Major League Soccer has returned for a fourth consecutive year to Tucson.
More than 1,700 people were in the stands at Kino Sports Complex’s North Stadium for the second day of the pre-cup double-header on Feb. 8.
First, the San Jose Earthquakes took on the Houston Dynamo. Houston managed to come back from a 1-0 deficit, scoring three goals in the second half to take home the victory with a score of 3-1.
Victor Bernardez, San Jose Earthquakes and Honduran National Team defender, said he has felt the love in Tucson.
“It’s my second time here in Tucson and people have always treated us kindly,” Bernardez said. “We feel like we are at home and we hope to come back soon.”
The second game of the doubleheader featured the bitter rivalry between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders. For this game, there was more action in the stands than on the field. Fans from both teams cheered throughout the 90-minute game, which ended in a scoreless draw.
Among those in the crowd was Richard Elias, a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
“I think it’s a great turnout,” he said. “Both Portland and Seattle have a tradition of turning out fans and it came true here in Tucson tonight.” He noted the rising popularity of soccer in Tucson. “People are interested and families are coming out.”
FC Tucson is the city’s semi-professional soccer club and Greg Foster, their managing partner, was happy with the pre-cup enthusiasm. “After seeing what I saw tonight I’m excited for the Desert Diamond Cup,” he said. “What I love about it is a lot of Portland fans, a lot of Seattle fans, and a lot people from out of town imported the northwestern soccer culture to Tucson.”
Pre-cup schedule action began Feb. 1 with a 1-1 tie between MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers.
However, the games played during pre-cup schedule were merely the appetizer before the main course: the 2014 Desert Diamond Cup.
The fourth edition of the tournament features seven teams. Local team FC Tucson will have the opportunity to go head-to-head with Major League Soccer teams like Chivas USA, New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire. On the last day of the tournament Chivas de Guadalajara’s development team will replace FC Tucson.
“That will add a new dimension to the tournament,” Foster said, “and hopefully bring some interest from fans of (Mexican soccer league) Liga MX.”
During the 2014 edition of the tournament, Tucsonans will be able to watch many notable players, including former member of the Mexican National Team Adolfo “Bofo” Bautista and young star Erick “Cubo” Torres, both from Chivas USA. U.S. National Team goalkeeper Nick Rimando and Costa Rican National Team forward Alvaro Saborio, both from Real Salt Lake, are also among the big name players featured in the tournament.
Desert Diamond Cup action will take place in four match days, all with a triple-header. Match days are Feb. 19, 22, 26 and March 1. Games for the first three match days will be held at the North Stadium of Kino Sports Complex. Games for the last match day will be held at Kino Stadium.
Foster is optimistic about the future of soccer in Tucson. “We are going to establish this as a tradition,” he said. “FC Tucson will continue to try to grow the game at a level that the community supports and we will take it step-by-step and see how far that takes us.”
Supervisor Elias agrees. “The future looks bright for soccer here in Tucson and that’s really what is most important to all of us.”
Check out the Desert Diamond Cup Schedule on the FC Tucson website.