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Soccer fans from the Tucson community packed Kino North Stadium on Wednesday night for the first match of the 2022 Desert Showcase hosted by FC Tucson.
Two fierce rivals — the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders — took the pitch for the preseason match in front of 2,018 fans.
On one side of the bleachers, Sounders fans were waving their scarves high in the air, while Timbers fans on the other were chanting their team’s signature hymn, “Portland Boys.”
Sounders and Timbers fans alike enjoyed cheering for their favorite team all the way to the 0-0 draw at the end. Both head coaches took notice to the enthusiasm of the fans last night.
“It was good. I also heard the four, five or eight Portland fans out there,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said as he took a lighthearted jab at their rivals. “But, no, I like seeing all the Xbox jerseys, all the green jerseys in the stands. It was nice.”
Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese also answered with a passionate response.
“I wish we would’ve been able to give them (the fans) a goal — that’s what we were hoping for, but it was great!” Savarese said. “Some of our academy players, they dream for a moment to play against them. This is amazing. This is a place for them to continue to grow. For the crowd, it’s great to see whose coming from the youth level. So I think it was great. We’re thankful there were so many people here. It was a great night.”
Making his debut for the Timbers was former Canyon Del Oro, Pima College and Tucson Soccer Academy standout Donny Toia.
Toia previously played for Real Salt Lake in the MLS but was released in the offseason. The Timbers are giving him an opportunity to make the lineup as a left back, which is not his usual position as a forward.
At the 69th minute, Toia was subbed out and given an ovation by the fans in attendance, some of whom might have been some of his old friends from his time at the FC Tucson Soccer Academy.
“It was pretty cool. I think I saw a couple of my buddies there back from club soccer drinking a bit and hanging out so that was pretty cool.” Toia said.
There is a large amount of soccer talent to come out of Tucson as evidenced by the Pima men’s and women’s teams making it to the national championship (the men won it all) to FC Tucson’s playoff appearance in 2021 and the annual competitive nature of the FC Tucson youth academy.
FC Tucson’s vice president of marketing and communications Jason Christley believes that scheduling matches like these will help continue to grow the already huge enthusiasm for the sport of soccer within the Tucson community.
“I think it’s huge that the soccer community shows up. It’s the first game. It’s the middle of January. It’s a preseason game, but what (Tucson marketing firms) Visit Tucson and Villa Nuevo have put together with the Desert Showcase was fantastic the way they kicked it off here,” Christley said. “We’ve got some watch parties with the US national team downtown. We’ve got USL clubs coming in. I mean, it really is a sho case of all of soccer in Tucson.
“To kick it off with an event like tonight, to get 2,000 people out here to see the first game of the season, is fantastic.”
Last night’s match was just the first of three matches hosting MLS teams. The second Desert Showcase match will be Saturday at 4 p.m. when Sporting Kansas City faces the Colorado Rapids.
Sporting KC reached the Western Conference semifinals last season and lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1. The Colorado Rapids were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference but also lost in the semifinals to the Portland Timbers 1-0.
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Nathaniel Martinez is an aspiring sports journalist who is a Sahuaro High School graduate and Pima Community College student. He has written for the Aztec Press at Pima. While at Sahuaro, he played football for longtime coach Scott McKee and he wrestled for the Cougars.