The Arizona Diamondbacks have baseball’s third-best record. The Arizona Rattlers are heading to the Indoor Football League championship game.
Several of Arizona’s professional teams have enjoyed surprising success this year — but there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of the Valley’s most dominant pro squad.
They’re called FC Arizona, they just finished an unbeaten regular season, and they could use your support when they host their first-ever playoff game at Mesa Community College on Friday, July 14 at 8 p.m.
A team comprised mostly of Arizona-grown talent, FC Arizona competes in the Southwest Conference Division of the National Premier Soccer League. On Sunday night, they scored a pair of late goals to beat Riverside Coras 2-0, capping their regular season with a record of 12 wins, four draws, no losses and a division title. Most impressive of all: They allowed three goals the entire season.
FT: FC Arizona 2 | Riverside 0. We are Southwest Conference Division champions and we clinched #1 seed in playoffs with a undefeated season!
— FC Arizona (@FCArizonaSoccer) July 3, 2017
FC Arizona coach Aidan Davison attributes that achievement to the team’s blue-collar work ethic.
“We looked for the best local talent, and I think about 90% of the players are local, which is a credit to Arizona soccer, generally,” said Davison, a Northern Irishman who competed as a goaltender and coach in the English Premier League. “It’s just about getting that balance right with maturity and youth, and I think we got it right on our first attempt, which is (thanks to) hard work and scouting, and obviously a little bit of luck, as well."
The foundation for FC Arizona was laid three years ago when Davison met with team owner and Valley resident Scott Taylor, who had a vision of bringing a pro soccer team to the East Valley.
“I liked what he had to say, we shared a common view, and we started to put together a new franchise, which took about two years really from the beginning until we played our first game,” Davison said.
Davison comes from a humble background, and his path to success was paved by outworking the competition every time he took the field. He's instilled that same disciplined mindset in his players, including in Phoenix Trevor Browne High School grad Cesar Mexia, whose eight goals are tied for the team lead.
“I love a (strong) work ethic because I’m from a modest background myself, and for me, it was all about working hard, and that’s what professional soccer is," he said.
“We laid it out in preseason: Look, we’re all in this together, we’re all going to work hard, we all attack together, we all defend together. We are a unit. I think that’s the biggest thing that I got across to the players: It’s purely about work ethic.”
Even with their immediate success, FC Arizona isn’t the most popular professional team in town — and thanks to the ascension of Phoenix Rising FC in Scottsdale, they’re not even the most prominent pro soccer team in the Valley.
Davison has no problem with that.
“Phoenix Rising’s got their own agenda, and so do we. But like anything in soccer, people have to coexist,” he said. “On the field, you’d probably be rivals; off the field, you should work together to build the game and make it better for the next generation of supporters.
“To me, Phoenix Rising’s been nothing but positive for the area, and it’s the same as our franchise, FC Arizona, (has been) positive for the area. It’s positive for the next generation to come through because we’ve got more teams to filter into.”
To its credit, FC Arizona has enjoyed some strong attendance numbers at John D. Riggs Stadium, less than eight miles from Phoenix Rising’s home. They've averaged over 1,500 fans per home game, including over 3,000 fans for their first-ever game, a 5-0 win in Mesa on March 5.
“For our first season, it’s been very positive, and we obviously couldn’t do it without the supporters,” Davison said. “With any franchise — it doesn’t matter what sport it is — you need supporters, and they’ve certainly been behind us and they’ve helped us. I know our players look for that at home because we’ve got that vocal support.”
Davison hopes for a surge in "vocal support" when FC Arizona hosts its first-ever postseason game July 14. Tickets are just $12 for adults and $5 for kids. Win or lose, he said Valley soccer fans won’t be disappointed in the effort of his first-year squad.
“I think we’ve just given everybody a good experience because we work hard and we’re effective,” he said. “We’re a very honest team in that respect, and I think you can see that when you watch us play. You can see how we want to play and how we want to do it, and I think we’re quite entertaining to watch.”