Some of the teams have changed and the format has been altered, but Major League Soccer spring training will return to Tucson this February.
FC Tucson and Pima County announced Friday that 10 MLS teams will visit Tucson from Feb. 1 to March 1. The 15-match schedule, with nine of the games scheduled for Saturdays, will include a new Desert Diamond Cup format and another Northwest rivals clash between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC. FC Tucson will also play matches this spring.
It will be the third straight year that MLS teams have used Tucson to get ready for the regular season. Eight of this year’s 10 MLS playoff teams and all four MLS Cup semifinalists trained in Tucson last spring.
The 2014 edition of the Desert Diamond Cup will be expanded from eight to 12 matches and will involve six teams — Chivas USA, the Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, the Colorado Rapids, the New England Revolution and FC Tucson. Each one of the four match days will have three games rather than the doubleheaders in years past.
“The first three (Diamond Cup) events are going to be at the new stadium and the final will be moved over to the big Kino Stadium because there’s a good possibility we’ll have a first-division Mexican team playing in the final, and then FC Tucson would drop out on the last day,” FC Tucson coach and co-managing partner Rick Schantz said. “So the Mexican team would take our place and play against a first-place team in one of the groups.
“We’re still in negotiations, and nothing has been signed. We are talking to three” first-division Mexican League teams.
The first three Desert Diamond Cup tripleheaders will be played Feb. 19, Feb. 22 and Feb. 26. The finals will be March 1.
The Desert Friendlies will also return, in a smaller form. The Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City will join the Timbers and Seattle for three exhibition matches beginning Feb. 1 and wrapping up with a Portland-Seattle match at 6 p.m. on Feb. 8.
“There will be fewer gated friendlies, but they’re going to be on Saturday nights instead of those midweek matches,” Schantz said.
After the schedule was announced during halftime of FC Tucson’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA at Friday night’s stadium opener, co-managing partner Greg Foster said the club is “developing the model every time we do it.”
“We had a lot of input from the league and we’ve had a lot of input from teams,” Foster said. “We’re having more games on weekends. Hopefully, it will be more convenient for fans.”