Michael Eckhardt (Tucson) Asks: Is It Time for Men’s Soccer?
Michael Eckhardt (Tucson) played club rugby and soccer during his time at Arizona. He feels that with the recent successes of the men’s club soccer team, it’s time for the U of A to consider playing men’s soccer at the Pac-12 and NCAA level. Recruitment should not be an issue as Arizona and the rest of the West Coast have thousands of soccer players at the youth level.
Some of my fondest memories of the University of Arizona include playing club soccer against very good club teams from all over the West Coast. Some of the opponents we faced were Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon, San Diego State, UTEP, and USC. We also had a long-standing rivalry with Arizona State and played a home-and-away series with them. While our team was not heavily funded, we still managed to eke out victories against some of the best club teams in the same time zone. Bear Down Field, which we considered our home pitch, was always packed whenever we played.
We had a feeling that if the team kept on winning, it would be elevated to varsity-sport status soon enough. However, even as our women’s varsity soccer counterparts have been doing well in conference play, we are yet to receive news of the school recognizing the men’s club as an official collegiate team.
The Pac-12 and soccer go well together; the dry weather makes the region ideal for outdoor sports, and with soccer academies and youth teams scattered throughout the Mountain and Pacific time zones, the sport is thriving at the youth levels. However, the Pac-12 only has six men’s soccer teams, and one of them (San Diego State) is not even a regular conference member. Despite the limited number of men’s teams in the conference, Pac-12 teams have done relatively well in the College Cup. Stanford, for instance, has won the past two College Cups, and UCLA has four in its trophy cabinet. In addition, four Pac-12 teams were invited to the 2016 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship.
Now that we’ve established how competitive Pac-12 men’s soccer is, I want to present the case for sponsoring men’s soccer as a varsity sport in Arizona. Since 2009, the men’s club team has been ranked in the AP Top 25 three times, and even went up to #3 in 2010. The team has amassed a 23-9-2 record in the past two seasons with two successive appearances in the Aztec Cup semifinals. While the team started the 2017 season with a 3-3 record, it is set to face FC Tucson, which plays a high level of semi-pro soccer in the competitive Premier Development League.
Sponsoring men’s soccer as an NCAA sport will help the development of the sport in the state of Arizona, where there is an active youth scene and a professional team in Phoenix Rising FC, which plays in the United Soccer League. If the Arizona athletic departments decide to elevate men’s soccer to varsity status, it will just be the second NCAA Division I team in the state after the GCU ‘Lopes.
Will we see a true men’s soccer team at the U of A, complete with scholarships, recruiting, and Division I budgets, soon? Maybe not in the next two years. But the men’s club soccer team has already built up some momentum, and it is just a matter of when, not if.
Stay tuned to this page for more updates from Michael Eckhardt (Tucson), AZ.