Major League Soccer kicks off

Major League Soccer Preseason is held at Kino North Stadium through the month of February. (Photo by: Megan Mohler/ Arizona Sonora News)
Major League Soccer Preseason is held at Kino North Stadium through the month of February. (Photo by: Megan Mohler/ Arizona Sonora News)

[box] 2015 FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup Schedule
(All kickoffs Mountain Time)
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Game #1, 5:30 p.m.: Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City, Kino North Stadium

  • Game #2, 6:00 p.m.: Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution, Kino North Grand Stand
  • Game #3, 8:00 p.m.: Seattle Sounders FC vs. FC Tucson, Kino North Stadium

Saturday, February 21, 2015

  • Game #4, 5:30 p.m.: Colorado Rapids vs. New England Revolution, Kino North Stadium
  • Game #5, 6:00 p.m.: Real Salt Lake vs. FC Tucson, Kino North Grand Stand
  • Game #6, 8:00 p.m.: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Sporting Kansas City, Kino North Stadium

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

  • Game #7, 5:30 p.m.: Colorado Rapids vs. FC Tucson, Kino North Stadium
  • Game #8, 6:00 p.m.: Seattle Sounders FC vs. New England Revolution, Kino North Grand Stand
  • Game #9, 8:00 p.m.: Real Salt lake vs. Sporting Kansas City, Kino North Stadium

Saturday, February 28, 2015

  • Game #10, Time TBD: 5th Place vs. 6th Place, Kino North Stadium
  • Game #11, Time TBD: 3rd Place vs. 4th Place, Kino North Grand Stand
  • Game #12, Time TBD: 1st Place vs. 2nd Place, Kino North Stadium

*Schedules subject to CONCACAF Championships League Calendar. All game times and matchups are subject to change. [/box]

Professional soccer fans suffering withdrawals from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil no longer have to watch the action from the couch.

Preseason Major League Soccer returns to Arizona with a cast of World Cup players.

“It’s a big deal for us,” said Henrik Nielsen, a Portland Timbers fan living in Tucson. “It’s the closest we can get to Timbers soccer without traveling to L.A.”

Preseason camps are found mostly in the Southeast, such as Florida and South Carolina, where the climate is similar to Tucson’s. This is the fourth year Tucson has hosted professional soccer spring training.

“We are the western hub for MLS Preseason,” said Jon Pearlman, general manager for Football Club Tucson (FC Tucson), a team within the Premier Development League, a national amateur organization that sends its best players to the pro leagues.

Pearlman said the event features about a dozen players who participated in the World Cup, including Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Graham Zusi.

Dan Gibson, spokesman for Visit Tucson, said the hotel and restaurant industries are the direct beneficiaries from professional sports in southern Arizona.

“Soccer is a sport on the rise,” he said. “It reaches millennials.”

According to Gibson, the games are just the beginning for what tournament sponsors are trying to do for the sport in Arizona. He said organizers have not tracked the specific revenues the event has brought in.

Visit Tucson, in conjunction with FC Tucson, have marketed the event through social media with outreach to a younger audience and Pacific Northwest cities where the climate is starkly different to Tucson’s, according to Gibson.

Some teams have supporter clubs that tailgate, sing songs in the stands and heckle other fans and players. For example, the Timbers Army supports the Portland Timbers and the Emerald City Supporters cheer for the Seattle Sounders.

Stephan Zacharias, dressed like a soccer lumberjack and equipped with a toy chainsaw, lives and works at the Grand Canyon, but comes down to watch the Portland Timbers play.

“Come on over, we’ve got beer, empanadas, everything,” Zacharias said.

Gibson said there used to be preseason soccer in Phoenix as recently as 2011, but it “wasn’t on anybody’s radar or a priority. This is something Tucson can really take ownership of.”

Pima County partnered with FC Tucson and Kino Sports Complex to provide the facilities. In 2013, Pima County opened the Kino North Stadium, capable of holding up to 3,000 fans, with six surrounding fields.

“It’s definitely a lot smaller than baseball spring training,” Gibson said.

Ten teams participate in two rounds of preseason play. The early preseason camp, which ended Feb. 7, featured the Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo.

The second round of preseason begins Feb.18 in the 2015 FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup. The teams include the Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders and FC Tucson.

The games are held at Kino North Stadium. General admission tickets are available for $18 per day. Friday, Feb. 20, there will be an open training session free to the public at the stadium. The games will conclude Feb. 28.

For more info on MLS Preseason, click here.

Megan Mohler is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at meganmohler@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.