Five months ago, forward Devon Sandoval was playing against Seattle University. On Saturday, he could be facing Seattle Sounders FC.
Sandoval, who signed with Real Salt Lake on Tuesday, scored the first of three second-half goals as RSL rallied furiously to defeat the New England Revolution 3-2 in Wednesday night's Desert Diamond Cup opener. With the win and New York's loss in Wednesday's second match, Real Salt Lake will play Sounders FC in Saturday's final at Kino Stadium. The 21-year-old Albuquerque native was playing for University of New Mexico in the fall before being the 29th overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
Now he's vying for playing time among a group of forwards that includes a U.S national team member, one of the league's best players, an Ecuadorian and a Colombian.
Coach Jason Kreis "wants me to hold up the ball and not lose it - combine with my midfielders and be a target forward," Sandoval said. "When that time comes, I need to put the ball in the back of the net.
"We've got a lot of good forwards. That's exciting. It's really competitive, and I'm excited to be a part of it."
It's come a long way
Kreis played in Major League Soccer for 12 seasons before taking over as Real Salt Lake coach.
He and the league go all the way back to the start. He played 31 matches and scored 13 goals while playing for the Dallas Burn in the league's first season in 1996.
So how has the preseason experience changed since those fledgling days in 1996?
"The first preseason I was at, I stayed in a hotel next to a train track in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.). And now were staying in Tucson at La Paloma," Kreis said recently.
Smith looking at options
Among those sitting in the press box Wednesday night was FC Tucson standout defender Kareem Smith.
Smith, who said he recently returned from the island of Trinidad where they were celebrating Carnival, is looking at different team possibilities for the upcoming season.
Last season, he was a rock as FC Tucson reached the playoffs in its inaugural season.
"Right now, I'm looking at certain options but there is nothing concrete yet," said Smith, who has six appearances for the Trinidad and Tobago national team.
"I'm just playing it by ear, day by day, but keeping in shape. As of now, I'm an FC Tucson player."
• At halftime of the doubleheader opener, event organizers honored the area's two high school state soccer championship teams - the Catalina Foothills girls and the Salpointe Catholic boys. They got the biggest ovation of the night, and there was even a, perhaps coincidental, fly over.
• For the second straight year, ESPN Deportes (990-AM) is broadcasting the matches. Jorge Leyva and Samuel Sandoval are behind the microphones for the four doubleheaders. Leyva announced the FC Tucson matches last summer and says ESPN Deportes will be doing the games again this season.