"Can we make the game in Arizona a better place than we found it?"
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Hello everyone and welcome to AP for a US Open Cup Special! Every year, I try to interview a team competing in the US Open Cup and do an early release ahead of their game to drum up more interest. This year, that special is with Tim Marchisotto of Sporting AZ FC. He talks about the teams long history and roots in the old Arizona Sahuaros, and how they hope to change Arizona soccer for the better. Check it out.
Tell readers a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Sporting AZ?
I have worked in soccer for over 22 years at all levels. I have been a college coach for 20 years. I am from Syosset, New York on Long Island. I am the General Manager for all of our teams and Head Coach for our Sporting AZ FC II team.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and what got you interested in starting a team?
I am from New York, I grew up with the NY Cosmos of the NASL and the NY Arrows of the MISL. I had NASL bed sheets, curtains and a NASL soccer ball lamp in my room. Every soccer kid from Long Island in the 80's has a orange mini NY Arrows soccer ball. Lastly, I grew up with friends whose families came from different soccer countries. One kid, Chris Braga, his dad was Brazilian and his mom was German. She was a stewardess for Pan Am and used to bring us kids back the sticker books from Europe. It's how we learned who all the great players were in the world. We played soccer every day. Whether it was street soccer with garbage cans that we wouldn't move out of the way for cars, indoor soccer at Shep Messing's Soccer World, or 11 v 11 at any grassy area with guys like Vinnie Mallia, Gordon Barr and Roby Young. Being exposed to Ricky Davis through our coach Mark Steffens and being trained by Franz St. Lot. Syosset, NY was like heaven to grow up in and I do what I do because I love it. I can't recreate the past, but I can try to give these generations a taste of what I had.
What's the origin story beyond Sporting Arizona?
When I came to Arizona to coach at Grand Canyon University in 2000, I also became Assistant Coach for the Arizona Sahuaros of the then USISL. The franchise became amateur and won a MPSL Championship (MPSL was the original name for the now NPSL) under coach Petar Draksin, then it kind of went dormant. Brian and Chris Green (GCU Alumni) were keeping it going playing some friendlies and I became involved again. We got more organized and my friend Barry Rybicki said, hey I'll fund it, lets get some better games and new uniforms. We decided to get back into a league and decided on the UPSL. We rebranded in 2016 as Sporting AZ FC.
How has this club come about?
Barry and I wanted to provided another level of soccer for college guys and players that were looking to move on or keep playing. Just this year, Jake Rybicki went to Hibernians FC in Malta, and just the other day, Justis Bradley just signed with Rockingham City in Perth, Australia to name a few. We have expanded to three men's teams and one women's team, which we'll have more details on soon. Sporting AZ FC has players like MLS Cup winner Andrew Weber, MLS vet Tony Cascio, Costa Rica International and former USL player Alejandro Aguilar. Sporting AZ FC II has college players from different Arizona colleges like Benedictine University, Grand Canyon University, Arizona Christian University and Embry-Riddle University to name a few. We also sponsor an African refugee team Sporting AZ FC Mulenge.
For whatever reason, the perception of Arizona seems to be that it doesn't have a big soccer presence. Why do you think that is?
It’s not the size of a California who have a North and South to their state associations. They have a larger player pool. You also have the largest number of player pools in two cities (Phoenix and Tucson) in Arizona that are far apart. With that said, I have a different opinion. We have produced players for both our Men’s and Women’s National teams, such as Greg Vanney and Julie Ertz. Our Division 1 women's programs such as U of A and ASU have done well making the NCAA tournament. Grand Canyon University has a long, storied men's program at the Division II level before moving to DI, that includes a National Championship. We have had both Real Salt Lake USDA Academy here in AZ, which won a National Championship, and now Barcelona Academy also part of USDA. SC Del Sol has the Girls Academy, Sereno Soccer Club has just been awarded a girls academy. We have arguably the best Jr. College Conferences for both Men and Women, with Yavapai College and Paradise Valley Comunity College having won multiple National Championships. The NAIA has expanded its footprint in Arizona with 4 mens and womens programs, like Benedictine University, whose men's team went to playoffs in their first year. Lastly, you have a very strong Phoenix Rising USL franchise that currently has one of the legends of the English Premier League in Didier Drogba, and a strong PDL team in FC Tucson that attracts college players from around the country. This year marked the most teams participating in US Open Cup qualifying rounds in Arizona, with Sporting AZ FC advancing to join Phoenix Rising, FC Tucson and FC Arizona. These four teams also mark the most Arizona teams competing in the US Open Cup proper. I think we do have a National presence and one that is about to grow.
A lot of people blame the heat, but what's going on in Arizona?
It’s a factor for summer training, limits turf grass fields because of how hot they get and always been a problem that needs solving for our professional and amateur teams.
UPSL is growing by leaps and bounds the last couple of years. What caused you to join them, rather than someone else, like the PDL or NPSL?
UPSL has a lower barrier for entry and it had several teams from Arizona competing in the conference. This allowed for more local and regional play. Conference Champions then go on to compete nationally against the best from around the country. We felt we could be successful and that we could grow with having success in the UPSL. Thats exactly what has happened. We won the conference and went to Nationals in our first year. We have since added two more men’s teams and one women’s team.
Why do something like a soccer team in America right now? A lot of people act like it's pretty pointless without promotion and relegation, yet people keep starting clubs. Why do Sporting Arizona?
The sport continues to grow in participation and viewership, both in attendance and on television. MLS is sound and the other leagues are navigating their way. We’ll see what happens with them. How the USL proceeds is very important and a big question, I think. How well will USL D3 launch? You have amateur leagues seeing great growth but are they sound franchises that have something to offer?.
Lastly, you have some potential new league(s) that may offer a pathway or blueprint to promotion/relegation. We’ll see who moves forward here shortly I think.
All this means to us, is where do we fit in? Are we positioned to grow? Are we positioned to be in the conversations that are being had for new leagues or expansion within our own league and others? A long-winded answer is yes, now is the time.
We need to develop our brand and a fan base that can trust us. We need to secure a long-term practice and playing venue. You can't wait to start these things when the water is warmer, then you're just behind.
We want to be a model franchise, learn from our mistakes, and oh boy there have been plenty. We will be ready to move forward when the opportunity presents itself. The UPSL has been and is a great partner to help us achieve these things and move forward.
Barry and I do Sporting because we love the game. We have a passion to see players succeed, to build something and have it be successful. We want to give back where and when we can to a game that has brought us a lot of heartache but a lot more joy!
As you look towards this coming year, what are one or two things you hope to accomplish, on or off the field, to consider it a successful year?
We want to defend our UPSL Conference Championship in a revamped and expanded Southwest Conference. Our goal is to win a UPSL National Championship. I would like to see our players achieve personal success and accolades. Off the field is the hard work. Again, to build our brand and a fan base. To give back to the community, in which we are working on some special events. Lastly, we want to be successful in the U.S. Open Cup. We really want to try to make a run. Each year there are amateur teams that surprise and go far in this competition. Why can't this year be Sporting AZ FC? Can we make the game in Arizona a better place than we found it? If we can answer is yes at the end of this season, then we have been successful!
Let's wrap this up with some short questions. What's your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Premier League and Liverpool.
Favorite soccer players, one past, one present.
Diego Maradona, Steven Gerrard
Do you have any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people reading this?
Alex Ferguson - A Will to Win: The Manager's Diary
If you could meet one person from soccer history, who would it be?
That's too hard. Can I have a dinner party with Pele, Maradona, Shep Messing, Steve Zungul and Ricky Davis?
Where can people find out more about you and the team online?
What would you say to someone asking you why they should get out there and support their local non-league team, like Sporting AZ FC?
The game is the same. Players score great goals, keepers make unbelievable saves, refs make questionable calls and coaches try to implement game plans. Why not be up close to it? Meet the players and coaches, support the game at the local level. Be able to say 'remember so and so when they played for Sporting AZ FC.' It makes for a great story down at the pub!
Tim, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the content I'm putting out, please consider supporting us on Patreon by Clicking Here. Or you can click here to Follow me on Twitter, or here to Like the page on Facebook. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. I can't accomplish my goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.
Read last weeks interview: Sheer Willpower: Samuel Seibert of Cleveland SC