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Posted Mar 2, 2011, 8:40 am
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.