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Updated Dec 8, 2011, 3:28 pm
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.
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.
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.