By GARRETT CLEVERLY
Arizona soccer fans may not have a MLS franchise to call their own, but for the first two months of 2013, fans in the Grand Canyon State will have a buffet style of teams to cheer for.
In addition to the four MLS teams that are going to participate in the 2013 Desert Diamond Cup, FC Tucson announced Thursday that they have invited five more MLS clubs to train and play preseason friendlies in Tucson.
The five teams will be: Houston Dynamo, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City and Colorado Rapids
Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution originally committed to playing in the Cup, will also participate in the nine friendlies that will be played between January 29th-February 8th.
The Desert Diamond Cup is then scheduled to start on February 13th, with the two other teams being Real Salt Lake and New York Red Bulls.
The addition of the new teams is a huge boost of confidence for Tucson from Major League Soccer. FC Tucson has not been quiet about their ambitions to be the official western hub for MLS spring training.
And why wouldn’t they?
The Cactus League, Major League Baseball’s version of spring training, generates more than $300 million for the Phoenix economy. The league also set a attendance mark this past year drawing over 1.5 million fans.
FC Tucson understands that creating their own unique identity is key to creating a successful pre-season home for the MLS.
The nine friendlies will be a cheaper alternative from the Desert Diamond Cup and it will also allow fans to sit and watch the action just a few feet from the pitch.
When the Desert Diamond Cup kicks off, FC Tucson wants to have a MLS stadium atmosphere. They want fans of the teams participating to bring their “home” stadium experience to Tucson.
Another reason why this is such a big deal for city of Tucson is because MLB ditched Tucson in 2010. That was when the final 2 teams pulled out and moved to Phoenix.
Tucson had empty facilities and needed to find a way to fill the facilities to justify the money the city had spent building them. Enter FC Tucson.
Founded in 2010, FC Tucson hosted the first edition of the Cup in 2011 inviting two MLS teams. In 2012, FC Tucson added two more MLS teams, hosting four total for the Cup. Before the Cup was played that year numerous MLS teams also spent part of their preseason training in Arizona.
The difference between the 2013 Desert Diamond Cup and the previous two editions, is that the Cup now has the official stamp of approval from MLS. Earlier in October it was announced that Tucson would become the “Western Hub of MLS Pre-Season”.
Now that MLS has committed to Tucson, the city has already begun the process converting the baseball practice fields to soccer fields. Some of the fields will have bleachers around the pitch.
Spring training combined with Arizona is a perfect marriage. Out of the nine teams scheduled to be in the friendlies and Cup, seven of the teams are from cold weather climates.
Those teams are: Portland, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City.