And the MVP of the MLS Desert Friendlies is … the field.
After taking the best that Major League Soccer players could dole out over nine matches in 11 days, the grass at Kino Sports Complex North Field No. 5 was quite certainly a Most Valuable Pitch.
The blades of grass on the field probably photosynthesized a sigh of relief after the Portland Timbers defeated FC Tucson 3-0 on Friday to wrap up the Desert Friendlies, but they survived.
“They were spectacular,” FC Tucson coach and co-managing partner Rick Schantz said of the Desert Friendlies. “The thing I was worried about the most was the wear and tear on the field. You wouldn’t believe nine pro soccer games have been played in that span.”
During that time, the field also dealt with a couple of rains, some low temperatures that neared freezing and some highs that easily broke 70.
But the field wasn’t the only area where expectations were reached or passed, according to event organizers FC Tucson.
“I think we will measure success in a couple of different ways,” FC Tucson co-managing partner Greg Foster said. “One way is whether they served the Major League Soccer teams’ purposes. … We were able to provide them a game situation with fans and a little bit more pressure they might find just playing on a field.
“From the community perspective, thousands of people got to sit closer to a Major League Soccer game than they would ever have the opportunity to do otherwise, and they were able to see these games at a very low ticket price. So I think we were able to introduce the game in a new way to local soccer fans.
“I expect us to continue the Desert Friendlies and invite more teams to participate in them.”
Although no official attendance numbers were released for the matches, there were always a few hundred taking in each match, and Tuesday’s Portland-Seattle match topped the list with a full grandstand and many standing on the touchlines.
“It’s nice to have a bit of a crowd each game,” Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter said after his team claimed its third win in four matches on the North Field No. 5.
Here’s a look at some of the top moments at the Desert Friendlies:
• Best match: FC Tucson 1, Sporting Kansas City 1. Any time the Old Pueblo lads can come away with a point against MLS competition is a treat.
• Best goal: San Jose trialist Alexandre Emerson volleys his shot over the goalkeeper for his first of two goals in the match.
• Funniest moment: Keaton Koch, president of FC Tucson’s supporters group, the Cactus Pricks, jumping and rolling around on a ball that went out of play, mocking an incident that happened a week earlier in England when a Chelsea player kicked a ballboy.
• Best atmosphere: Portland versus Seattle. Having the Timbers fans in fine voice made a sunny day even brighter.
• Moment you never expected to see: Portland’s Mikael Silvestre, formerly of Manchester United, and Seattle’s Djimi Traore, a onetime Liverpool defender, striding onto a field at the same time in Tucson. The two, who were members of UEFA Champions League-winning teams, are on trials with their MLS teams.
Even the North Field No. 5 grass had to be impressed.