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Posted Dec 21, 2011, 2:52 pm
Major League Soccer teams San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City will be calling Tucson home for their pre-season training.
Both teams will be leaving town before the start of the Desert Diamond Cup, Tucson's pre-season tournament that will feature four MLS teams.
The Earthquakes will be coming to town on Jan. 30 and staying for six days for training at Kino Sports Complex. Kansas City will be training at Kino for two weeks starting on Feb. 1.
This will not be Sporting's first visit to Tucson. The team was one of two to play in the inaugural Desert Cup last year.
Both teams will be practicing on fields originally built for the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. As part of the training, the teams will be scrimmaging against each other and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who will be training in Casa Grande. The teams' reserve sides will be playing practice matches against FC Tucson.
Street soccer and Orlando
There will be limited access to practices and scrimmages, but FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster says that the players will be, for a short time, part of our town.
"They will be out in the community," he said, "meet and greets with kids, soccer events, street soccer and a movie night."
As for how Tucson was able to attract these teams, he named three things: "weather, excellent training facilities and a low-cost environment."
Still, Tucson will not be without competition for next year's pre-season. This season, teams are training up the road in Casa Grande, as well as in Ventura and New Orleans. The biggest competitor, however, is Orlando.
"We're competing with Disney," Foster said.
Disney owns MLS broadcast partner ESPN, which is headquartering its pre-season coverage in Orlando.
The network lends their name to the Disney-owned Orlando facility hosting the other big pre-season event, ESPN Wide World of Sports. Also, "Wide World" was built soccer-specific, no conversion necessary. Add to that the plans that the Florida legislature has to give a state subsidy to keep and expand MLS pre-season in that city.
Despite all of this, Foster is hopeful that what Tucson has to offer will keep teams here. Still, he has a warning: "If we can't compete with Orlando, we'll not be part of Major League Soccer spring training."
First trip to Baja Arizona for San Jose
Unlike Sporting Kansas City, this will be San Jose's first trip to Tucson. What does Earthquakes' coach Frank Yallop expect out of it?
"Our first real, tough, competitive games," he said.
The Quakes' stay in Tucson comes a few weeks into the pre-season, after the initial mob of draftees and trialists has been whittled down a little.
The two competitive matches that are scheduled, plus the two reserve matches, will help Yallop and his staff to make those final decisions about who starts, who will be a reservist and who might need to put in a call to their local USL team.
It's not just a matter of culling. These games are a month before the season starts, and many of the players will have not played since late October.
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"It's a chance for the senior guys to get back into the swing of the game," Yallop said.
One reason for the longer layoff is because San Jose, despite having one of the best forwards in the league in Chris Wondolowski, failed to make the playoffs last year.
Yallop has been busy in the off-season improving the squad. A trade with Vancouver brought in Shea Salinas, who will bring in some much-needed speed. Trades also brought in Haitian forward Jean Alexandre from Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas center back Marvin Chávez. Yallop promises a fourth veteran signing by the time the Quakes get to Tucson.
Before Frank Yallop, only two MLS players had served as head coach: Roy Wegerle for one match as an interim skipper for the Colorado Rapids and Walter Zenga, who had a disastrous and short tenure as coach of New England in 1999.
Given how forgettable both of those coaching stints are, Yallop can be forgiven for calling himself the first former player to become an MLS head coach. He certainly was the first successful one: he won two MLS cups in his first three years coaching San Jose.
Yallop had some time to climb the ladder before being a head coach of an MLS team. First he was put in charge of the league's Project-40 program (now called Generation Adidas), then was tapped by DC United coach Thomas Rongen to be one of his assistants.
The current trend in the league is to look for former MLS players to be coaches, rather than the past pattern of foreign or college coaches. Yallop sees this as a plus.
"They are familiar with the league and how its players think," he said in a phone interview.
Where Yallop had a chance to coach at a lower level and apprentice with an experienced coach, a few recent head coaching vacancies have been filled by newly retired players without much of a coaching resume. DC United, Real Salt Lake and the New England Revolution all currently have ex-players as head coaches with little or no experience at a lower level before being promoted.
His advice for this new crop of coaches is a bit of patience.
"It's not as easy as you'd think....You can't expect to win right away."
It's an ironic bit of advice from a man who won the MLS Cup in his first season as head coach.