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Major League Soccer

MLS official to talk spring training in weekend visit

Nelson Rodriguez and MLS 'very interested' in pre-season in Tucson

Friday's match between FC Tucson and El Paso team Sunland FC will have at least one spectator from out of town: Major League Soccer Executive Vice-President Nelson Rodriguez.

Rodriguez will visit with FC Tucson officials to discuss a formal MLS pre-season in the Old Pueblo.

FC Tucson has already been at work getting teams to come out for a two week pre-season. Sporting Kansas City will be coming, and FC Tucson officials are well on their way to getting assurances from the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls.

MLS officials have long been interested in a more formalized pre-season, much in the same way that Major League Baseball has formal spring training games before their season gets underway. Just like how baseball enthusiasts know to turn on their fan radar in March, MLS supporters will have much the same feeling when they hear that their teams are embarking to Tucson.

"It's a way to announce the season about to begin," said Chris Keeney, a consultant who has worked with various teams and leagues who recently signed on as a partner in the Desert Cup, Tucson's pre-season MLS event. Also, Keeney notes, a pre-season in Tucson is not just a series of matches. Team and league officials will likely be coming to Tucson to hold meetings and other pre-season events, much in the same way spring training baseball teams used to.

What the shape of an MLS pre-season will look like is still up in the air. The teams have traditionally been able to determine what they will do on their own. MLS is also taking a serious look at Florida as well, but whether that will result in a Grapefruit League/Cactus League arrangement or something else is hard to tell.

Rodriguez has long title, oversight of referees

You may remember from high school history class that the Emperor of Austria-Hungary's full title was actually Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary.

In the same vein, Rodriguez's full title is "Executive Vice-President of Competition, Technical and Game Operations." His extensive portfolio includes not only work on the pre-season, but he's in charge of just about anything effecting play on the field. This means that his name gets attached to any on field outrage or controversy. Rodriguez was named on the press releases for the league's new play-off structure as well as for two record suspensions earned by players this season for violent play.

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When he is in town, I'll try not to ask him about the rather creative refereeing in this weekend's New England - Salt Lake City match.

Valencia, Long

Ruben Valencia won't be nervous about playing in front of the MLS brass: he used to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy's youth reserve team until they were disbanded last year.

Valencia was out with an ankle injury for four months. He was looking at several options to play at this summer while rehabbing, and his college coach recommended FC Tucson.

"He said it was the best option because of their training habits and that they are professionals," Valencia said.

Valencia was supposed to come out to Tucson with another player, but a last minute injury left that player at home. In the injured player's place, his roommate at University of California Riverside, Aaron Long, gave up a chance to play in Portland and decided to join him.

Both players have been assets to the team, said coach Rick Schantz, who notes that Valencia has scored five goals since becoming well enough to play on a regular basis. Long has turned into an impressive leader in the midfield, particularly in the second half of FC Tucson's last home match against Arizona Select. A good performance from someone who Schantz admits the team took "sight unseen."

Both Valencia and Long will be playing this on Friday against Sunland FC. The game will be on July 8 at 8 p.m. in Vail, at La Cienega High School, 12775 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way. Tickets are $8, and can be purchased from the team's website or from the Shop at 3500 N. Campbell Ave.  

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