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Posted Jan 3, 2012, 9:00 am
Real Salt Lake's players may be familiar with Arizona: They've done pre-season training in our state and their youth academy is located in Casa Grande.
But one who will be a little more familiar with our part of the state is former Pima College standout Donny Toia, and he's excited to play in front of hometown fans.
"It's going to be great," he said in a phone interview. "To play in a professional jersey is what I've been trying to achieve my whole life."
Toia is a graduate of Canyon del Oro High School and despite having offers from college soccer powerhouses like UNLV and Santa Clara, and an early offer from RSL, he completed his junior college soccer career at Pima College.
Toia's time at Pima taught him "how to work harder than anyone else."
Still, Toia didn't get much time to play with the full RSL squad, but featured regularly in reserve team games. He admits that this was largely because he wasn't an experienced player.
"I'm a first-year player, they have all been playing two years at least," he said. "I look up to all of them. I'm still learning."
He got a chance to travel with the team to Costa Rica when RSL played their CONCACAF Champions League match against Deportivo Saprissa S.A.D. Toia admits to not watching soccer on TV growing up, but there he got to experience a bit of Latin American fan culture.
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"They are into soccer completely. It's awesome. Hopefully, we'll be there one day."
The latest stirrings in the global game have New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry going to his old team, Arsenal FC for seven game loan. The loan means that Henry will miss a few weeks of New York's pre-season training.
Details of the deal are still being worked out, and Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger is still not sure when Henry's first game with the Gunners will be. The only sure thing that Arsenal officials said is that Henry will be available for a Feb. 15 Champions League match against AC Milan. New York Red Bulls officials have released no details of pre-season dates that Henry will be absent.
However it plays out, it could mean that Henry misses some Desert Cup matches. Henry is a name and face that is recognized even by non-soccer fans. Heck, he did a commercial with Tiger Woods. Is there any worry that fans won't come to the Desert Cup if he's not there?
No, said Keaton Koch. Keaton heads up the Cactus Pricks, a supporters' group for FC Tucson.
"I'll go no matter what. It could be reserve squads and I'll still go. It could be Wayne Rooney's brother and I'll go," Keaton said.
Note that John Rooney, brother of the Manchester United star, will not be there this year either as he got cut from the Red Bulls after the end of last season.
Still, Henry makes three big names the event could be promoted around that will not be appearing. David Beckham will likely be off to Paris and Landon Donovan will be taken out for at least two matches because of a loan deal with Everton.
As a die-hard fan of the U.S. national team, the possible absence of Donovan frustrates Koch. Koch also worries about a lack of publicity and interest from casual fans without the big names.
"When you have the face of U.S. soccer not being there until the third game, a lot of local media might not pay attention," he said, "What about the person that says, 'I'm not much of a fan of soccer but I'll go to see Donovan?' "
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Still, Koch is happy that U.S. national team players like Kyle Beckerman of Real Salt Lake, Omar Gonzales of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Bennie Feilhaber of the New England Revolution will be there, and he's confident that there will be plenty for fans to look forward to.
He's also holding out hope that David Beckham will make an appearance.
"It's not a done deal," he said. Besides, "his kids are Lakers fans."
FC Tucson to hold try outs
Monday afternoon, FC Tucson announced that they will be holding open tryouts on three days this month. The cost is $35. (See sidebar for details.)
FC Tucson will be scrimmaging against the reserve squads of many of the teams coming for pre-season training, and will be starting their first season as a Premier Development League later this year.