Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rick Schantz looks back on the Desert Diamond Cup

FC Tucson hosted the 2012 Desert Diamond Cup with high aspirations. They surpassed those aspirations and have only set their goals higher. Looking back over the 2012 edition where for two weeks 30,000 fans took in the best that Tucson and MLS had to offer, we see the formation of a fantastic pre-season home for Major League Soccer.

For a club that plies its trade in the Premier Development League, hosting such a tournament is a fantastic feat.I spoke with the coach of FC Tucson, Rick Schantz, about what the tournament meant for the area, for the team and hopes for the future.

MLS Reserves: Can you start of by letting everyone know what kind of team and organization FC Tucson is and where they hope to be one day?

Rick Schantz: “Right now FC Tucson is a USL, PDL franchise. It started about a year ago with the first Desert Cup. It involved us with Phoenix, New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City in a one weekend deal. The goal was to build the franchise. It was such a success last year; we were able to pay our franchise fees and to find big sponsors. We had a dream of turning the Desert Diamond Cup into more of an MLS Preseason.”

“So we’ve essentially become an advance organization and we use this MLS Preseason and tournament to fund our PDL franchise. We put all of the money right back into it so that it continues to grow. Hopefully within five yeas it sees us as a USL Pro team and who knows, one day an MLS team."

MLS Reserves: What type of affect was it intended to have on the area? What goals were set? Were those goals achieved?

Rick Schantz: “When you sit down and look from six months ago, my role was to be the MLS liaison and to run our budget off of what we did last year. With last year being such a success, we aimed high and set lofty goals…but we surpassed all of them. It was a massive success and it’s something that we’d love to continue to grow.”

“We’ve already started talking about next year. Perhaps the ‘Desert Cup Friendlies’ prior to the tournament. I mean, you can’t beat the weather and the fields look great.”

MLS Reserves: Talk numbers for me. What type of profit did you hit?

Rick Schantz: “Haha, I can’t tell you all of it, but I can tell you that our goal was $600,000 in ticket sales alone. We did a little better than that, not by a massive amount, but we passed it. Then we have sponsorship and they covered most of our costs. From there we have to put $300,000 or $400,000 in to the costs of our PDL franchise for our summer with flights, hotels and our players. We’re going to be able to treat our PDL players like professionals and that is because of the success of the Desert Diamond Cup.”

MLS Reserves: Were there any particular moments during the tournament where you took a step back and said ‘wow’?

Rick Schantz: “Being a coach and an assistant principal haha, for me it was standing on the golf course getting ready to tee off with Jay Heaps, and then the next day it was Bruce Arena…I thought to myself ‘two, three years ago I was working with U14s’ but this event and the hard work put in by our partners has been very much appreciated by the MLS clubs. I find myself standing here with some of the biggest names in soccer and I have to step back and look at the numbers in my phone now. Haha, it’s pretty impressive.”

“On the last night, I brought the owners [of FC Tucson] up to the sweet and had them look out at the stadium. We had over 10,000 people there and a final that went to PK’s. It’s like a story book… last year we thought we had it, but it just seems to get better. I can only attribute it to the hard work of our staff. I mean, we have 15 interns from the University of Arizona and they put in 15 hour days. It was unbelievable.”

MLS Reserves: Was there anything you learned from those coaches? From someone like Bruce Arena who has so much experience or from someone like Jay Heaps who is just now stepping into the role?

Rick Schantz: “You know, the coolest thing for me was that I watched all six teams that came through here. Bruce Arena, Jay Heaps, Frank Yallop, Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis and Hans Backe…each one of these franchises operated very differently. Some of them are very organized in training and some others who are more free-flowing. What I learned the most is this: Being able to treat professional players with respect but at the same time demanding the respect of them.”

“You have to remember these guys are between the ages of 18-30 but they’re kind of big kids. I watched that. Bruce and Jay, they act like they are the role model and father figures… the leaders. It’s not too dissimilar from youth sports in that these guys are doing what they love. They all said to me, “Remember, they’re playing a game and they’re extremely fortunate.” 99% of them wake up thanking God that they get to do what they love. So as a coach, you can still be that leader.”

MLS Reserves: For your PDL players, what was it like being around these Major League Soccer professionals?

Rick Schantz: “It was a change in the environment. Many of our in town players were out there every day. It changed the way they train, the way they eat and the way they look at the sport. Some of my guys work day jobs. One of my guys had to ask for a long lunch so that he could go and play against Sporting Kansas City…I thought that was hilarious, but he’s never missed a training. These guys work hard and know they need to take care of themselves. I’ve got a bunch of young kids who have had their aspirations renewed. It’s pretty cool.”

Players of FC Tucson stand with David Beckham.

MLS Reserves: What’s your message to the fans? All of the sudden you have these great crowds there to see pre-season? What’s that like?

Rick Schantz: “You know, first and foremost, FC Tucson thanks everyone for taking the risk. Months ago I’m standing on baseball fields with MLS officials and representatives of teams. They took a risk on us. The fans took a risk in buying tickets. Everyone bought into it. The sponsors took a risk on us and what everyone did…the city of Tuscon came together to show support for MLS and I think MLS greatly appreciated it. They put on a show…”

“I mean, one night David Beckham stayed after signing autographs for half an hour, then took his jersey off and gave it to a girl who had been shoved to the back by the crowd. The legend continues you know?”

FC Tucson has a fantastic future in the game. Growing soccer is no easy task and it often starts in the most humble of places. The Street Soccer Showdown hosted by the club is a great example of that. FC Tucson is doing their best to grow the game and give those fans in the area a place to share their love for soccer.

Credit to the club for putting in the hard work that so many will benefit from. Credit to the fans for supporting those efforts. And most importantly, credit to the game that brings people together.It never mattered who won or lost. In the end, the fans in Tucson won. Vamos FC Tucson. Vamos. 

Visit FC or follow them on Twitter @FC_Tucson

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