FC Tucson Desert showcase kicks off with rebuilding MLS side & Open Cup finalist
Wednesday match will be a good chance to see revamped Chicago Fire squad & eager Sacramento Republic
FC Tucson began this year’s preseason soccer schedule with a Tuesday-night event at downtown’s Pueblo Vida brewery. Ezra Hendrickson, now in his second season as Chicago Fire FC head coach was in attendance.
Interestingly, Hendrickson’s two previous times in Tucson were as an assistant coach: Seattle Sounders FC in 2016 and Columbus Crew SC in 2020. In both of those years, his teams went on to appear in the MLS Cup final. Columbus won it in 2020.
Hendrickson didn’t want to attribute success in those years to our local Sonoran hot dogs or spectacular sunsets.
“Good competition here; that’s something that we wanted,” he said. “Preseason has been valuable because you still evaluate as you actually build a team and be able to get four solid games.”
Hendrickson has a bit more work to do putting together his side. The team had the second-lowest goal total in the league last year, only kept out of last place by an also dismal DC United squad. Disappointing performances by internationals like Kacper Przybylko didn’t help the situation. One of their best scorers, Colombian Jhon Durán, took a transfer to English side Aston Villa last month.
The transfer did net the team some cash and room to spend it, but the announced signings so far have been pedestrian. For example, Chicago native Jeff Gal will be joining the team as a back-up keeper.
The team does still boast of World Cup vet Xherdan Shaquiri, at one time the most Googled player in his adopted home of Switzerland. His work on the wings made him a stand out at both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. The big question for Hendrickson and the team is who is going to be the guy up top that he can serve to.
As for Chicago’s Wednesday opponent, the question for them is how they can transfer their success last year into a trophy this year. A successful preseason will go a long way to doing that, says fourth-year coach Mark Briggs.
“Bringing our group together in a preseason last year was a real big part of our culture and our identity,” he said. “That’s why we chose to do the same this year to get that camaraderie and bring us closer together.”
While that camaraderie only earned them an early exit from the USL Championship playoffs last year, the team had a dream run in the U.S. Open Cup. They defeated three MLS sides on the way to the final before succumbing to Orlando City. They were the first lower-division team to compete in the final since 2008.
Their roster includes Catalan player Damià Viader, who was a constant nuisance against FC Tucson during his time with Union Omaha. Rodrigo López, who won the Golden Boot in the Open Cup last year, will also feature.
The match kicks off at 6 p.m. at Kino North Stadium.