FC Tucson Is Picking up Steam

June 1, 2015 |
Courtesy Pima County

Courtesy Pima County

Midfield forward David Clemens left FC Tucson last year to try his hand in the professional soccer circuit with a USL Pro development team called the Dayton Dutch Lions. But when their local soccer community failed to show them the support they needed, the team folded down to the PDL level—the level at which FC Tucson competes—and so his contract was released. And even though Clemens could have probably chosen to play for any one of the 68 PDL teams across the nation given his USL experience, thankfully, he decided to return to Tucson.

“After being in the professional division,” says Clemens, “I saw that this club was run better than some of the pro teams in terms of the facilities that they have and how professional the environment is here, so I know that if I want to continue pursuing my professional career that (Tucson) is the best place to be.” And, since he was with FC Tucson in 2013 during their impressive run in the Desert Diamond Cup that earned the team an opportunity to play against the MLS Houston Dynamo, Clemens understands the power of a well-developed PDL program probably about as well as anyone.

Now in its fourth season with the PDL following a single year as an independent soccer club, FC Tucson has built a name for itself, as well as a healthy regular fan base with the self-applied title of ‘The Cactus Pricks.’ FC Tucson’s Head Coach and Founding Partner Rick Schantz says that their 2013 season helped to “open the eyes of the sports community at large” in Tucson and that, as a result, the local soccer club is starting to feel “like another one of Tucson’s teams…It’s not just the Wildcats anymore, and it feels good,” Schantz adds, smiling. Last year, FC Tucson managed to keep the attention of the local community with a record of 11-2-1, which was the fourth best of any team in the PDL. The Desert Diamond Cup Tournament that followed saw a record 3600 fans in attendance at Kino North Stadium for the second round of play.

Hoping to catch that wave of community support, FC Tucson has also decided to incorporate a women’s team under their banner for the first time. The women’s club, which formed in 2013 as Tucson Soccer Academy FC, has actually used the facilities at Kino Sports Complex alongside the FC Tucson men’s squad from the beginning, so the change in title doesn’t come with a requirement of relocation. In that respect, FC Tucson Women’s Head Coach Amy Garelick says that “it just made sense” for the two programs to merge. The increased funding and sponsorships available under the FC umbrella also offers some very simple benefits that were previously unavailable to the women’s team, such as the ability to travel to away games the day before a match rather than the day of.

The FC Tucson Women’s Club debuted in late March at Kino North against the MLS-affiliated Portland Thorns—a team which features a number of National-level players who Garelick says will likely appear in the upcoming 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. FC Tucson Women’s Veteran Defender Kelly Pierce-Kearns says the crowd of more than 1100 at the Thorns’ game was the biggest the local women’s club has ever seen. “It’s really encouraging when you hear people cheering for you, or you score a goal and you get to celebrate and everyone in the stands is yelling with you—it’s a good feeling,” says Pierce-Kearns.

Pierce-Kearns, who is in her early-thirties, has been with the program since its inception, but before the team formed in 2013, she had no outlet to compete in the sport. Though a spot on an FC Tucson squad is technically an amateur position, Pierce-Kearns says she is just grateful “to get to play at such a high level and to be coached again”—a feeling no doubt shared by the majority of her peers.

Surely the Women’s World Cup this year will help shine a spotlight on women’s soccer in general, and that will likely mean at least a slight bump for the newly-incorporated FC program. Not only could that translate to more revenue for the often-idle sports complex, but it most definitely means more opportunities for soccer fans to catch high-level games here in town; between the men’s and women’s teams, Garelick points out that there will be a soccer game at Kino Park every weekend through mid-July. And, to the Cactus Pricks and all of the other soccer fans around Tucson, when it gets down to it, isn’t that the goal?

For more information, a complete schedule of games, and/or to get tickets to an FC Tucson match, check out FCTucson.com.


Category: Community, Entertainment, RECREATION