FC Tucson hits the road today to take on Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the second round of The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the longest running soccer competition in the United States and the third longest running open football tournament in the world. An Arizona team has never won the cup. Our best performance was in 2014 when the AZ United won through the 4th round before being eliminated by powerhouse LA Galaxy.
Tucson comes off of an exciting 2-0 win against against the San Diego Zest in PDL league play last Saturday. The Switchbacks, however, could be reeling from a 3-1 loss against the Whitecaps FC 2 in Vancouver, British Columbia on Sunday. Roland Vargish, in his article for Switchbacks FC, calls the Open Cup match against Tucson “arguably the perfect diversion for the Switchbacks as they look to recapture their winning ways.”
However, FC Tucson, known as “The Men in Black”, will be more than a diversion for the Switchbacks. FC Tucson is part of the PDL, Premiere Development League, the top level of amateur play in the United States. The Switchbacks are part of the USL, United Soccer league, a Division II professional league sanctioned as such by US Soccer. Some might say that puts the USL team ahead of FC Tucson, but don’t count our boys out. The PDL is where the best players go to prepare for professional play. In fact, Switchbacks FC has gotten players from FC Tucson before. Switchbacks’ central defender Josh Phillips played for FC Tucson in the 2014 season. “The Tucson program is about making pro’s,” said Phillips. “Their players have now have seen guys like me and Saeed [Robinson] and Connor [Bevans] stepping up and making our way in the USL. Fellow defender Connor Bevans also speaks highly of the Tucson club saying, “The coaching staff is great and they have great facilities. [Jon] Pearlman [FC Tucson Head Coach] is a great guy and he helped me get to where I am now. We made a deep 2013 U.S. Open Cup run at Tucson and I hope to do that now with the Switchbacks.”1
Switchbacks defender Connor Bevans has first hand experience with FC Tucson making it past the second round. In 2013 Bevans stepped off the plane the same day as his first game with FC Tucson. He was subbed in with 10 minutes to go and in half that time scored double to win the game. That run ended in the third round of the US Open Cup tournament with a loss to former MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo. “I’ve been there before,” says Bevans, “FC Tucson is for sure not a team to be taken lightly. I’ve been telling our boys, Tucson’s been there before and they aren’t afraid to do it again. You’ve got to take them as seriously as any other team.” 2
Seeing their former players play pro is what it’s all about for FC Tucson and the PDL. Tim Towles, Media Relations Director for FC Tucson told AZSoccer, “As a club, we always look to push our players and staff onto the next level, so seeing Connor and Josh in a pro setting gives us a sense of pride. Facing Conner Bevans and Josh Phillips from Switchbacks is going to be so much fun.”
Big Games Coming Up in League Play
Both teams have important league play this week. Switchbacks travel to Salt Lake to take on league rivals Real Monarchs SLC. Head Coach Steve Trittschuh hints that we might not see their top players on the pitch tonight. “We’re still in a good position in the league. We have got to be realistic about the Open Cup and give other guys chances to play – especially with all the travel we’ve had. The Monarchs are playing well so we need some of our guys rested for that match.” Regardless of the starting roster for the Switchbacks, Tucson will be in for a challenge. “A lot of guys are hungry and stepping up for us – Sean [McFarlane] for example. Sean has shown his hunger and the ability to get goals,” says Trittschuh.1
Tucson goes on to play at Albuquerque Sol FC on Saturday but Head Coach Jon Pearlman sees the importance of playing on the national stage. “The Cup is important as every game is an opportunity to develop and showcase our players,” says Pearlman. But, currently sitting in second place in the Mountain Division, will Tucson also be putting a priority on league play? “We have a balanced roster and we will put out a strong team with every intention of advancing in the tournament. We are looking forward to an excellent match vs the Switchbacks.” If the past is any indicator, Tucson will certainly come out to win. As they proved in 2013, having a deep and balanced roster can make all the difference.
A win tonight will certainly put some focus on the Tucson club. The US Open Cup is a single elimination tournament and since 1996 an MLS team has won all but one of those years. Playing at this level not only showcases players but it can bring some big names to Tucson as well. If the Men in Black advance tonight they will entertain at home. “Knowing that we would host a Third Round match at Kino provides all the motivation that we need,” says Towles. Kino Sports Complex is the Tucson FC home pitch and has seen them upset pro teams before. Kino was christened on November 15, 2013, when FC Tucson upset Major League Soccer side Chivas USA, 1-0.
Regardless of who is playing and who is resting, tonight’s game is an exciting event for football fans in the Southwest. Soccer is growing in America and many feel that Arizona is at the forefront of this growth. With a new professional team in FC Arizona and new name and branding and MLS application for Phoenix Rising FC, the future looks bright for soccer in Arizona.
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- Quotes in this article were referenced by Switchbacks FC from Roland Vargish, columnist, Vargish’s View
- Quotes in this article were taken from an article by Tucson Sentinel columnist Ted Prezelski