Desert Diamond Cup: New lineups, possible fan shenanigans
RSL, Seattle getting ready for Champions League; New England, New York hoping for improvement
The first match-ups in the third annual Desert Diamond Cup happen on Wednesday at Kino Stadium. This year’s field includes two teams getting ready for continental competition, one team with a brand new coach and another in the process of rebuilding.
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders FC – 5 pm
The midfield tandem of Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber didn’t work out for New England the way the team had hoped at the beginning of last season. Joseph seemed to have lost a step or two since his heyday, and Feilhaber didn’t fit in with Coach Jay Heaps’s tactical plans. Feilhaber’s outbursts at teammates on the field probably didn’t help either.
Heaps will likely be counting on two recent returnees to Major League Soccer for midfield leadership. Colombian Juan Toja, who had previously played for FC Dallas and had been spending time in Europe in the intervening years. Toja joined the team in the closing weeks of last season, too late to make much of an impact. The other returnee is Welsh player Andy Dorman, who was a fan favorite in New England during the team’s glory days in the middle part of the last decade. Two of New England’s MLS Cup appearances as well as their Open Cup championship came during Dorman’s time in the midfield for the squad.
Another star for New England may be a tough one to cheer for for U.S. fans. Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson scored the game winning goal against the U.S. in the Feb. 6 World Cup qualifier.
Seattle has a bit more to prepare for than New England does. In addition to preparing for the March 2 beginning to the season, the team will also have to fly to Monterrey to face UANL Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League. Seattle didn’t schedule many preseason matches, so these four matches in the two weeks of the tournament will be the first test of the team’s depth for the extra competitions they will have to play.
Forward Fredy Montero is out on loan to Colombian team Millonarios, but the team still has former national teamer Eddie Johnson up top to score goals.
Arizonan Brad Evans will likely make an appearance in the midfield, but those of you looking for Andrew Weber to play in driving distance will have to wait until the start of the USL season. He was waived by the Sounders last year and will be playing for Phoenix FC.
Part of any Sounders game is the fans. Their five registered fan organizations are considered the most rabid in the league and they travel. A vocal contingent attended a scrimmage in, of all places, Casa Grande last year. FC Tucson hasn’t yet broken down ticket sales by city yet, but there are sure to be colorful contingents from Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC livening up Kino Stadium.
New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 pm
Too much has probably been written about the “Curse of Carricola.” Yes, I’m guilty too. But, for years of having some of the best known players in the league has not earned the New York Red Bulls any of the league’s major honors.
The team decided to go in a different direction after last season. The team had one of its better showings, finishing third in the Eastern Conference. Still, they only managed a short run in the playoffs.
Owners decided not just to retool or shore up the team, it was a near decimation. Just shy of a dozen players were waived and coach Hans Backe was sacked. After trying to hire several well-pedigreed foreign coaches, the team promoted assistant coach Mike Petke.
Petke hasn’t wasted time in rebuilding the team. He sent Kenny Cooper, the team’s leading scorer last season, back to Dallas and brought in midfielder Eric Alexander from the Portland Timbers and signed Spanish player Ruben Izquierdo. The team also brought in former Real Salt Lake forward Fabián Espíndola.
The field will not be filled with unfamiliar Red Bulls, however. Arguably the most recognizable player will still be out there, World Cup winner Thierry Henry. Playing between the pipes will be Luis Robles, the Cochise County native and Tucson Soccer Academy graduate. It will be Robles’s first professional game played in Tucson.
Real Salt Lake is preparing for another run at the CONCACAF Champions League, their third entrance in the tournament. RSL had a fantastic run in that tournament 2011 before a disappointing performance in the final, and there are still players on the team that would like to have that one back.
A big chunk of the Latin contingent that has made the team so dynamic the past few seasons will not be at Kino this year. Fabián Espíndola and Jamison Olave have been dealt to New York. Javier Morales was injured in a preseason match in Casa Grande last month and isn’t expected to return until at least the beginning of the season.
Not to worry, Álvaro Saborío arrived in Tucson on Monday and is expected to play in the tournament. Saborío, or “El Pipe” as he is known in Costa Rica, is the team’s leading scorer at 39 goals since he made his debut in 2011.
Tucson born Nat Borchers will be on the back line for the team as well.