Get to know USL League One’s desert dweller: FC Tucson.
The inaugural season of USL League One kicks off this week. With it brings FC Tucson’s first season as a professional club. Dubbed “FC Tucson 2.0” by members of the front office, the coming season is 28 matches long and promises a higher level of competition. FC Tucson plays its matches at the soccer-specific Kino Sports Complex North Stadium, which seats 2,900. Here’s your crash course on the club from southern Arizona.
Starting in 2011, FC Tucson played eight seasons in the PDL, the recently re-branded USL league Two. In that time, they won the Mountain Division four consecutive times, between 2014 and 2017. The club has also made it to the Western Conference Finals four times in their history. In the 2013 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, FC Tucson made it to the 3rd round by knocking out two professional teams, Phoenix FC and San Antonio Scorpions (NASL). In 2018, FC Tucson came under the ownership of USL Championship club, Phoenix Rising. The change in ownership came with the announcement of “promotion” to the recently announced USL League One.
FC Tucson started off their first year as a professional club by signing Sounders U-23 coach Darren Sawatzky. Coach Sawatzky is very familiar with FC Tucson as he has faced the club twice before. Both times were Western Conference Finals and both resulted in defeats for FC Tucson. If you can’t beat ‘em, sign ‘em.
Coach Sawatzky, along with Director of Soccer Operations Jonathan Pearlman, has been quietly putting together a talented squad. The players are motivated and look to challenge for the League Cup. Coach Sawatzky has said that all the guys on the team are not just technically sound, but are “character guys” on and off the field. Coach Sawatzky and Pearlman are not just building a team, but are establishing a culture.
The roster now stands at 19 players, 5 of which played under Coach Sawatzky during his time with the Sounders U-23 team. There are also 3 returning FC Tucson Alumni, including playmaker Moshe Perez, USL Championship defender Austin Ledbetter, and 2015 Team MVP Luis Martinez. The squad has plenty of professional experience, including notable USL Championship players: Kody Wakasa, Kyle Venter, Guillermo Delgado, and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu. The roster also contains international players who will make an impact this year. Raheem Somersall is a defensive midfielder who is a St. Kitts and Nevis International with 6 senior caps. Jose Carlos Terron is a Spanish defender who was brought up in Barça’s Academy and has played professionally in the Spanish 2nd and 3rd divisions.
Joining a new league comes with new challenges. One of the major challenges facing FC Tucson this season will be the travel. Given that they are one of only two Western teams, this is not unexpected. Check out Ira Jersey’s excellent article on the travel distance of USL League One teams. FC Tucson will travel around 43,000 miles this season, 18,000 more than the next closest team, North Texas SC. The stress of travel will take a toll on the team as the season progresses, especially during the summer months of June, July, and August. FC Tucson will only have 4 home matches during this stretch.
FC Tucson’s relationship with Phoenix Rising will be extremely beneficial during this time. FC Tucson should see plenty of depth added to its roster throughout the season as Phoenix Rising players will be loaned down for minutes in League One. From what I have been told, there will be regular loans between the two clubs. Coach Sawatzky has referred to the relationship between the clubs as an “integrated pyramid”. This infusion of talent will help to bolster the already strong roster that has been assembled.
FC Tucson plays their season opener at Orlando City B this Saturday at 7:30 pm ET.