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Top of the Mountain

TUCSON, AZ - FC Tucson captain Ricardo Velazco will probably see larger crowds in his future. But none of them may be bigger personally than the record-setting crowd of 2,983 that watched FC Tucson beat Albuquerque Sol FC, 1-0, to win the Southwestern Showdown and the Golden Rattler Trophy.

“I never imagined it being here in Tucson,” said the Tucson Soccer Academy product of the crowd. “I have an expectation to go pro and hopefully one day I’ll play in bigger crowds. But here in Tucson, it happens, and it was amazing.”

Added FC Tucson Head Coach Rick Schantz: “This is my field of dreams.”

Not a lot will be remembered about the match itself, a largely forgettable game with few real good chances for either side. But everyone will remember what was at stake.

With the win, FC Tucson clinched its first-ever division title in addition to winning the inaugural Southwestern Showdown. And with it being July 4, and a fireworks show to follow, FC Tucson played in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a match in the new North Stadium.

“At halftime I told the guys, ‘This is what it’s supposed to be like,’ “ Schantz said. “ ‘You want to be a pro, this is the environment you’ll have to get used to playing in.’ I told them they had to calm down and take a deep breath and pretend like there’s no one here. They all started laughing.”

FC Tucson’s lone goal came in the 68th minute. After a corner kick, the ball pinged around the inside of the 18-yard box, hitting everything and avoiding everyone at the same time. It finally fell to second-half sub Vance Rookwood, who slammed his shot into the back of the net.

“Words can’t describe how I felt, to be really honest,” Rookwood said. “I was very happy to get the goal. … We came out here and we all had it in our mind that we were going to come out here and work hard and try to clinch this division.”

Albuquerque nearly spoiled the evening in the 73rd minute. After some last-gasp defending, the ball dribbled out into open space in the box. The Sol’s Jacob Gandarilla charged into the space and blasted his shot off of the crossbar. The ball bounced straight down, the out into the box before the FC Tucson defense cleared it away.

The crowd was thrilled one last time in 77th minute, when a ball deflected off of Connor Brandt, hit the inside of the far right post and then rolled all the way along the goal line without crossing.

But FC Tucson wouldn’t need the extra insurance and a BYU tie against the Los Angeles Misioneros sealed the Mountain Division title. Even though it’s just been three years in the making, it’s a milestone achievement for Schantz.

“The division championship is what’s most important for me, not only as a head coach but also as an owner,” Schantz said. “It’s something we set out to do; to win division titles, go to playoffs and hopefully do even more than that.”

Copyright 2014 FC Tucson. All rights reserved.
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