Football Soccer Ball In Goal

Back in the late 1990s, I was coaching girls’ basketball at Amphi High. We were in the midst of a championship season (as it turns out, the only one in that particular sport in the school’s history), and I was feeling pretty good about things. I happened to mention to the athletic director that perhaps girls’ basketball, after many—MANY—down years, was poised to join the legendary Vern Friedli’s football and Corey Morishita’s girls’ volleyball as an elite program on campus. The AD, John Ryan, asked, “Have you seen the boys’ soccer team?”

I hadn’t, so that night, after basketball practice was over, I went out to the football field. I remember it being really cold, although that probably meant that it was in the mid-40s. Some hardy folks (mostly parents) were huddled in the stands, trying to keep warm with kerosene-powered portable heaters. 

The kids from Amphi on the field that night didn’t need any help keeping warm. They were running circles around their opponents, scoring almost at will. After the game, I went up and introduced myself to the coach, Dave Cosgrove. He was all-in on soccer, coaching the Pima College team during the fall and Amphi in the winter. He would later start the Tucson Soccer Academy. I congratulated him on how well-coached his team was. He was very gracious and then he asked me if I was a soccer fan. I said no, because…you know, I’m an American.

He laughed and then I asked him about the only soccer game I had ever seen. In the 1974 World Cup championship game, Germany faced off against upstart The Netherlands. The Dutch were led by the legendary Johan Cruyff and they played Totaalvoetbal (total soccer), where everybody went on offense and everybody got back on defense. It was like a full-court press and fast-break in basketball and it was fun to watch. 

Using that unorthodox system, the Dutch went from near-total obscurity to within one game of being World Cup champions. They got to the knockout round in the ’74 World Cup, where they pounded Argentina, 4-0, then beat East Germany and Brazil by identical scores of 2-0. The Dutch scored an early goal against Germany, but the Germans, led by Franz Beckenbauer, came back for a 2-1 win.

I watched the game via closed-circuit TV at the Fabulous Forum, the then-home of the Los Angeles Lakers. (I went with a friend whose parents had been born in The Netherlands.) The place was sold out and they had heavy security separating the German fans from the Dutch. It was crazy.

What turned me off was that, after the game, all of the soccer know-everythings in the world, chimed in with, “See, I told you that Total Soccer wouldn’t work.” It was so lame. Using a revolutionary system had allowed the equivalent of the old Tucson Toros to meet the New York Yankees for the World Series title. But because they lost the final game, the system was abandoned and almost nobody has used it since.

Coach Cosgrove was really cool to me that night and I became a fan of his team. I followed him until he left Amphi in 2002 and I continue to root for his Pima College teams to this day.

What he has done at Pima is absolutely phenomenal. For as far back as anyone can remember, Yavapai College in Prescott had dominated junior-college soccer in Arizona. Year in and year out, the Yavapai roster consisted of foreign athletes, many of them seasoned athletes in their 20s. Cosgrove would have to counter with 18- and 19-year-olds, almost all of them from Tucson. Each year, the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference was allowed to send only one team to the national tournament and that one team was almost always Yavapai.

Cosgrove’s program caught up with Yavapai and then moved past it, bringing a national championship to Pima College in 2018. Then, a couple weeks ago, they won another one. Adding to the sweetness of the victory was the fact that rooting them on in that final game were the women from Pima College, who had also reached the national championship game. Pima’s women lost a heartbreaker in a shootout.

It was the first time in NJCAA history that the men’s team and the women’s team from the same school had both reached the national championship game. And judging by the level of excellence achieved by Cosgrove and his counterpart on the women’s program, Kendra Veliz, it might not be the last time.

A cynic once said that soccer is the next big thing in America…and it always will be. And while it will probably never rise to prominence in the United States, at Pima College it’s not the next big thing.

It’s the Big Thing. 

EXTRA POINTS: The high-school football season came to an end for northwest teams when Canyon Del Oro fell to Glendale in the Class 4A quarterfinals on Friday night… The Dorados, who started the regular season with three straight losses before rebounding to win six of their final seven regular-season games,   hung close for much of the game before falling, 38-27… Local prep teams are making the transition to winter sports, with competition getting underway in girls and boys basketball, girls and boys soccer, and girls and boys wrestling… Mountain View, Flowing Wells, Canyon Del Oro, and Marana will all be fielding girls’ wrestling teams this season… The Flowing Wells girls’ basketball team reached the Class 5A State championship game last year and is looking to make a deep run in the playoffs again this year… The Cabs were the only northwest team to advance to the state playoffs last year…

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