With two playoff spots, and possibly three, available from the Desert Conference of the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), FC Tucson Women kept in the picture on a 1-1 draw with Utah Royals FC Arizona Friday night at the Kino North Stadium.
A 2-0 loss at Arizona Arsenal Wednesday night, coupled with a 2-2 draw at El Paso Surf last Saturday, opened the door for SC del Sol (4-1) to take the lead in the conference despite losing 4-2 to Tucson on June 16. SC del Sol will take on the Royals (2-2-2) Saturday night in an important match to decide the top of the conference before Tucson visits SC del Sol next Friday night to end the regular season for Tucson.
“It’s been really difficult to be honest on the bodies” head coach Kelly Pierce said on the quick turnarounds in scheduling this summer. “We’ve had traveling coming back and forth and then going to Phoenix. We had the same thing two weeks ago. So it’s definitely difficult and challenging, especially with the older girls. Bodies don’t recover as well as the younger ones, but I’m proud of them.”
A lot of those “older bodies” have been the sustaining force and recipe for success going back to when Pierce was an All-WPSL defender a decade ago. Pierce has also surrounded herself with multiple coaches on her roster including former NAU standout and assistant Savannah Berry, who coached Flagstaff to a semifinal finish last year.
“I was Kelly’s teammate a while ago and I think being able to have those great conversations and be able to discuss opportunities and also to be able to mentor other players on the field like that plays a big role in like, why we’re here and how we’re going to continue to grow the game,” Berry said. “So I think that relationship of being able to talk about the technical and tactical stuff and her being able to tell us what she wants is great.”
Another coach on the pitch, Kourtney Kutscher, was unavailable Friday night as was former two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of Year and Arizona standout Jaden Bailey. FC Tucson Women missed the midfield opportunities Kutscher provides and the scoring opportunities Bailey provides on her targeted flip throw ins.
As it is now, SC del Sol, FC Tucson Women and Arizona Arsenal (4-3) are tied with 12 points each and the Royals have eight. Tucson is guaranteed the second spot at the moment based on a better point differential with Arsenal since both clubs split the regular season matches with each other. Several California teams are expected to turn down a playoff bid due to the pending loss of rosters with players heading back to college. If that happens, more spots will be available for other conferences. In addition, FC Tucson Women are putting in a bid to host the playoffs due to access to a stadium with seating rather than a city park.
— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) July 1, 2023
Alyssa Rankin (University High/Arizona Club) scored on a header off the foot of Kiki Stewart (Southern Utah) in the 34th minute and that goal looked like it would hold up but a defensive lapse during stoppage time of the first half allowed tying goal from Paxton Bock (SMU).
“I saw Kiki with the ball at her feet,” Rankin said. “I said, you know, hopefully she sees me. She sent a perfect ball in and I just kind of tried to get it away from the keeper and went back post.”
FC Tucson Women had several chances down the stretch, including off of two big fouls just outside the box in the final moments but the team couldn’t get a shot past Royals defender Riley Brown (Washington) and keeper Taylor Prigge (Utah). Brown’s father, Michael Brown, was a walk on for the University of Arizona football team.
Unofficially, FC Tucson Women came away with 12 shots and the Royals had nine. Maddie Smith (Salpointe/Northern Colorado) had four saves and Prigge collected seven.
On the men’s side, FC Tucson completed a two-game sweep in Southern California with a 2-0 victory over Capo FC on Wednesday and a 4-0 win over the So. Cal Seahorses Friday night to improve to 7-1-4 (4-1-4) on the year.
FC Tucson hosts Arizona Arsenal (2-5-2) Monday night. The teams played to a 2-2 draw in May. Fireworks are scheduled for after the match on Monday.
FC Tucson is in third place of the USL League Two Southwest Division behind Ventura County (7-1-1) and Redlands (5-1-2).
Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling and his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is a 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. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at email@example.com