Tucson to host pro soccer preseason for 13th year
Former Liverpool/Bayern winger and 2-time World Cup goal-scorer Shaqiri among players at Kino in February
Preseason soccer in Tucson this year will include 2 former MLS champions: Real Salt Lake, featuring Tucson native Justen Glad, and the Chicago Fire FC, featuring Swiss World Cup goal-scorer and former Liverpool player Xherdan Shaqiri, and 7 other pro teams.
The 2023 FC Tucson Desert Showcase was announced by the local club on Wednesday, with the list of participants set to play at Kino North Complex from Feb. 8-18.
The pair of major league teams will be joined by 7 USL Championship clubs including U.S. Open Cup finalist Sacramento Republic FC, USL Championship finalist Louisville City FC, Western Conference finalist Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, New Mexico United, Detroit City FC, and Phoenix Rising FC. This will be the 13th consecutive season that FC Tucson has hosted teams for MLS preseason.
According to a press release from the team, nearly 200 matches have been played, 21,000 hotel room nights, 2,000 jobs, and over $14 million in economic impact for the city of Tucson and Pima County over the past dozen years from the winter soccer matches.
Tucson native Mark Biagi will be head coach of the USL League Two men’s side, while Kelly Pierce will continue to be the head coach of the WPSL women’s side, the local side said.
Less participation from MLS this year
There are only two MLS teams this year, but FC Tucson's Jon Pearlman said that the USL teams that are invited this year are among that league’s best, and that the gap between the top and second flight is getting closer. Sacramento Republic defeated three MLS teams on their way to the U.S. Open Cup final.
There are 12 new teams in MLS since the first preseason match in Tucson in 2011. Ironically, the growth in the league has made it more difficult to attract teams.
“There’s always events popping up now,” said Pearlman. “It’s really critical for us to have incentives for teams like Portland, Seattle and Midwest teams like Minnesota that definitely have to get out of the cold.”
In the early years of Tucson preseason, the main competition was the heavily subsidized and better established tournament in Orlando. Even with that, FC Tucson could sell their facilities as a “western hub.” This year that became difficult with the LA Galaxy hosting the Coachella Valley Invitational, which this year features 12 MLS sides.
Additionally, Seattle Sounders, which has been a perennial attraction in Tucson’s past preseasons, will be playing in the World Club Cup, which takes place in the first two weeks of February in Morocco.