Sporting Kansas City was looking for minutes. FC Tucson was looking for moments.
Both clubs had their wishes granted in Tuesday’s closed scrimmage at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium, the first time a ball was kicked in anger during this year’s MLS spring training in Tucson.
The MLS champions, who arrived last weekend for their fourth preseason stay in the Old Pueblo, picked up a 1-0 victory over FC Tucson, thanks to a first-half goal by C.J. Sapong.
“This is exactly what we hope to get out of this,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “I always say the first phase of preseason is really about us getting minutes and getting the guys to increase their minutes game after game after game.
“It’s an evaluation phase, especially for the new guys coming in. … The good part is that we’ve given them some ingredients of how we want to play. We haven’t given all of it to them, and we’ve allowed them to freelance a little bit today and see what their soccer intelligence is. I’d say for the most part, all the guys did a decent job.”
Sporting Kansas City goalkeepers Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum combined for a shutout. Kronberg made an excellent save on a volley by FC Tucson veteran Carlos Montes in the first half.
While Sporting KC worked on match experience for its players, FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz and his staff got a chance to assess some new faces and some familiar names.
“Right before we started I said we’re getting pretty good at putting together a group of players and playing against MLS teams,” Schantz said. “It’s not our first rodeo anymore.
“I think we put 22 players on the field today and lost 1-0 to the defending MLS Cup champions — although, they went through a lot of players as well.”
In its four years, FC Tucson has played nine matches against MLS foes. The men in black have managed a win and two draws in those meetings.
“Our staff is finally using it as an opportunity to rate players, evaluate. Whereas in the past, I just wouldn’t want to lose that bad,” Schantz said.
One of the new faces belongs to goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez, who was between the posts for the second half of Tuesday’s scrimmage. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Rodriguez grew up in Las Cruces, N.M., and played at the University of New Mexico for four years.
“He actually had a couple big saves,” said Roman Acosta, a former Salpointe Catholic High School and Pima College goalkeeper who is on the FC Tucson staff. “The first one was a quick shot to his left that he actually bobbled and made a second save that was remarkable. Later in the second half, he had a big-time save to his left and was able to put the ball into the post.”
Coming up with two big stops and a clean sheet for 45 minutes against the MLS champions was quite a return to the field for Rodriguez, 22.
“This was my first competitive game in about eight months,” he said. “It’s a big deal for me. … I let my nervousness get the best of me for the first couple minutes. But after getting that first save, it was good.”
While Rodriguez is on FC Tucson’s radar for the upcoming month, which will include another scrimmage and four Desert Diamond Cup matches, he might be an FC Tucson opponent come summertime.
The Albuquerque Sol will be joining the USL Premier Development League this year, and Rodriguez says playing there in the summer is certainly a possibility.
For now, he’ll just have to settle for playing against the top professional clubs in the United States.