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USL Super League franchise in Tucson an ‘incredibly exciting’ opportunity for players, fans

Though most of the details still need to be set, Tucson joined the big leagues earlier in the week when it was announced as a charter member of the USL Super League.

Tucson’s team in the top-flight professional women’s league will be led by FC Tucson owner/president Jon Pearlman and RightSure Insurance founder, author and club chairperson Jeff Arnold.

The Star talked to Pearlman about the future rivalry with Phoenix in the Super League, the fate of FC Tucson’s amateur teams and the Super League’s fall-to-spring schedule.

How excited has everyone been to bring first-division soccer to Tucson?

A: “It’s incredibly exciting. We have a number of details to iron out in terms of key pieces that people want to know about: where we’re playing, team name, its affiliation with FC Tucson. It’s obviously a new adventure for Jeff and I. And all that stuff is going to be talked about in more depth as we iron out some of those pieces, which are well in the works, all going in an incredibly positive direction.

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“But we’re so excited. We just think this is one of those great moments for Tucson. Tucson not having a professional women’s team at all right now, haven’t had one since the Arizona Heat, which was nearly two decades ago in softball. To be able to bring this kind of level and compete directly with our neighbors up in Phoenix … but most importantly, there’s 108 or so men’s professional teams in our country and there’s only 12 women’s teams. We really need to address that gap in opportunity for women’s players and also for executives and all the people that really contribute and have contributed to the women’s game (who) want to contribute more and have that opportunity. So we’re really just trying to be stewards of that and create, obviously, a championship team.”

What’s been the reaction from the community and supporters?

A: “We’ve had great feedback from everyone saying they’re really excited about it happening. We’ve had great feedback from our civic leaders, from our partners, our sponsors. Everyone’s really excited, and I think they want to know more and get more of the details. …

“As those are coming out, we’ll be announcing additional partners and sponsors and what the plan is moving forward as we head towards August 2024 when we’re kicking off.”

How exciting do you think a Tucson-Phoenix derby would be?

A: “I think it’s gonna be a huge, huge moment, especially considering that we’re sitting at the same level as them. It’s really an opportunity to play them probably two times at home, two times away in significant, meaningful matches. I think the rivalry will be there right away. Had a great chat with my co-conspirator in Phoenix, Bobby Dulle (Phoenix Rising president), and obviously we talked about soccer in general and soccer in Arizona and there’s a lot of enthusiasm there — and most importantly we have two pro women’s teams in state.

“Arizona’s a leader with a woman governor. We have so many great people in leadership, so it stands to reason that we should have a great rivalry and a great opportunity to take on. We’ve had some great moments matching up in the past.”

Does adding a Super League team affect the WPSL side or the men’s senior team at all?

A: “We’re going to continue with our men’s League Two with more to come on that as we obviously are (interested in) having a men’s team to go with the women’s team. And we’re always going to have the pre-professional (team); whether it will live in the WPSL or in the USL W League is to be decided. But we’re always going to have that pre-professional opportunity because we want to be obviously integrated all the way through. …

“That’s always been our goal (with) both our men’s and women’s side, so you need to have that opportunity for college players to be scouted, to be seen, for our local Tucson players to have the opportunity to continue to play and develop just like we’re doing with the men and the women this summer. So that property’s always gonna exist. What exactly it looks like and where it sits in terms of which league is the only question we have, but our commitment’s here. Investing in that is unwavering.”

Is the traditional August-to-May schedule more conducive to Tucson, or do you worry you’re competing more directly with the UA and the Roadrunners, if they stay in town?

A: “I think we’ve always learned how to schedule thoughtfully. Hopefully there’s a lot more crossover moving forward, which we absolutely encourage, but I would say that there’s enough dates out there for us not to conflict with football. …

“We’re trying to avoid when (UA men’s basketball plays) big-time matchups, but again those games are Thursday, Saturday, oftentimes during the day (on Saturday). So there’s a real opportunity for us to be really potent on Friday nights. And we also want to avoid the (UA) women’s soccer schedule. We want to give people the chance to go to both games on a weekend, because those fans of the women’s team, I’m sure, are gonna be fans of our professional team.

“We want to make sure that we’re only adding to that fanbase and not subtracting from them, making anyone choose.”

Ryan Reynolds has developed an unexpected passion for managing the Welsh soccer club Wrexham AFC but his dedication to the club is impacting pre production work on his highly anticipated superhero film, ‘Deadpool 3.’

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