Preseason soccer in Tucson
Last-minute goal gives Portland win over Seattle
FC Tucson and Pima standout Van Alstine takes field for Seattle
Even on a Wednesday night, local Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers FC fans showed up in force to cheer on the two teams in the biggest rivalry in MLS. When the referee blew the final whistle on the preseason soccer match in Tucson, Portland came out on top with a score of 2 – 1.
Seattle started with an unfamiliar line-up. There was no Nicolas Lodiero or Jordan Morris. Fans that spotted a jersey with “Roldan” found that it wasn’t long time midfielder Cristian but his younger brother Alex. The other familiar names were bench players Harry Shipp, Will Bruin and backup keeper Bryan Meredith.
Still, the lineup showed well against Portland in the opening half, albeit with some shakiness at the back. Despite Portland’s forwards — Lucas Melano backed by Andy Polo, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco — having a great deal of room to pepper Seattle’s goal, the first half-hour ticked by with neither team able to score.
In minute 33, Seattle’s Handwalla Bwana sped up the left side of the field and dished it off into the crowd of Sounders attackers. As the ball was passed back and forth among the Seattle offensive line, Bwana made his way into the box unmarked, putting him in the perfect position to head in a pass from Marlon Vargas.
Controversially, Portland equalized minutes later when Jordy Delem brought down Portland’s Andy Polo at the edge of the penalty area. After the play was reviewed, Portland was awarded a penalty. Diego Valeri got the ball into the net with a low shot to Merideth’s left.
The second half featured mass changes for both teams. Portland turned over its entire lineup in minute 60. Still, the new crew included familiar faces like midfielder Diego Chara, forward Dairon Asprilla and U.S. national team striker Jeremy Ebobisse.
Seattle waited until minute 75 to change things. Their new line-up, which only kept 15-year old Danny Leyva on the field from the earlier group, was composed mostly of academy players as well as players from the team’s USL affiliate, Tacoma Defiance.
Even with the seeming mismatch of talent levels, the score remained unchanged until minute 88. Asprilla slipped past the Seattle back line to send the ball to Ebobisse. Ebobisse’s looked-easier-than-it-was tap in turned out to be the winning goal.
Seattle plays one more match at Kino on Saturday against FC Dallas at 10 a.m. Portland will take on the New York Red Bulls in the evening match at 7 p.m.
Southern Arizona well represented
Most of Seattle’s late substitutions were marked on press materials as either a Tacoma Defiance player or an academy player. One name familiar to Tucson soccer watchers had a third mark: guest player Kyle Van Alstine.
Van Alstine, a former Pima College and FC Tucson defender, was the last player from either team to come to the locker room when things were over. He talked for a long time with friends after the match, and signed autographs for wide eyed kids who were excited to meet anyone in a Seattle jersey.
A guest player isn’t a trialist, but it is still an opportunity for a good local player to be seen by the pros.
“I went to the open try-outs for FC Tucson,” he said. “Then I got a surprise message from the director of player operations who said, ‘Hey, your FC Tucson coach said he could loan you to be a center back’.”
“We’re all challenging for minutes. I’m not even on the team, but if I play well, I have just as much right to step on the field as those guys,” he added noting that he’s still on a trial of sorts for this year’s FC Tucson team.
Players in Van Alstine’s situation can often look to the on-field leadership of other players, but given that many of the players were teenaged academy players, that was more difficult.
“There are a couple of pretty experienced kids who have been playing at that level for a while,” he said. “But we all have to step up at that point and rely on your soccer knowledge.”