The 2019 regular season was one of highs, lows and memories for the players and coaches of FC Tucson’s women’s team.
The squad, which finished the year with a 6-1-1 record, finished atop the standings of the Women’s Premier Soccer League Desert Division with Albuquerque FC.
The home side missed the league’s postseason, thanks to goal differential (FC Tucson was +9, Albuquerque FC was +19).
The team’s playoff fate didn’t deter first-year coach Kelly Pierce’s outlook on the season, however.
“Overall, I was pretty pleased with the season,” she said. “I think having a winning in our first season together is a good feeling. I was proud of the girls. I think it was a really special group, a unique group, a committed group.”
The 2019 campaign for FC Tucson featured the mix of delirious highs and heartbreaking lows that accompany sport at any level. The team started the season with wins over Albuquerque and Players SC by a 7-1 margin, followed by a 3-0 defeat to the eventual league champs.
They rebounded from there, tying Phoenix Del Sol, 3-3, before beating FC Arizona twice, Players FC and Phoenix Del Sol to finish off a 6-1-1 campaign.
Such a consistent run stands out for midfielder Maury Urcadez, who scored a goal and tallied an assist in seven appearances this season.
Urcadez believes the team’s performance throughout the year speaks to their potential going forward in the amateur organization, with a heady mix of collegiate and local talent.
“I think we had a very successful season,” Urcadez said. “Even though we didn’t make the playoffs, we still had the same record as the team that went through. So, I think that speaks a lot about what this team can do and what we can do, building off that for next season.”
Urcadez said the WPSL, which has been around for 22 seasons, has established itself as a proving ground for aspiring players from coast to coast. Such a league is quintessential to establishing the type of talent necessary to compete and win World Cups. Current U.S. Women’s National Team members Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle are all alumnus of the league.
“I think [the WPSL] is recognized because there’s just so much talent and there’s so many great players that come through this league,” Urcadez said. “So, you always get a taste of a little bit of everything.”
Pierce understands the league better than most, having played for the inaugural FC Tucson squad back in 2012.
She understands how lofty the standard is in the WPSL, with players of all ages providing the right mixture of resolve and talent to provide a stiff challenge in matches all season long.
Pierce said what makes FC Tucson unique is the buy-in from community members, with fans coming out to Kino North Stadium for matches despite the oppressive summer heat.
Such a commitment allows players of all ages to feel a connection with the city, which allows them to find an extra boost when its needed most.
“When you play in this division or in this league, you see that everybody has that,” Pierce said. “I can say from what I’ve seen and where I’ve been and played, [Kino North] is hands-down the best facility [in the WPSL]. The environment, the atmosphere that they create and getting fans out there and putting numbers in the seats, it’s huge and I think it’s really important for the girls.”
Team captain Laura Pimienta believes the team’s success this season stemmed largely from the increased camaraderie that came from Pierce’s insight, as well as the support from fans.
“It was motivating to see so many veterans consistently show up and the young additions fill in the gaps seamlessly,” Pimienta said. “Not only was it competitive, but it was so much fun to play. I’m looking forward to next season and to see what level we can take this program to, now that we have a season under ort belt with these amazing coaches and core players.”
It’s that commitment to the sport that stands out most to Pierce, who also coaches girls soccer at Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic high school.
Pierce, who’s guided the Lancers to consecutive 4A titles, believes the squad at FC Tucson will only get better with time, and that the team’s players have a special role in communities like Tucson.
“I know these young girls in our community, it’s important for them to have role models and female role models at that,” Pierce said. “And so just to have this team out there and to give those girls something to shoot for and give them a positive role model to look up to.”
Pierce believes the evolution of the women’s game in the U.S. depends upon reaching the next generation of players, with teams like FC Tucson playing a huge role.
“I think it’s important to say that the girls appreciate all the community support they’ve gotten,” Pierce said. “I know the girls are very appreciate and moving forward, they would love for it to continue. [FC Tucson] isn’t a cheap thing to run. We have it really well, especially compared to a lot of teams that we played against. So, the more people know about it, the more people that support us or want to get involved, the better.”