Major League Soccer preseason training has returned to Tucson for the sixth year, featuring a slew of 2015 champions and American soccer stars.
Teams have arrived steadily over the past week. The games kick off Wednesday, with the first two Desert Friendlies at Kino Sports Complex. Then there’s the Desert Diamond Cup, which starts February 17.
This year’s training features 10 MLS teams . The teams alone will rent between 4,000 and 5,000 hotel room nights during their time in town.
“When you think back to 2011 when we were first dipping our toes in the water, with two teams, it’s pretty remarkable that our community has come this far in such a short period of time,” said Greg Foster, one of FC Tucson’s managing partners.
After other sporting events left Tucson, such as major league baseball spring training, the Old Pueblo has grown into the preseason western hub for MLS.
“I think it shows we live in a resilient community,” Foster said.
This year’s MLS preseason in Tucson features the defending champion Portland Timbers, last year’s U.S. Open Cup champion Sporting Kansas City, 2015 MLS Cup finalist Columbus Crew SC and the 2015 Voyageurs Cup champion Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Seattle Sounders FC, the Colorado Rapids, the Houston Dynamo, the New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake and the San Jose Earthquakes are the other MLS teams. The United Soccer League’s Arizona United and Swope Park Rangers are also playing, along with Mexican club Celaya FC.
Then there’s FC Tucson, the event’s host.
“It’s just an amazing group of teams, and we’re super excited,” said Jon Pearlman, FC Tucson’s general manager.
Tucson will see a bunch of U.S. national team players, including stars like Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Matt Besler (Sporting KC) and Kyle Beckerman (RSL). USMNT newcomers Darlington Nagbe (Portland) and Jordan Morris (Sounders FC) are also expected to come to town.
“You’ve got everyone from ‘Captain America,’ Clint Dempsey, to Jordan Morris,” Foster said.
Some national team players will be arriving in the middle of this week and some this weekend, Foster said.
Dempsey, who declined to participate in the national team’s current camp, is already in town.
Morris made American soccer’s version of “The Decision” last month when the 2015 college player of the year picked the Sounders over the German first division’s Werder Bremen. He signed the highest-paid homegrown player contract in MLS history after scoring his first international goal in 2-0 U.S. win over Mexico in April and leading Stanford to the national title.
Real Salt Lake could feature a couple of familiar players: Justen Glad played at Catalina Foothills and Ricardo Velazco was a standout at FC Tucson for two years. In that regard, the MLS teams’ training camps are similar to baseball’s spring training.
“It’s not just the names you know, but the names that you say, ‘I saw them when they first started,’” Pearlman said, “and that was a lot of what was special about spring training and Triple-A baseball here as well.”