FC Tucson Women beat Phoenix del Sol 1-0 Tuesday night at Kino Stadium to improve the team’s record in the Pac South Conference Desert Division to 6-1-1, but a controversial decision by the league to hand the division title over to Albuquerque FC last week put an end to the dreams of a post season berth.
Both squads ended with the same record (and points) and they split their two matches so the league went with goal differential as the tiebreaker but, up until recently, Albuquerque had two ties on their record which would have given Tucson the outright championship.
A match scheduled in June between Albuquerque and Players SC of Las Vegas never took place so the result was recorded as a tie until league officials stepped in and changed the result to a win for Albuquerque.
“I would have preferred the league to have them play each other and decide that outcome in a game,” said first-year head coach Kelly Pierce. “We played at Albuquerque (June 9) with six high school players and we lost 3-0 and that appears to be the difference but I think this is the best record our team has had and we are looking towards the future now.”
Tucson opened up the season with a 2-1 win over Albuquerque but an ever-changing lineup, filled with standouts from the University of Arizona, former local high school standouts, and current high school standouts, meant Pierce never really knew who was going to be available for the next match, especially with the prep athletes competing for various high-level club teams in the summer.
At one point, Pierce had Maci Bernier and Flavia Burrell on the pitch at the same time against Phoenix. Bernier just came off her freshman season at Salpointe and Burrell will be a junior at Catalina Foothills in a month or so. Granted, Bernier was the Southern Arizona Freshman of the Year and Burrell was a First Team Southern Arizona keeper, but there’s a huge difference between a 15-year-old and a group of women with ten years of growth and experience on you. At least there should be.
Burrell came away with seven saves on nine shots to secure the match for Tucson and Luz Duarte hit a penalty kick in the 87th minute to give Tucson a share of the Division title.
As usual, Tucson displayed a superior ability to get shots off and ended the match with a 17-9 advantage, but the ability to finish has been another characteristic of this team. Paloma Teran slammed the upper crossbar in the 25th minute and one could feel Tucson was the better the better squad but it didn’t come to fruition until Maury Urcadez was taken out by the Albuquerque keeper in front of the goal to set up Duarte’s game-winner.
Duarte, like the veteran she is, stepped in and calmly put the ball away.
“I haven’t played in four years and this was a difficult year for me,” Duarte said. “I had a back injury and I thought I’d try to come back and play and I’ve been getting better and better as the season went on. Hitting that last goal meant a lot to me. I’m so grateful for Kelly for giving me this opportunity and it’s really important to know that she understands how we are feeling; she knows what we are going through and she is a calming voice for us.”
Pierce, also the current head coach at Salpointe, earned All-WPSL honors as a defender for Tucson in 2014, was named to the All-West Team and she earned Pacific South All-Star honors playing for Tucson under her mentor and predecessor Amy Garelick.
“I’ve known Luz for a while and I’ve played against her,” Pierce said. “I knew how good she was and I knew she would grow in our atmosphere. We are lucky to have her and I can’t wait to see who will be coming back.”
Tucson, like Duarte, started to get on a roll just as the season was coming to a close. Dominating a league, despite having a revolving roster, is a testament to the coaching ability of Pierce and her staff, Sou Torres, Katie Coleman and Charlie MacCabe. Plus, the overwhelming gratitude and appreciation the players have for Pierce is indicative of a program that will continue to rise in stature.
Luz Duarte set a single season record for goals at Catalina as a junior before she switched over to help take Pueblo to the state playoffs in 2014.
Duarte played with two Mexican National youth teams in 2012 and 2013 before moving up to the National Team in 2014 where she scored two goals to help the Mexican National team take third at the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship held in the United States. She also faced the US Team at that qualifying tournament.
She went on to play with the Yuma Strikers FC (Arizona Strikers) along with former Sahuaro standout Leilani Skinner in 2015.
Her former Catalina teammate, Madison Irwin, broke Duarte’s scoring record with the Trojans and Irwin also played for FC Tucson Women and Team USA at the World University Games.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at email@example.com