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KELLY: An emancipated FC Tucson trying to find its professional way

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Is the marriage between FC Tucson and Phoenix Rising FC on its way to a divorce? 

It sure looks that way. 

FC Tucson pulled out of its player development relationship with the owning-side earlier this year and new team president Amanda Powers said on Tuesday that the there’s a possibility the USL League One side could eventually be sold by the USL Championship club. 

It was just under three years ago that the ownership group of Rising FC bought the then-Premier Development League side with an eye on creating a pipeline that would allow Arizona-bred footballers an in-state path to the top of the minor league professional soccer chain. 

FC Tucson was one of the most successful PDL squads in the country. The Boys in Black won four straight division championships (2014-17) and reached the Western Conference Finals in four of their last five years in the PDL (2014, 2015, 2016, 2018). 

They established a culture of success. 

It’s success that hasn’t translated yet to the professional realm. 

FCT is still trying to figure out how to win midway through its second professional campaign. 

The Men in Black (10-16-10) have victorious results in just 28% of their first 36 professional matches. FC Tucson finished 8th in the 11-side league in 2019 and currently sits in 9th place. 

Amanda Powers talks about what it's going to take to win in USL1

Winning is important to Powers. 

She’s just the second female to ever run an American men’s soccer organization. 

It’s one of the reasons she chose to step the organization away from it’s on the field relationship with Phoenix Rising FC. 

It’s hard to win when your best players are going up and down regularly between Tucson and Phoenix. 

FC Tucson and Phoenix Rising FC although on vastly different levels had been rivals prior to the sale that brought them together. 

It’s a marriage that has never sat well with the FC Tucson fan-base. 

So even though FC Tucson is owned by Phoenix Rising, Powers says the club is essentially an independent. 

Five USL1 clubs (Fort Lauderdale CF, New England Revolution II, North Texas SC, Orlando City B, Toronto FC II) are owned by Major League Soccer franchises. 

Forward Madison SC is playing the 2020 season under an affiliation with MLS’s Chicago Fire FC after being affiliated with Minnesota United in 2019. 

David Kelly learns a little bit more about futbol every year

The other five sides Chattanooga Wolves SC, Greenville Triumph SC, Union Omaha, Richmond Kickers and South Georgia Tormenta FC play as independents. 

On the surface you would think the clubs owned by MLS organizations would have an advantage in terms of operating budgets and success. 

Last season of the four teams that made the playoffs, two (Lansing and Greenville) were independents. North Texas, which is bankrolled by the NFL Kansas Chiefs’ Hunt family, won the first league championship. 

North Texas this season however has slumped to 7th place.  

Lansing became the first USL1 organization to fold. They drew 2,700 fans per home match last season but owner Tom Dickson said 4,000 fans a night was needed to stay solvent. 

FC Tucson barely drew 1,000 fans per home match in 2019 and now is playing in the middle of a Pandemic where no fans can attend contests at Kino North Stadium.

This year the top four teams in the league (Greenville, Chattanooga, Omaha and Richmond) are all independents. 

Minor league soccer is a much different ballgame than most minor league sports.  

When Tucson had the Sidewinders (affiliated with MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks) and now the NHL Arizona Coyotes operated Roadrunners, you understood that the No. 1 goal was player development and winning came second. 

In professional soccer, even in terms of the teams that are owned by MLS clubs, winning seems to come first. 

So there’s light at the end of the tunnel for FC Tucson (2-5-1, 7 points, 9th place) as they try and figure out how to begin stacking results. 

When fans can return to the stands, drawing more at gate will be key. It’s Powers calling card. 

She arrives from the ultra-successful New Mexico United side in Albuquerque that averaged 12,700 fans last season. 

She speaks fluent Spanish and believes any path to success for this franchise must be paved with the support of Tucson’s Hispanic community. 

The club’s new motto is Fuerza Tucson. It stands for Tucson Strong.

There are eight more matches remaining this season for FC Tucson to show it can indeed be a “strong” force in this still new USL League One. 

MATCH NOTES

  • FC Tucson host New England Revolution II at 7:30 Wednesday night at Kino North Stadium. Fans can once again watch the match on the big screen at El Toro Flicks Downtown. Essential workers will be admitted to the venue at a 50% discount
  • Wednesday's match against the Revolution II is the first of four matches in the next 11 days for FC Tucson. FCT plays at North Texas SC (September 19) and then returns home for matches against Forward Madison SC (September 23) and Fort Lauderdale FC (September 26)
  • The club signed three new players this week. Spaniard Manuel Ferriol Martinez played at James Madison, Darius Lewis from Trinidad and Tobago, came up through the Philadelphia Union Academy and 20-year old Jordan Pena comes down on loan from USL Championship side Real Monarchs. He's started 10 matches for the Utah side over the last two seasons

Copyright 2020 News 4 Tucson. All rights reserved. 

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David Kelly

David Kelly is the weekend sports anchor at KVOA in Tucson. He is a 28-year veteran of the sports broadcast business.

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