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Local fans kick up heels for Desert Cup soccer

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1996. That was the last time Tucson hosted a soccer match between two first-division teams.

The game that year was between Austria's FC Linz and Mexico's Atlante FC. As an added treat for fans, the line-up for Linz featured Hugo Sánchez and Atlante's goal keeper was Jorge Campos. Both men had featured prominently on Mexico's national team in the previous year's World Cup.

This weekend, the drought will be broken as two Major League Soccer teams, the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City, will be playing at Hi Corbett Field. Local soccer fans are excited not to have to trek to Phoenix or fly to Los Angeles to see top-level soccer.

Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham is among those fans. He's been working on bringing these teams to town since November. He put together officials from Sporting Kansas City (until recently known as the Kansas City Wizards) and FC Tucson, a new minor-league franchise.

Cunningham hopes that the game will bring $100,000 to $250,000 to the local economy and build a base to bring pre-season Major League Soccer to Tucson on a regular basis, as well as build a fan base for FC Tucson.

Cunningham is a longtime fan and former amateur player who names Kansas City's Omar Bravo and New York's Thierry Henry in Saturday's match as major draws, but he's also looking forward to Friday's match between the Red Bulls' reserves and FC Tucson.

"Our players will be hungry," he says. He's going out on a limb and predicting an early goal for Tucson.

Local fan and player Magdalena Barajas is also anticipating the Friday matches. She is interested in seeing who turns out compared to Saturday's "top card" game.

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"Friday night is when the true soccer fans will be out. Saturday will not be super fans." She's happy to see Bravo and New York's Rafael Márquez come to town; both are Mexican national team players.

"A lot of kids in the immigrant community have parents that have been watching them play. They will really appreciate it."

Barajas follows both the Mexico and U.S. teams. She plans on wearing her U.S. jersey, but will bring her Mexico jersey and get it signed by Bravo and Márquez.

She is also is a fan of French national team member Henry's former squad, Arsenal FC, and plans to bring a jersey for him to sign as well.

Tommy Amparano is also looking forward to seeing Márquez and Henry. There is a bit of disappointment for him, though. Amparano is the local president of the American Outlaws, a supporter organization for the U.S. national team. He was looking forward to seeing national team prospect and Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury, but Bunbury suffered a dislocated shoulder in a game two weeks ago and will not be playing.

Still, Amparano is excited. He's hoping that a good turnout will lead to something more.

"We can generate some local support for our local team. Hopefully, we can get enough support to get a team in the NASL or USL (both lower division leagues) and eventually one in MLS."

Amparano's group is one of several that have organized pre-game festivities.

Usually, he says, a tailgate party is appropriate, but not for the first MLS game in Tucson. "We wanted to make it better, so we got a ramada." His group will be renting a ramada right outside of the ballpark.

In addition to Amparano's group, the group Tucson Young Professionals is moving its usual "First Fridays" event to a tent in the ballpark.

If fans are looking for an indication of community enthusiasm: Amparano reports brisk ticket sales through his group and organizers reported a sellout of VIP tickets a week ago.

Sporting Kansas City training in Phoenix

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Mar 2, 2011, 6:11 pm
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Nicely done Ted. After 20 years we finally got in the Castle! The best is yet to come, when I bring the Galaxy the Chivas to town next year. See you this weekend. We are coming with a van load from Santa Monica,Ca. Mike

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Red Bulls

The Red Bulls scrimmaged against the Chicago Fire last month in Florida.

Desert Cup schedule

Friday, Mar. 4

  • Arizona Sahuaros vs. Sporting Kansas City 6 p.m.
  • FC Tucson vs. New York Red Bulls 8 p.m.

Saturday, Mar. 5

  • FC Tucson vs. Arizona Sahuaros 6 p.m.
  • Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls 8 p.m.

Tickets

$12 per night tickets are available at:

  • Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 4420 E Speedway, 620-0005
  • The Shop, 3050 N. Campbell Ave. 326-7467
  • Maracana Indoor Sports Arena, 555 East 18th Street 235-7094
  • FCTucson.com

Tucson & top-level soccer

Several players with Tucson ties have made an impact in top flight soccer, including many who spent time playing with the Tucson Amigos, the local lower division team in the 1990s:

Dusty Hudock: Hudock played for the Amigos, beating out Scott Garlick to be their goal keeper (Garlick went on to become a storied MLS goalkeeper). Hudock played short stints for the Colorado Rapids and the Miami Fusion but spent the bulk of his career with the second division Charleston Battery.

Scott Leber: Leber was the leading scorer at Salpointe High School and went on to make four NCAA appearances with Stanford University. He was the first Tucsonan drafted by MLS when the Columbus Crew picked him in 2002. He was cut from the team, but played for the second division Long Island Rough Riders. He now is CEO of iSoccer, which provides internet based coaching tools.

Pablo Mastroeni: Born in Argentina but raised in Phoenix, Mastroeni played for the Tucson Amigos and went on to play for both the Miami Fusion and the Colorado Rapids. He earned 63 caps for the US National Team and played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Luis Robles: Robles hails from Cochise County, but honed his goalkeeping skills with the Tucson Soccer Academy. He was drafted by DC United, but went to Germany to play for FC Kaiserslautern. Robles was a backup goalkeeper for the US Team's miracle run in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where the US was beaten by Brazil in the final. He still plays in Germany for second division Karlsruher FC.

Evan Whitfield: A former Tucson Amigo, Whitfield played for Belgian team KAA Gent before spending five seasons with the Chicago Fire. While with the Fire, Whitfield won two US Open Cups and played in two MLS Cups. He is now an attorney in Chicago.

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