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Finding footy during COVID: FC Tucson opening season in Ft. Lauderdale

Note: This story is more than 2 years old.

Finding footy during COVID: FC Tucson opening season in Ft. Lauderdale

Coach Galas preparing squad for a possession-oriented style

  • FC Tucson midfielder Raheem Somersall (in red) trains at Kino Sports Complex. Somersall, a St. Kitts and Nevis international, is returning for a second season at FC Tucson.
    FC TucsonFC Tucson midfielder Raheem Somersall (in red) trains at Kino Sports Complex. Somersall, a St. Kitts and Nevis international, is returning for a second season at FC Tucson.

FC Tucson will open an abbreviated USL League One season with a match in Florida against Fort Lauderdale CF on Saturday at 4 pm.

“Everyone is buzzing to get started,” said forward Shak Adams, a new signing for the team. “We’re all excited and ready to go.”

The late start for the season is, of course, due to coronavirus precautions. Closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic hit just as the country’s soccer leagues were starting play. The two top leagues, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, opted for having a “bubble.” Their teams played in a single location where players could be segregated from possible infection and be monitored.

It wasn’t perfect. The NWSL’s Orlando Pride and MLS’s FC Dallas and Nashville SC withdrew from the tournaments after players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. NWSL’s championship match will be played this weekend and MLS ended tournament group play this week.

United Soccer Leagues, which is the umbrella for men’s lower-division soccer, chose instead to play with teams having a somewhat normal home and away schedule. The USL came to an agreement with their players association in June that includes provisions for players getting paid should games not go on as scheduled, and health protocols.

USL League One, which includes FC Tucson, has scheduled a season that includes one game against each other team in the league. They had an abbreviated training schedule which included three inter-squad matches. It comes as no surprise that the team has had to take precautions.

“We’re on a testing protocol that allows us to get results and keep guys on the field,” said coach John Galas. “We’ve been really fortunate that we haven’t had any guys test positive yet.”

Travel has always been a problem for FC Tucson. Tucson is the westernmost franchise in a league that has half its clubs in East Coast states. With the closest other team playing outside of Dallas, the team relies on air travel.

“We have certain protocols in place…measures we have to take when we travel in airports,” he said. “Unfortunately, we can do as much as we can to mitigate risk, but we are flying on commercial airlines. It’s a crap shoot.”

'The Sexiest Football You've Ever Seen'

FC Tucson has already had a chance to see what Ft. Lauderdale looks like. The club, coached by former Major League Soccer scoring ace Jason Kreis, opened their season last week against the Greenville Triumph. They lost that match 2 – 0. Team captain Servando Carrasco, husband of women’s national team standout Alex Morgan, managed only one shot.

Tucson fans that came out last season will recognize a few returning names. Erik Virgen, goalkeeper Carlos Merancio and Tucson native A. J. Valenzuela will all be taking the field for the local side this year. The team will also be a bit more stable. The team will still have loan arrangements with Phoenix Rising FC, but the constant movement of players up and down I-10 won’t be happening.

The level of independence means that the team will be freer to make its own decisions about line-ups and tactics. Galas joked about what sort of style the team will play.

“It’ll be the sexiest football you’ve ever seen,” he said.

A silly answer, but he also recognizes one of the issues with last year’s team. They often couldn’t dominate the possession battle, even at home. In the season’s final game, their possession percentage was a dismal 34 percent.

“We will keep the ball. This is something that it non-negotiable,” he said. “The longer we keep the ball, the less time we have to take chasing the ball.”

Saturday’s match has been moved to 4 p.m. Tucson time after Broward County implemented new health restrictions. It can be seen on ESPN+.


In January, Nashville SC drafted Shak Adams. He showed well in a preseason match against Swedish club IF Elfsborg. Nashville coach Gary Smith told the Tennessean that Adams was “determined” and had “ridiculous pace."

Unfortunately for Adams, he was competing for a spot with experienced players like David Accam and Dominique Badji. He was not signed by the club.

Fortunately for his soccer career, Adams was signed by FC Tucson on February 27. The choice was easy for him as it meant a reunion with Raheem Somersall, a onetime teammate at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“A lot of my teammates have played professionally. They talked to me about the what the best things have been that they’ve done so they can get re-signed,” he said. “Raheem was my teammate in my junior year…I use him as a mentor. I’m hoping he can give me a good idea about what’s best for my career.”

Adams noted that the possession-oriented style that Galas has been working on matches up well with his time at FGCU, where he scored 26 goals.

“I’m not going to change my game much,” he said. “This is more about me putting pressure on my opponent. They don’t know who I am yet. I’ll get a head start on them.”

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