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MERCURY ALL-AREA: Tucker’s transition from academy makes Phoenixville flourish

Kyle Tucker toiled in relative obscurity.

The Phoenixville student spent the first three years of high school playing at the academy level with Continental FC, a path that elevated Tucker into a Division I soccer recruit but precluded him from participating on the Phantoms’ high school team.

That changed in his senior year when Tucker joined the high school soccer ranks and was anything but obscure to the Phantoms’ faithful and the rest of the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

The central midfielder was an immediate game-changer for the Phantoms’ boys soccer program as he led Phoenixville to its finest season ever while delivering the program its first PAC boys soccer championship,

Tucker’s skill on the ball, ability to link play and emerging goal-scoring threat netted him a PAC-best 27 goals and 14 assists as part of the league’s most formidable attacking unit. In addition, he served as a presence of positivity on and off the field for the 19-2-1 Phantoms, earning him spots on the PAC first team and Southeastern Pa. Soccer Coaches Association team and Mercury All-Area Player of the Year honors.

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker (9) and Tyler Siefer (6) leads the celebration after the Phantoms won the PAC boys soccer title. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Tucker thrived in a new team with friends old and new, embracing the support this fall’s Phantoms gained throughout the season, culminating in their becoming the first Frontier Division team to claim the PAC crown.

“The big thing was the PAC championship, for the team, and even the whole school. Being the first time we’ve won it, it was a really big thing,” Tucker said. “We had a lot of kids there, not just high schoolers, but middle schoolers too, and it felt like something even the whole community will remember.

“Playing high school soccer created great enjoyment and great fun playing with my friends and seeing all the people in the crowd. That’s the thing I enjoyed the most – seeing the crowd and playing with friends.”

Playing in the less-visible academy ranks, Tucker, who was named to the PAC All-Academic team and carries a 4.0 GPA, may have only been known around Phoenixville as a top student, rather than a top student-athlete.

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker races toward the Phantoms’ fan section after scoring his second goal in the PAC championship. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“A lot of kids, unless you were friends with me, probably didn’t know I even played soccer,” he said. “I imagine people saw being in good classes, keeping a good GPA, challenging myself academically and I think a lot of people saw me as that.”

Tucker was a member of the highly-successful Penn Fusion ‘98 team that won three straight state cups and placed third at nationals before joining Continental FC, where his father Roger coached upon the merger between Spirit United and FC DELCO in 2013.

“It was the right move for me to develop my skills more. It’s hard to put into words how much better the competition is. The competition is fantastic,” Tucker said. “You’re playing the Philadelphia Union, the New York Red Bulls, you’re playing D.C. United (academy teams) on a weekly basis. And the preparation for games: you’re having four training sessions for one game, just like the professional environment.”

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker (9) controls the ball while Perkiomen Valley’s Matt McCabe gives chase during Wednesday’s game. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

That environment helped Tucker develop into a Drexel University recruit, where he committed in late August. In turn though, due to an academy player not qualifying to play high school soccer, Tucker was forced to disappoint classmates and coaches who wished he could be a member of the Phantoms.

“But I always wanted the best for them. Last year and in year’s past I was probably their biggest fan. I was probably the one that went to the games the most as a student. A lot of them were my best friends, that I would love to play with, but I just can’t,” Tucker said. “There were sacrifices there, but I knew what the academy gave to me. Without it I would be nowhere near the player I am.”

Tucker opted to play for Phoenixville as a senior amid ongoing roster instability with the Continental FC team and added an uplifting presence to a Phantom team trying to take a step forward.

The personable Tucker quickly built relationships with his new teammates and became a leader for the Phantoms in play and personality.

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker controls the ball as Spring-Ford’s Cole Dampf defends. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“He is extremely positive and drives his teammates through the use of encouragement,” Phoenixville head coach Mike Cesarki said. “He also takes the responsibility to address his teammates when we are collectively not meeting our goals. On top of all of those things he is extremely intelligent on the field and makes key in-game decisions that are rare for a high school player.”

Area teams were on the lookout for the future Division I player, a perception that served as a motivating factor.

“You always have that tag on you. Every team we played early in the season I’d get, ‘Hey you’re that kid going to Drexel,’ or ‘You’re that kid going Division I.’ Yeah, but I don’t want that to be the thing that people remember me for,” Tucker said. “That was a motivator for me. I had a big chip on my shoulder. Teams viewed me as someone going Division I, but I had something to prove.”

Bishop Shanahan’s Richard Zink (9) and Phoenixvillle’s Kyle Tucker (9) battle for the ball. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Tucker previously played in a deeper-lying midfield position and scored just five career goals at the academy level. But Cesarski saw a player capable of moving to a more attacking midfield role to fuel a potent attack that already featured seniors Jared Carboy and Danny Jackson.

“Being more advanced allowed me to (be more of a scoring threat). I think if you look at the goals I scored, a lot of them were inside the 18 where my teammates played crosses or other ways where they got the ball to me,” Tucker said. “I think it brought that side of my game out, gaining confidence to take players on and shooting from really anywhere I saw an opportunity. High school really helped with my individual play.”

Phoenixville got off to a flying start in the Frontier Division and was unbeaten entering the pivotal week of crossover games with the Liberty Division in mid-September.

“We were doing really well in the Frontier and out of league and then when we hit that Liberty Division week and we did so well in that and how disappointed we were after Perkiomen Valley (1-0 loss), it summed up how the season was going to go,” Tucker said. “The win at Owen J. Roberts (1-0 on Sept. 18), to win that was a really big turning point, and then the loss at Perk Valley was the biggest turning point because for a lot of teams a loss could have been seen as, ‘yeah, they’re better than us,’ or ‘we’re a Frontier team’ and make excuses, but that wasn’t us. We got on the bus, said we simply didn’t play well and made it a goal of ours to make the PAC final.”

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker and Spring-Ford’s Colin Trainor battle for the ball. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

The Phantoms continued on to an unbeaten run through the Frontier, downed Upper Merion in the PAC semifinals to set up a rematch with Spring-Ford, which the Phantoms had defeated 3-2 earlier in the season.

“We were preparing to get on the bus and we all went into the gym and looked around and saw there’s no soccer banner. It’s all conference banners — tennis must have a thousand — every sport has one. But there’s no soccer. ‘Guys, we change that tonight.’” Tucker said.

Tucker sent the Phoenixville supporters’ section into a frenzy by scoring a pair of incredible free kicks in the first half before JT Stevens sealed it in the second half for a 3-1 victory over the Rams.

“It was an amazing night. I can’t describe it any other way,” Tucker said.

Phoenixville’s season was cut a game short of making the state tournament with a 2-1 defeat to Bishop Shanahan in the District 1-3A semifinals on Oct. 30, but it doesn’t overshadow the Phantoms’ run led by the impressive Tucker.

“Kyle is the kind of player that will be successful no matter where he plays on the field or what team he is with just based on his positive outlook, high work ethic, and coachability,” Cesarski said. “I can’t wait to see him continue his playing career at the next level.”

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