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4 MLS teams to play in Desert Diamond Cup

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Four Major League Soccer teams will play at the newly dubbed Desert Diamond Cup, the second year top-level teams will compete in a Tucson tournament.

The New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls and the L.A. Galaxy will play in the tournament, scheduled for Feb. 22-March 3 at Kino Stadium, local pro team FC Tucson announced Thursday.

The event will feature four double-header matches on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the two-week span. The round-robin tournament will crown a champion on the final evening through a point accumulation system, FC Tucson said.

The inaugural Desert Cup was held last winter. This year, a new title sponsor—Desert Diamond Casinos—brings a new name to the event.

Announcement already generating buzz

Major League Soccer's Twitter stream announced the news moments after FC Tucson officials and sponsors lifted up the covers on the large mat-boards bearing the team logos. The lead up to this tournament is already a far cry from the three-week notice that organizers had to promote last year's contest.

One team, the New York Red Bulls, came to town last year, and are enthused about playing again in the Old Pueblo.

"We are excited to compete in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup after enjoying our time in Arizona last season, we will be facing some top MLS teams and expect that this will be good preparation for our 2012 MLS campaign," said Red Bulls General Manager Erik Soler in a press release.

The New England Revolution sent out a release about participation in the Desert Cup, and announced that they are also doing an eleven-day stint in Casa Grande as well. Newly installed Revs coach Jay Heaps is already praising the tournament.

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"We believe the Desert Diamond Cup will be the premier preseason tournament this year," Heaps said.

Real Salt Lake's general manager, Garth Lagerway (who is on his way to Arizona for a player combine in Casa Grande), considers the preseason tournament an important part of preparation for the season.

"The strong field assembled will ensure a solid test from a competition standpoint and should spark interest from our fans, whom we encourage to make the trip to Tucson to grow the tournament and get a sneak peek at their Claret-and-Cobalt in advance of the MLS regular season," Lagerway said.

Los Angeles coach, Bruce Arena, who also once helmed the U.S. national team, heaped praise on Tucson and tournament organizers.

"Tucson is an outstanding venue for our preseason as we prepare for the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS regular season. We look forward to the outstanding weather, facilities and hospitality that Tucson has to offer and look forward a challenging competition," Arena said in a press release.

Timing is important

Interestingly, the timing of the event will make it even more of a treat for fans.

There is a six-week preseason for MLS teams. The first two weeks, teams have a larger group including draftees and reserve players, many of whom will not make the roster on opening day. The next two weeks is usually spent back at the teams' home facilities. It's only in that third period when they have a group whittled down to that final squad.

The Desert Diamond Cup is scheduled for that last part of preseason, one that only comes a week before opening day. These will not be matches where coaches will be resting top players, far from it. They will have to play many of their first team players, said FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz.

"If I was one of these coaches I can go through my roster for these four matches and see who is going to perform as well prepare my first teamers to do ninety minutes," he said.

One team may have more incentive than the others to prepare: the Los Angeles Galaxy is scheduled to play against Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League. The March 7 tournament includes teams across North America, before the official start of the MLS season.

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Los Angeles drawing Toronto in that tournament was a lucky break for FC Tucson. There was a possibility of drawing El Salvadoran team A. D. Isidro Metapán, and the logistics of scheduling both the Desert Cup and a match in Central America only days later would have been difficult.

Thierry Thierry Thierry

A question came from the assembled media: "Will David Beckham be there?"

Likely not, since he is out of contract with the Galaxy and probably on his way to Paris San-Germain. A few of the people on the dais pointed out that Landon Donovan, a prominent star in his own right, will be there.

Still, Beckham is the first name many non-fanatics think of when you say "soccer player," just like Pelé was the name repeated over and over back during soccer's last big push into the American consciousness back in the late 70's.

But, there is another major star that a few people will be looking out for.

"I'm an Arsenal fan," said coach Rick Schantz, "a huge Arsenal fan. Theirry Henry, the way he plays the game, I've always been enamored by him."

County Supervisor Richard Elías, who helped make the arrangements for the tournament to take place at Kino Stadium, is a recent convert to the sport but his favorite falls in line with a more seasoned watcher like Schantz.

"Last year, watching the Red Bulls made me like Thierry Henry. I want to see him play again," he said.

Community

More important than seeing Henry again, Elías and others talked about getting the teams involved in the community.

"I'd like to see involvement in youth soccer... helping to make sure we breed great players. I think it'll help kids stay on the right direction. I'd also like to see them also getting involved with the less fortunate," Elías said after the press conference.

He's already been talking to FC Tucson about some activities in the community.

"They've just been great about committing to that and finding a way to make it happen with the biggest stars that they can find."

Schantz is already starting to put together one piece of philanthropy. He's arranging for one night's concession sales to benefit Imago Dei, an Episcopal school that serves low income children.

Nomenclature

At one point in the press conference, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild refered to FC Tucson as simply "FC." I won't give him too much grief about it. He's new. 

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

3
35 comments
Dec 8, 2011, 4:49 pm
-0 +3

@Bret Linden

or they try and do something about like bringing this tournament to town.

2
1517 comments
Dec 8, 2011, 4:36 pm
-5 +0

Don’t get your hopes up. Aside from U of A basketball (and sometimes football), this town has a horrible track record of supporting sports teams. Granted, some of that is on the sports teams themselves, but not all of it.

I know if I owned any sports franchise (or any big business, for that matter), there is no way on this earth I would ever move my operation here until people in this town demonstrate they’re serious about fixing their community and bringing it into the latter-half of the 20th century (I know, I know…but one step at a time).

Judging by the election results last month, Tucson doesn’t want to fix their community. And then they whine and moan and bitch about why no one wants to move their business here…

1
35 comments
Dec 8, 2011, 4:26 pm
-0 +1

Hey there is only one “FC” in town so I am cool with that.  Do you think I could get that on a license plate?

I like what you wrote about the timing of this.  I am so glad we are not just going to see some “reserve” games.  This is a big deal.  Three teams with USMNT players, I could not be happier.  What I like even more is that I can boo the hell out of Rafa Marquez this time around. 

I love the long term vision that everyone on the panel had particularly Paul Cunningham.  To even mention the fact that Tucson could someday have an MLS team and it’s own soccer specific stadium is beyond my dreams.  It was the Kennedy moment where he talked about putting a man on the moon.

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Teams

New England Revolution

  • 2011 record: 5-16-13 (27 points), ninth in Eastern Conference, seventeenth overall
  • Founded in 1995
  • Coach: Jay Heaps
  • Honors: U. S. Open Cup (2007), SuperLiga (2008)

Despite being one of the best MLS teams of the last decade with four MLS Cup appearances, the Revs have struggled the last couple of years. They recently replaced long time coach Steve Nicol with an interesting but inexperienced choice: former Rev Jay Heaps. Even with the poor record, players like teenaged Diego Fagundez and US national teamer Benny Feilhaber turned in good performances. The team has re-signed midfielder Shalrie Joseph and goalkeeper Matt Reis, but fans are still looking for a big signing in the off-season.

New York Red Bulls

  • 2011 record: 10-8-16 (46 points), fifth in Eastern Conference, 10th overall
  • Founded in 1995 as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, shortened to MetroStars in 2003, became the Red Bulls in 2006
  • Coach: Hans Backe
  • Honors: none

The experts picked the Red Bulls as contenders for MLS Cup at the start of the season, but it didn't work out that way for them. Despite having some of the biggest stars of world soccer, they were done in by disorganization, bad player management and infighting, coming to a head when Mexican superstar Rafael Márquez lashed out publicly at his teammates. Still, any team boasting of players like Thierry Henry is going to give other teams fits. Even with the big names, it was lesser known internationals like Luke Rodgers and Joel Lindpere that carried the water for the squad.

Los Angeles Galaxy

  • 2011 record: 19-5-10 (67 points), first in Western Conference, first overall
  • Founded in 1995
  • Coach: Bruce Arena
  • Honors: CONCACAF Champions Cup (2000), MLS Cup (2002, 2005, 2011), Supporters' Shield (1998, 2002, 2010, 2011), U.S. Open Cup (2001, 2005)

Even long time Galaxy bashers had to admit that they were hands down the best team this season, and some hyperbolically assert the best in the history of the league. The team didn't lose a single home game and made a flawless run at MLS Cup at the end of the season. This success came after several underperforming seasons which led some to wonder if "The Beckham Experiment" was all it was cracked up to be. David Beckham will likely be off to play in France, but the team is still star packed and dangerous with Landon Donovan, arguably the best player the US has produced, and Irish national team captain Robbie Keane.

Real Salt Lake

  • 2011 record: 15-11-8 (53 points), third in Western Conference, third overall
  • Founded in 2004
  • Coach: Jason Kreis
  • Honors: MLS Cup (2009), Supporters' Shield (2010)
  • Arizona connection: Forward Donny Toya calls Tucson home.

RSL could be said to have a "moneyball" model: the success they have had over the last couple of years (including an appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League final) was accomplished without a high-dollar markee player from Europe or Latin America. The team performed well, even compared to other sides in their tough Western Conference. The team may be due for some changes, especially after the retirement of Andy Williams, but it's hard to see where to make them. Argentine Fabián Espíndola, Costa Rican Álvaro Saborío and American midfielder Kyle Beckerman look like they will continue to be the offensive engine of the Royals.

Matches

  • Wednesday, Feb. 22
  • 6 p.m. New England Revolution vs. L.A. Galaxy
  • 8 p.m. New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake
  • Saturday, Feb. 25
  • 6 p.m. L.A. Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 8 p.m. New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution
  • Wednesday, Feb. 29     
  • 6 p.m. Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution 
  • 8 p.m. L.A. Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls
  • Saturday, March 3
  • 6 p.m.  MLS 3rd Place vs. MLS 4th Place
  • 8 p.m.  MLS 1st Place vs. MLS 2nd Place

Tickets

"Fantastic 4" Plans, which include seats to all 4 double-header events, will go on sale at noon, Monday, Dec. 12 at www.ticketreturn.com. Fans interested in group sales of 20 or more, suites or corporate hospitality can call 335-1115.

Prices for the matches are:

  • $75 VIP Center Field
  • $40 Premium
  • $30 Sideline
  • $20 Endline

Fans can purchase "Fantastic Four" Plans to lock up their favorite seat for all four dates (eight games) and receive a discount on each ticket. Prices for these special packages start at just $72 or $9 per match. You can also visit www.fctucson.com or FC Tucson's Facebook page to find a pricing map of the stadium.

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