The Premier Development League (PDL) has been one of the most important divisions in recent years for the growth and evolution of players in the United States, providing quality talent to clubs around the country. Founded in 2010, FC Tucson have established themselves as an organization that can help guide young soccer players in their future.
FC Tucson: 2017 & beyond with general manager Jonathan Pearlman
Along with that side of the operations, the club has shown an amazing ability to host MLS pre-season action and provide a wonderful experience for all involved.
Tucson’s success on the field has been stellar as well, capturing the Mountain Division title last season (11-2-1) and defeating Burlingame Dragons FC en route to the 2016 PDL Western Conference final.
The landscape of US Soccer, and the state of Arizona especially, is a changing frontier. FC Tucson certainly sees itself as a part of this change and is ready for the new challenges ahead.
As MLS friendlies gets underway in the desert at the Kino Sports Complex, Last Word On Sports caught up with FC Tucson general manager Jonathan Pearlman to discuss what is ahead for the team.
Roy Emanuel: “What do you look forward to most about hosting MLS pre-season games?”
Jonathan Pearlman: “As a soccer fanatic and a coach for over 20 years, I really enjoy the training sessions, and speaking with managers and players. It’s great to see former members of the club as well. Justin Bilyeu and Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls were both at FC Tucson, as well as coaches who are now at the USL level.
It’s a special moment for me to watch them build their teams and learn within the game moving forward in their careers.”
RE: “Looking ahead to the coming season for FC Tucson, how important is it to win the Mountain Division again in 2017?”
JP: “For us, the standard is set very high. Just like for University of Arizona basketball, the Elite 8 is not good enough anymore. With Rick Schantz moving on to Phoenix Rising FC, we obviously have quite a challenge ahead of us.
But we have an unbelievable crew of players coming in, which we will begin to announce very soon. The returning guys will be great, and the new arrivals will bring added electricity to the roster. Many will certainly be able to shore up some of the areas where we just could not get it done last year.
After a strong season, we have a special opportunity to be successful in 2017.”
RE: “Of course there are still roster moves being made, but are there any players that you specifically think will make a big impact coming up?”
JP: “Jon Bakero is looking to come back, and how much we would have him depending on his schedule with Wake Forest is still to be determined. You saw him in the College Cup and he had a fantastic tournament. That type of player will certainly make a huge difference.
Adding depth at center-back and along the back-line is a priority as well, but I think everyone will be impressed by the attacking talent that we will be bringing in.”
RE: “How has the search been for a new head coach and have there been candidates identified?”
JP: “There has been a lot of internal talk about it, and we hoping that next week we can say a little something further. There has been a lot of focus at the moment on the pre-season and getting the roster together, but we will be looking for the right individual to guide the club forward.”
RE: “With players like Aaron Long and Donny Toia having come through the organization, what is it about FC Tucson that has seen it help develop talent over the past few years?
JP: “In the PDL, it is our job to show them a professional environment. It is important for them to understand that they are part of a larger contingency of good players around the country, and the competition is there. It’s about challenging them to be their best every single day.
Players see that there are opportunities and that they must take advantage of those opportunities. Putting in the extra work, from the practice field to the weight room. Taking care of their bodies and looking to improve. These are some of the principles we promote here at FC Tucson.”
RE: “What are your thoughts on the USL receiving Division II status from US Soccer?”
JP: “It’s great, because it raises the standard of the lower divisions. The stadiums have to be bigger and the requirements have to be of a higher quality, as well as excellent medical staff around the entire league.
But the Division II status is only meaningful if as a league, whether PDL or USL, make sure we develop ourselves as best we can. From all sides, from coaching to facilities.
It is a starting point in the US, and it will be about meeting that standard for clubs in the league.”
JP: “I’ve spoken with many involved with Phoenix Rising, including Berke Bakay and Tim Riester, and I think it’s great. The soccer-specific stadium that they’re putting in, at that location, will be tremendous for them. If you’re a soccer fan in Phoenix, I think you have to get behind what is being accomplished.
FC Arizona is part of a great soccer community in the East Valley, and their vision seems to be heading towards the NASL.
I think you have two terrific properties that maybe should look to find the best way forward together in some respects, as opposed to pushing in opposite directions. Ultimately, I want to see soccer grow and I want people to do a good job. We have former players involved as well.
It’s a tough business, and organizations must be careful with their growth. Whether in Tucson or Phoenix, slow and steady wins the race.”
RE: “Have there been any discussions for FC Tucson to move to a different league, like USL or NASL for example?”
JP: “Yes, this year we are in the process of putting together a plan to possibly look at that type of option very seriously. As the plans develop further, we will be able to speak more about it.
It has to be with the right group and we have to be in the right situation, so that it can be successful. It’s not something you can do with just money and it’s not something that you can do with just great facilities. There has to be a community-based approach where all the parts are together.
So when we can get all those elements to combine, we would love to make that jump.”