You know someone cares about you when he’s willing to use his frequent flier miles to come visit.
And using them to travel all the way from Trinidad, the southernmost island in the Caribbean and just a few miles off the coast of South America, really shows dedication.
When defender Kareem Smith found out FC Tucson would be competing in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, he wasn’t about to miss the chance.
“With (FC Tucson coach) Rick Schantz, (general manager) Jon Pearlman and the staff, it’s like a family,” Smith said after the tournament’s opening gala dinner Tuesday night. “A lot of the players I played with here come back. There are always familiar faces here, so that makes it a pleasure to come back.
“I had some frequent flier miles and said, ‘Why not come.’ ”
Smith and his FC Tucson teammates will face the Chicago Fire today in the opening match of the tournament’s second of four tripleheaders.
The match starts at 1 p.m., and will be followed by a 3:30 game between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids and a 6 p.m. contest that pits the New England Revolution against Chivas USA.
It had to seem like not-so-old times for Smith in Wednesday’s first tripleheader when he lorded over the backline as FC Tucson once again gave MLS competition, in this case the Chivas USA reserves, a run for its money in a 1-1 draw.
Smith was arguably FC Tucson’s MVP in 2012 when the club reached the playoffs in its inaugural season in the USL Premier Development League. He rarely missed a minute that season, keeping the men in black as unbendable as the crossbar they defended. He also played for FC Tucson in two scrimmages against MLS clubs in 2013 and then helped the club beat Chivas USA 1-0 in November in the first match ever at North Stadium.
In between those matches, Smith spent time teaching soccer at an academy in Boston, where he was born. It’s a possible future profession, he says.
“I get a good sense of satisfaction when whichever team I’m coaching wins,” said the 29-year-old Smith, who played six times for the Trinidad and Tobago national team. “It’s a feeling of joy. The same way I’m feeling when I win” as a player.
No doubt, Schantz had that feeling of joy when he found out Smith was going to be able to play in the 2014 edition of the Desert Diamond Cup.
“This year, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to get him, but he really reached out and used some of his own air miles to make it,” Schantz said. “He wanted to be here, and we’re glad that it worked out.
“Kareem’s experience is vital for us in games like this when you’re under a lot of pressure and you have to stay composed and focused. Kareem brings a little calming effect to the team. So any time we can get him to come out and play, it’s definitely something we look forward to having.”
It’s not likely to be dismissed as coincidence that in the four matches in which FC Tucson has taken points — a win and three draws — against MLS competition, Smith has been there for all of them.
Smith knows the significance of playing against MLS teams.
“There’s always an opportunity to showcase yourself,” said Smith, who added that he’s preparing to play in the professional league in Trinidad. “Maybe it might not be now, maybe in the future. But at the end of the day, I’m coming to enjoy myself.
“At this point in my life, I’m just enjoying life. If an opportunity comes about, be ready for it.”
If it does, you can bet he’s not afraid to use frequent flier miles to grab that opportunity.