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MLS Preseason returns to Tucson with a new name: Desert Showcase

Announced contests include Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City & Colorado Rapids

FC Tucson has announced dates for Major League Soccer preseason in Tucson.

There are two details that jump out immediately when you hear the moniker for this year’s preseason. The 2022 contest is dubbed Desert Showcase, meaning a return of the “Desert” name that the preseason contests originally had back in 2011.

More importantly, the pretense that this is a “Cup” has been abandoned. In recent years, with teams coming and going, it became increasingly hard to say a full tournament has been staged. For example, Sporting Kansas City had a perfect record in the 2021 Sun Cup (as it was called that year), but as they only played one match with other teams playing up to three, they couldn’t actually win the tournament.

This year’s event, sponsored by Visit Tucson and Rio Nuevo, kicks off on Jan. 26. FC Tucson has announced three matches so far, but promises more will be announced in the next few weeks. All will be played at Kino North Stadium.

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 7 pm

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

The last contest between these two sides was a nil-nil playoff contest in November that ended with RSL advancing after penalty kicks.

RSL got a bit of play in the sports-but-not-soccer press this week as they announced that former Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade would be part of the new ownership group. The new ownership (which includes owners of the Utah Jazz) has given fans some hope of new signings. Pablo Mastroeni (a former Tucson Amigo) has been announced as the permanent coach and team captain Albert Rusnák will likely be moving to another team.

Seattle’s early playoff exit came after a remarkable season that left them only one point out of first place in the Western Conference. US national team stars Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris will be out for international duty, but the sight of Nicolás Lodiero, who missed much of last season due to injury, should be more than enough to satisfy Old Pueblo Sounders fans.

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Aside from a Tucson connection in coach Mastroeni, RSL boasts of Tucsonans Donny Toia and Justen Glad, as well as former FC Tucson player Aaron Herrera.

Saturday, Jan. 29, 4 pm

Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids

Sporting KC participated in the very first Desert Cup, a contest at Hi Corbett Field in 2011.

The coach is still the same as in 2011, MLS Cup champion Peter Vermes. Some familiar faces are still questionable for the line-up though. The team is still negotiating with long-time stalwarts Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza (a former Yavapai Rough Rider). Still, this is a roster that has the best organized midfield in the league, and the league’s best goal keeper that hasn’t gotten a national team look, Tim Melia.

Colorado finished last season first in the Western Conference and has already been working to improve the side. The team signed Aboubacar Keita, who won MLS Cup with Columbus in 2020. The other signing is not as much of a known quantity, but an indication of a new direction for a team that’s one of the lowest spending in the league. The team paid a $750,000 transfer fee (with the possibility of paying $250,000 more) to Brazilian giants Flamengo for the rights to Max Alves da Silva. The 20-year-old, who has gone simply by “Max,” is considered a dangerous attacking player, but it may take him time to get used to a new league and country.

Saturday, Feb. 5, 4 pm

Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo

Houston started in MLS with a bang, winning MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. Since the team’s last appearance in MLS Cup in 2012, it’s been a bit more dismal.

The team has brought in a new coach: former Sporting KC midfielder Paulo Nagumura. The knock on Nagumura from soccer twitter has been his lack of coaching experience. It’s true. His previous coaching duties have only been a couple of years coaching in the USL Championship. However, his coaching time has been with affiliates of Sporting KC, which meant he was under Peter Vermes’s tutelage. If nothing else, Nagumura learned from one of the best.

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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

RSL defender Donny Toia greets his daughter after winning the 2021 Sun Cup. Preseason matches are being dubbed the Desert Showcase this year.