FC Tucson falls hard to Kitsap Pumas in championship
Old Pueblo boys had few answers against physical team; ended game with 8 players
FC Tucson’s run in the Premier Development League playoffs ended with a loud thud against a physical and confident Kitsap Pumas squad Saturday night. By the time the match was over, Tucson was down three goals and three players.
It was only the team’s third defeat in PDL competition, and their first since June 21.
It didn’t take long for things to go wrong. Only seven minutes into the match, Kitsap defender Cory Keitz made it upfield and got free enough of Tucson’s defense to take a pass and score the first goal for his team.
One goal down is not an insurmountable lead by any stretch, and FC Tucson had a chance to even it up. Ricardo Velazco, Christian Volesky and Connor Brandt all had looks at goal, but were not able to connect.
It seemed that FC Tucson could even things up, especially since by half time, two of the toughest minded Kitsap backs were riding on yellow cards for violent play. It only took 10 minutes into second frame for Miguel Gonzalez to extend Kitsap’s lead.
FC Tucson head coach Rick Schantz had already changed things up, forward Vance Rookwood replaced Odaine Sinclair. It would normally have been a good substitution, Rookwood’s speed and nose for the goal in place of the holding and distributing Sinclair, but Tucson found few paths through the midfield and their frustration was showing.
A third goal, this time by Justin Ortinau, put the win further out of reach for Tucson.
There was nearly a half hour left. A team can score three in 30 minutes. Hopes for that were dashed when Tommy Ramos, a late-game sub, took down a Kitsap defender. He was shown a straight red card, and his team would have to figure out a way to play with 10 men.
A confusing moment nearly gave FC Tucson some hope. A red was shown to Kitsap's Keitz for a hard foul. After several minutes of confusion that included consultation with both of the linesmen and a possibly fine-inducing mass confrontation that involved the Kitsap coach, the card was rescinded for the only thing allowable under FIFA rules: the referee mistook Keitz for another guy.
Ramos ended up not being the only FC Tucson player to have to leave the match. Rookwood was shown a red late in the match, and a late-game injury to Ricardo Velazco happened with no substitutions left for the team. The match ended with Velazco on a side line trainer’s table in visible agony, and his eight-man team metaphorically limping off the field with him.
After the match, coach Schantz said that Kitsap was “fantastic” and “well organized.”
“The early goal maybe took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” he said. “Christian (Volesky) may have been fouled and we got hit on a counter attack. Unfortunately, it’s what you’ve got to deal with.”
It wasn’t the best performance from his team, but in post-game comments to the team, he looked at the work that they did all summer.
“I told them any of them that don’t sign pro contracts are welcome back on the team,” he said. “It was a great year. I am not going to let one performance against a great team impact us as a franchise or organization. We had a record-setting year with wins and we won our first two playoff games.”
They all can come back, but not all are expected to. Connor Brandt, who has had 8 goals in 22 starts in his two seasons with the team, will be entering his senior year at the University of San Diego this year. He has his eyes set on a pro career after that.
“I’d like to push on and play at a high level,” he said after the match. “This is a strong level to begin with, a great stepping stone. I’ve got my senior year, then hopefully I’ll get drafted by MLS.”
“It’s not like anywhere else,” he said about his time with Tucson. “We have the best complex, the best stadium, the best fans.”
Some of those “best fans,” member of supporters’ club Cactus Pricks, continued chanting after the match until they were politely asked to go home by deputies of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.