extend their unbeaten streak on Saturday. A win in Las Vegas against Atomic City FC will mean that the team will have gone 16 matches without a loss. Only two teams in WPSL have gone unbeaten longer: West Chester, Penn.’s Penn Fusion SA and Miami’s FC Surge.

The streak has been going through the 2019 season, which means it survived COVID-19, several new opponents in the league and the constant line-up changes inherent in running a team at this level.

“We don’t have the same players every game, but we build chemistry at practice,” said veteran defender Laura Pimienta. “When it comes to game time, any one of them can step up. Sure, nerves are there, but we can lean on each other and trust each other to play well.”

That streak survived last week’s match against El Paso despite the team’s play being much like the guitar solo in Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long:” a few steps off-key. Passing was less than crisp and a frustrated late-match charge at El Paso’s keeper resulted in a yellow card that could have been worse.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” she admitted. “I watched the game with (coach) Kelly (Pierce) and it was worse than I thought.”

Pimienta has known coach Pierce for years, and serves as her assistant for the state champion Salpointe Lancers. For FC Tucson, however, she’s just a player.

“At the end of the day, as long as she’s my coach, I’m respecting her as a coach,” she said. “She’s making all the calls…I’m just another voice on the field. When I’m playing for her, I don’t think of the friendship or coaching together.”

Saturday’s opponent, Atomic City FC, has only played one match so far, a 4 - 0 drubbing at the hands of SC Del Sol in Phoenix. FC Tucson currently tops the Desert Conference Table with six points.

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'Critical errors'

While FC Tucson’s women are repeating their usual bulldozing of their conference opponents, the men are having more of a struggle. After ending May with a win over Tormenta FC, last week’s match fell into a familiar pattern of ill-discipline (six cautions for FC Tucson) and poor play in general.

“Obviously, we’re in last. I’m not going to sugar coat that,” said coach Jon Pearlman. “We are losing one-goal games. I’m not thrilled with how we’re playing… we just keep making critical errors that are avoidable.”

For a long time, players were not available due to health issues, but the line up Pearlman wants is in place and there has been relative improvement. The team has lost matches, to be sure, but the score lines have been close. The last time a team won against FC Tucson with more than a one-goal margin was April.

Still, “almost” doesn’t give you points on the table.

“We have a bunch of guys who want to win and really just love competing,” he said of his squad. “We have just lost the plot on a few occasions and lost the plot.”

It would be easy to blame the woes of the team on refereeing: a good tackle at midfield that could result in a good counterattack gets whistled, otherwise legal defensive play gets a caution causing the player to be a bit more timid for the rest of the match or a run-of-the-mill contact results in a second yellow. Referees in USL League One being mistake-prone and inexperienced is a common complaint among coaches in the league, but Pierluigi Collina is not going to be reffing third-division American soccer.

“We have referees that are very quick to go to yellow in this league and you have to be aware of that,” said Pearlman. “I don’t want to argue about refs. Refs don’t put the ball in the back of the net against us.”

“It’s about understanding how they ref in this league and adjusting for that,” he added.

Saturday night’s match is against Union Omaha, who are in the middle of an impressive U.S. Open Cup run where they already beat Chicago Fire FC. In USL League One, they have been a bit more earthbound. The team is only three points ahead of FC Tucson and has only won one match since May. They feature Nogales native John Scearce in midfield.

Forever Pride Night

Saturday’s match kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be Forever Pride Night. The match ball will be presented by Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz and the national anthem will be sung by the Reveille Men’s Chorus.

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LBGTQ+ issues have figured into American soccer over the last couple of years. Watchers of the game have seen a raft of out and proud players, particularly in the women’s game, as well as controversies over the homophobic “puto” chant and a recent Phoenix Rising FC playoff run derailed by an on-field slur.

The conversations have been happening around soccer, the fanbase of which tends to be younger and more on the liberal side of things, but it’s part of a broader move for players and teams to be more socially aware.

“Sport has a real opportunity to be an advocate for communities that have been underserved and underheard. We want to make sure we represent in a positive way,” said Pearlman. “Soccer wants to be inclusive. It’s had its moments of chants that are unsavory, but FC Tucson has not had a tradition of that. We want to keep moving society forward. People from all walks of life play soccer. We want the LBGTQ+ community to support us. We want everyone in the world to be kind, and that starts at home.”

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FC Tucson

FC Tucson defender Laura Pimienta