A pair of original Major League Soccer teams, one familiar with Tucson and the other new to the city, faced off and played to a 2-2 draw.
After a scoreless first half, Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew SC combined to score four goals in the final 45 minutes.
Halftime substitute Kei Kamara wasted no time and scored in the 46th minute to start his brace. The high-scoring event kicked off the Desert Diamond Cup’s first session, which included three games spread over two fields at Kino Sports Complex. Competition continues Saturday.
“It’s good. It’s different because we’ve been training for about three weeks or so and just kicking each other, so you can see from everybody out there that they just want us to hit somebody else,” Kamara said.
Kamara also drew a penalty kick in the 72nd minute. He missed the PK but scored on the rebound immediately. Kamara scored a league-high 22 goals last year.
Kamara said he definitely feels the momentum carrying over from last year. The Crew lost in the MLS Cup to the Portland Timbers.
“I don’t feel like there was a break,” said Kamara, the 2015 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year. “We stopped playing in December, so it’s not really like I had three, four months off to think about stuff, it’s just continue playing and just refresh your button.”
Soni Mustivar scored in the 53rd minute for Sporting. Then in the 88th minute, 2016 draft pick Faik Hajderovic scored the equalizer.
The former Saint Louis University midfielder is so new he wasn’t on SKC’s roster.
“I think it was very choppy on our side, I think they were better in some of their possession and build-up stuff,” said SKC head coach Peter Vermes. “We had good moments, and I thought that we scored two pretty decent goals.”
This is Kansas City’s sixth appearance in the Desert Diamond Cup and Columbus’ first.
“It’s almost like a second home to us now,” Besler said. “It’s a place that we’re comfortable with. Obviously the weather is a lot better than Kansas City, but we’re also starting to get more familiar with the city, the restaurants and the activities.”
During the Desert Friendlies, Sporting’s Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Chance Myers went camping in the desert, and some of SKC players went to the UA men’s basketball game against Oregon State and sat in the ZonaZoo.
Besler said Tucson is a very underrated city.
Vermes said FC Tucson does a fantastic job on the pitches, and the facilities are great.
“We love coming here; the weather’s great,” Vermes said. “Competition like this is what we need to get ready for the season.”
While he wears the gold and black (and sometimes light blue) of Columbus, Kamara said he was proud to be a Desert Diamond Cup pioneer.
“I love this place,” Kamara said. “We started this tournament when I was playing for Kansas City, so it’s so amazing just to be back around here and just seeing how soccer’s so booming.”