BigShot Q&A: FC Tucson Manager – Rick Schantz

FC Tucson Manager Rick Schantz discusses the PDL, U.S. Open Cup and American soccer culture
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rick Schantz - Manager of FC Tucson (USL PDL)

Rick Schantz is currently the Manager of FC Tucson, a Premier Development League club under the USL umbrella of leagues. Schantz was successful in collegiate soccer, bringing University of Portland to the NCAA College Cup Final Four. He played minor league soccer before beginning coaching while still playing in high school.

Aside from being a head coach, you’re also the director of soccer operations for the club. Can you explain a little bit about what that entails? How much more goes into your job than just simply coaching?

RS: I am the Head Coach for FC Tucson and one of the managing members of the ownership group. John Perlman is the director of Soccer Operations. He acts as the GM and is also a managing member. We work very close together to accomplish all of the tasks required on the technical side of our franchise.

How did you first get involved with FC Tucson?

RS: [In] October of 2010, I spoke with Greg Foster on the phone regarding a meeting with a city councilman that would be about a possible soccer franchise in Tucson. Simultaneously, I had been speaking with Petar Draksin (AZ Saguaros) about the possibility of an exhibition game in Tucson with Sporting KC. Professional baseball had just left our city and a couple of stadiums were going to be left empty. It was like a perfect storm. Greg and I both thought we could have exhibitions games to help finance FC Tucson, our dream.

How much do you balance training your players to compete in the PDL and preparing them for future upper-level clubs?

RS: Since we play in a developmental league, FC Tucson does spend a large amount of time working on the strength, speed and technical aspects for each individual player. At the same time, with the season being so short, it is tough to build a “team.” We spend some time working on set plays and our system of play. Many of our players are very experienced and have been great in understanding what we are looking for as a coaching staff.

Going into each season, managers set certain goals for their clubs. What are some of the goals you set for FC Tucson for this season? Do you have any long-term goals?

RS: I tell our players every game that I want our team to be known by one thing…we are going to out work every opponent. Our work rate and desire will carry us through this season. Our goals as a franchise are to bring in the best local and national talent to compete for a National Championship. Our long-term goals are simply to improve our product so much that we build a fan base that will allow us to move up the ranks into professional soccer.

What’s the ultimate goal for any PDL club?

RS: Not to go bankrupt. PDL is a very tough business model and requires a tremendous team effort just to break even financially.

The PDL and other minor leagues have been in the national soccer news recently as a few clubs beat MLS clubs in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup 3rd Round, including the PDL’s Michigan Bucks. How closely do you follow the U.S. Open Cup?

RS: It is our belief that once you get past the top 15-20 players from MLS, most of the leagues have a very similar player pool. The difference is desire to succeed and preparation. Some PDL and other amateur teams have facilities and support to put a high quality team on the field. However, the most important element lies in the desire to compete from the smaller clubs. Each game against a higher-level team is like the World Cup Final for that minor league team.

In general, how important do you think the U.S. Open Cup is to PDL clubs?

RS: It is very important with brand recognition and possibly even revenue building. Success against higher level teams help to build community support and even find interest from sponsorships. From a competitive level, it is very important for these young players to compete with and dream of playing with those opponents some day.

Do you think MLS clubs and their head coaches are taking the USOC and minor league competition seriously?

RS: Yes, however, some of the teams have extremely full schedules and must play reserves in these games in order to compete at their highest level in league games.

What level do you think MLS reserves are at: NASL, USL PRO or PDL?

RS: MLS Reserves are a very high USL PRO quality. They are mostly full of domestic talent. NASL puts a focus on international talent and may have a different type of player. Every team has to do the best they can with the resources allowed. Ultimately, the quality of the reserves comes to development and finance.

Does a tournament like this show that the U.S. soccer pyramid needs to turn into a promotion-relegation system? Would you be in favor of that?

RS: I am in favor of promotion-relegation only because we are at the bottom of the tier system. If I were an MLS owner, I would not be excited about buying a franchise in the area of 20 million and then being relegated and replaced by a franchise that may have cost 500k or less.

What type of relationship does FC Tucson have with MLS?

RS: Very amicable. We are very supportive of MLS and of USL. Our desire to have MLS preseason in southern Arizona has been a key factor in building relationships and ideas. We believe that MLS will benefit greatly from having preseason events that will extend the length of league brand recognition.

Did FC Tucson ever consider joining the NPSL? If so, why did they choose USL’s PDL over the NPSL?

RS: We had considered it; however, on the west coast there were more teams in the USL. The USL PDL offers a level of professionalism that we desired. The opportunity to move up in the league was also very intriguing.

There are a lot of college players that compete in the PDL. Some clubs are full of them. As a manager, would you prefer college-aged players to go through the PDL, USL, etc. and develop through different leagues? Would you prefer players to go through an academy? Or would you like things to continue as they are?

RS: I believe that the U.S. soccer system is moving in the right direction. The Academy program is very important for the advanced youth player. Those academy players who do not get into MLS or other professional leagues can continue their development in the PDL and play college soccer. The restrictions of the NCAA do limit the development of some of these players. That is the area where I would like to see more cooperation.

How does the PDL benefit college players and soccer development in America?

RS: The PDL gives college players an opportunity to compete in another 16-20 games through the summer at a very high level.

Are PDL players better than college players who don’t also play on a PDL squad?

RS: Sometimes it is very circumstantial. Some players need to work camps or finds jobs. Others might find themselves in need of summer school. However, the increase in training and playing of additional competitive games definitely helps.

How can the PDL improve?

RS: In our first year, we are hardly in a position to make recommendations. Obviously, we would love to see the highest of standards for facilities and travel, but financially we understand that everyone is in a different position and all the franchises are doing their very best.

If you could change a few things about U.S. Soccer, what would they be and why?

RS: I would try to make the entire youth soccer system less expensive to the player and the family who move up through the different levels. I would love to see a system in which all leagues pay a small fee to U.S. Soccer to fund the entire search for and development of the academy level player.

Can the NCAA and college soccer breed good pros for MLS and the U.S. National Teams?

RS: Yes, there are some great coaches in the NCAA. However, they are often handcuffed by the training restrictions and amount of time and funding that is allowed.

Do you feel that because your NCAA background, including bringing University of Portland to the NCAA College Cup Final Four in 1995, make you support players going through the college system?

RS: Yes, it does impact some of my decisions towards advice for the players. However, a very small percent of players even have the ability to make it at the pro level. And, in this country an education is very valuable. If soccer can help pay for a students college education, then maybe it is more advantageous to that individual. Each player I deal with is on a case-by-case basis.

What other PDL club does FC Tucson aspire to be like?

RS: We feel that we are setting very high standards and wish all other clubs the very best. However, our aspirations are to be equivalent to that of an MLS franchise. We have learned so much by talking to MLS coaches, like Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis and others who have spent time in Tucson. It is their recommendation that drives our goals for our franchise.

Which PDL clubs consistently play good soccer?

RS: There are so many good players in the PDL. Any given team can win on any given day. I do expect that any of the teams that are connected to an MLS franchise should have a certain continuity that will allow them to play at very high levels.

Do warm weather cities like Tucson have an advantage over colder weather cities who maybe can’t train outdoors the entire season?

RS: Unfortunately, during the best weather months in Tucson, many of the players are in college and not available to train. However, we do have the ability to gather players to compete with MLS team during the pre-season. That is an advantage. On the flip side, it is generally 100 plus degrees throughout the entire season. That forces us to train at very odd hours and is a disadvantage. We are blessed to have one of the finest training facilities in all of the PDL so our players can get fitness and treatment during the hottest hours of the day.

FC Tucson is in the same division as the Fresno Fuego, who made into the second round of the Open Cup. Is that a goal - making the Open Cup and pushing through to another round?

RS: Of course. We are striving to win our division, not only to get into the U.S. Open Cup, but also to win a National championship. We want our players to get as much visibility as possible to hopefully pass them on the next levels.

Also in your division are the BYU Cougars, an actual college side in a professional league. Do you support them being in the PDL?

RS: We just recently played against BYU. They have an excellent facility and a very strong team. We are very pleased to have BYU in our league. They have set a very high bar for PDL franchises that we should all aspire to achieve.

What team would you consider to be Tucson’s main rival? What do you make of the rivalry?

RS: We have had two very spirited games with Fresno Fuego. Being that they won the franchise of year award last season, they are naturally someone we chose to emulate. That competition between franchises should spill onto the field. Also, both cities are very similar. Since we are only beginning our franchise, I am not sure if this would be considered a rivalry. Who knows, maybe after our next game we will have a rivalry with Ogden.

In your opinion, is Tucson a good soccer market? Why or why not?

RS: Tucson is a great soccer market. Not only do we have a very large Hispanic contingent, Tucson is also without any professional sport. In the future we would love to have a stadium that our city would be proud of and hopefully develop some of our youth players to make it to MLS. The million people that make up Tucson are ready to have something they can call their own. The city is tired of being the younger sibling to Phoenix.

Can you talk a little bit about FC Tucson’s building of a Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS)?

RS: We have become very knowledgeable with changing baseball fields to soccer. It is not something that is very unique. Sporting KC played in a baseball stadium for 10 years and they were very helpful with information. Rick Dressel, the team administrator for Sporting KC, has been a great friend to us. His information and support have helped us to set goals. Considering they went from a baseball stadium to Livestrong Park, maybe we will have the next generation stadium someday.

What benefits for the club come from MLS locating more and more of its preseason games in Tucson?

RS: As I mentioned before, we have the ability to ask questions to the best in our country. I have been so lucky to get to know some of the MLS coaches. Not only have they been tremendous mentors, but also they have been class acts. Having the MLS teams in Tucson has given us an up close look at how to operate a franchise [and has been a] very invaluable experience for all of our staff.

What aspirations do the FC Tucson ownership have – USL PRO (D3), NASL (D2) or even MLS (D1)?

RS: Our goal is to grow intelligently and build a franchise that could participate at any level in this country. If MLS is the top, then that is where we would like to end up.

Would an MLS club make it in Tucson? Can you ever see Tucson getting a club?

RS: If MLS were to ever expand again, I don’t think Tucson is ready. But, we are moving in the right direction. Smaller markets have been very successful in MLS. It would take the building of a soccer specific stadium and including the Hispanic community to drive attendance and support high enough to sustain an MLS franchise.

Describe your relationship with your clubs’ supporters group perfectly named Cactus Pricks.

RS: I have become close acquaintances with many of the members. Last year when were trying to get this all started I spent plenty of time with many of the Pricks. They are well-educated fans and are taking this franchise very seriously. Their efforts are moving FC Tucson to another level. We have tried to be much like the Portland Timbers and how they brought back their franchise with building a fan base prior to pushing for an MLS franchise.

Does having a fanbase help motivate the team?

RS: Every day we talk about playing for the city and the fans. The players know they have a responsibility to perform at their very best, because our fans are loyal and committed.

Should PDL clubs try harder to develop their fanbases? What can they do?

RS: Our business plan is very dependant on selling tickets and driving revenue through building a cult-like following. We have seen jersey sales go up with the increase of our fan base. I think each PDL club should put a tremendous effort into grass roots development and fan building.

What’s the most rewarding part of coaching?

RS: Seeing each player efforts rewarded with all levels of emotion. Character development is always achieved during different levels of emotion. Winning, losing and competing push these young men through all types of emotions and challenge them to build character. That development is what I enjoy most about coaching.

When does the U.S. win the World Cup?

RS: I am a fan of the U.S. I still watch the video of Bruce Arena’s run to the quarterfinals in 2002. If not for the missed call on that handball, maybe we would have won that year. I think USSF is doing everything to win now. I hope we do!


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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.