Growth of soccer continued issue in Tucson

Tucson’s Rillito Park soccer fields aren’t big enough to hold regional soccer tournaments. (Photo by: Zach Smith ASN)

Soccer supporters in Tucson say that the city is losing opportunities for cash by not fully embracing soccer expansion. The opposition believes there are more important needs than soccer fields.

Economically, much of the belief in a need for more soccer fields comes from regional tournaments and large-scale events that benefit the city. Those in favor mention the scarcity of fields in Tucson.

“Over the last probably five to 10 years, we keep hearing that all of our kids have to leave for Phoenix and New Mexico for tournaments, because we don’t have a site that’s big enough to accommodate that type of tournament,” said Supervisor Ramón Valadez, who represents District 2 of Pima County.

Local soccer players share these sentiments.

Brynn Moga, a sophomore defender for the University of Arizona soccer team, said that although she grew up playing in Arizona club soccer tournaments for Phoenix programs like Sereno and SC del Sol, she never played one in Tucson.

“Honestly – it’s because there aren’t many fields here,” said Moga.

As of now, the premier soccer site for regional tournaments in Arizona is the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix, according to Valadez and Moga. Reach 11’s campus has 10 total lighted soccer fields on its east side, and eight on its west side.

Reach 11 Sports Complex Map (© City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Website 2018)

In Tucson, the premier soccer site is the Kino Sports Complex, according to Tucson Soccer Academy and Pima County Junior Soccer League President, Ted Schmidt.

Kino, which resides in District 2 of Pima County, has seven total lighted soccer fields located on its north complex grounds, and two on its south complex grounds.

According to Schmidt, those opposed to adding more soccer space in Pima would rather their money be spent on needs other than soccer fields. He admitted that there may be an economic benefit to this line of thinking. He said that those opposed find issue with the location of complexes like Kino, deeming them far away from town and inconvenient.

Kino Sports Complex Map (© Kino Sports Complex Website 2018)

“They say we need more central locations like Rillito…you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got,” said Schmidt. “We allowed the city to be developed without setting enough land aside for parks and requiring developers to invest in parks,” said Schmidt.

Pima County previously looked into expanding Rillito Park, a horse racing track with four fields on its racetrack downs and seven lighted fields on its 4700 N. First Ave. plot of land.

Both Schmidt and Valadez say that Rillito Park’s soccer capabilities will not expand until horse racing is over with for good.

Rillito Park’s horse racing track, situated directly behind a set of fields, showcases the location’s inability to expand its soccer grounds. ( Photo by:  Zach Smith ASN)

 

For soccer supporters in need of tournament space, this leaves the Kino site, which holds the most potential. This is due to Pima’s proposed plan of expansion to the Sports Complex, where 12 fields would be built on the 167 acres of land owned by the county across from the I-10 freeway.

The county has not reached a final decision on the plan, but the proposed expansion would occur in Supervisor Valadez’s district if it happens.

“If you take a look at what has been the premier soccer site (in Arizona), it’s been Reach 11 so far,” Valadez said, “But they don’t really have the amenities that we’re proposing for this particular site, and they don’t have the same number of fields.”

The initial expansion would ideally be for 12 fields, but Valadez said that at project’s end there could be 20. He estimated that the initial 12 fields would cost anywhere from $16 million to $20 million.

Valadez is confident in it’s potential impact. “We’re going to have the premier facility in the state,” he said.

He added that the county has proposed to develop the western side of the Kino property commercially. This is so they can auction it off to businesses – such as hotels and restaurants.

When asked about the economic benefits, Valadez said, “Well, if you take a look over the last several years at the economic analysis of what Reach 11 has done in terms of their regional soccer tournaments, absolutely.”

Kino Sports Complex North Campus Multi-Use Field (Photo by:  Zach Smith ASN).

How much Tucson could benefit economically from a regional tournament equivalent to the ones held at Reach 11? According to Schmidt, tournaments held at Reach 11, like the ODP Regionals and the US Youth Soccer Regional competition, each brought in roughly $20 million to the Phoenix community.

Brynn Moga pointed to the Phoenix complexes as well, “I feel like if we had something like Reach 11 or Scottsdale Sports Complex, that would attract more people to come here. When teams came to Phoenix we would stick them in a hotel, normally close to the fields.”

Another possibility exists for those supportive of the sport’s expansion.

Phoenix Rising FC, a member of the United Soccer League is, “Probably going to get an MLS (Major League Soccer) franchise in a year, two years at the most,” according to Schmidt. He said that if this happens, FC Tucson would have the chance to jump up a league and become their primary farm team – called “Tucson Rising.” A youth development academy would ideally come along with it.

If it happens, as a private party Phoenix Rising may buy land and develop fields of their own in Tucson, according to Schmidt. “I know this because I’ve been talking to Phoenix Rising,” he said.

Upper level divisions of soccer jump on the ability to train year round in Tucson. Kino Sports Complex currently hosts FC Tucson in its stadium and MLS spring training north of Ajo Way.

Ultimately, Kino’s purpose is to be a profit center though, according to Schmidt. This poses problems to youth soccer at times.

“The folks that run Kino and allow entities to reserve those fields are looking to raise money. We’ve had problems where we’ve had fields reserved for tournaments and someone has come in as a higher bidder and bumped us off the fields,” he said.

He continued, “It’s beginning to be overused, and it’s beginning to be used by multiple sports. We’re trying to have a balance but it’s hard because there’s only so much grass.” Schmidt added that if they expand Kino, there would be many more opportunities for youth to play.

Great Tucson Beer Festival entrance line, located at Kino’s North Soccer Complex fields. (Photo by:  Zach Smith 2017)

“More importantly, it’ll bring a lot more of these competitions to Tucson and our kids won’t have to travel to Phoenix and beyond as much. It’ll bring money into Tucson. It’s a win-win-win, they just need to build the damn thing.”

Zach Smith is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at zacharysmith@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photographs.

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