TUCSON, Ariz. – What local organizers are calling “Soccer Month” officially kicked off in Tucson on Tuesday with the arrival of Sporting Kansas City and the San Jose Earthquakes, the first of six MLS teams to spend time here this preseason.
And though it’s a new beginning for both early arrivals, the challenges they face this preseason are very different.
For Sporting KC’s Peter Vermes, there’s little to tinker with after a 2011 season in which they came within a game of MLS Cup.
"From the last three games we played last year, all of those guys are back on the team," Vermes said at a press conference on Tuesday at a local casino.
Not that there haven’t been changes. The team has added MLS veterans Paulo Nagamura, Bobby Convey and Jacob Peterson.
"We didn't bring three foreign players that we've got to acclimate to everything," he said. "We feel they'll fit well into our team."
Although Vermes doesn't feel that he has a lot of work to do on team chemistry, he still breaks down his preseason into a "build up" consisting of five phases: introduction/acclimation, evaluation, regeneration ("everybody gets to get away," he said), team phase and game preparation.
San Jose, meanwhile, have more of a challenge. Unlike Sporting, Frank Yallop’s team has rebuilt, adding a half-dozen key contributors after a 2011 season that saw them finish eight points out of the postseason race. But the Earthquakes boss points out that he has also brought in players who are MLS veterans, including former Real Salt Lake midfielder Jean Alexandre and former FC Dallas winger Marvin Chávez.
"They've already been around," said Yallop, who pointed out that another "new" player, Shea Salinas, played for San Jose three seasons ago.
There will be an acclimation period, however, for Honduran defender Víctor Bernárdez and former Colombian national team attacker Tressor Moreno, who is on trial and is hoping to stick with San Jose. Both players will be using the preseason to get used to their new teammates and a new league.
"It will take a while to adapt,” Yallop said. “It's not an easy league. It's a tough environment to come into. They are different than what we have and we're excited to have them."
Neither Vermes nor Yallop was willing to point to any particular new face as surprising since neither team has played anything but intrasquad matches this preseason.
That will change this week when San Jose meet local PDL squad FC Tucson in their first competitive match of 2011 on Wednesday.
FC Tucson technical director John Pearlman knows his team will be outmatched, but he promised that his team is "committed to not creating a highlight reel for San Jose."
San Jose and Sporting KC then face each other on Saturday.