TUCSON, Ariz. – Eight games, four teams, 17 goals, a penalty-kick shootout and one champion. It was an eventful two weeks at the second annual Desert Diamond Cup with some promising signs for the participants as First Kick approaches.
Here’s our report card for the quartet of teams that competed in the desert:
HIGHLIGHTS: LA outlast Revs on PKs for title
(1-2-1, 5 GF / 5 GA)
The MLS Cup champs leave Tucson the same way they came in: with a trophy in hand. Bruce Arena fielded essentially two different squads in the Galaxy’s four games as LA’s preseason ends sooner than most MLS teams with CONCACAF Champions League play in midweek.
And though the roster was somewhat undersupplied – no Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane – LA found their goals from the usual places as David Beckham served in some lovely balls to Mike Magee and Edson Buddle. On the other side of the ball, Andrew Boyens and rookies Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul stepped in well at center back, where LA are literally hurting for bodies.
Best of all, a young, reserve-laden lineup walked out of Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium with the hardware on the back of a heroic performance by backup ‘keeper Brian Perk in the shootout vs. New England. They may have only won one game, but the Galaxy leave Arizona with their heads held high and ready for business.
New England Revolution
(3-0-1, 7 GF / 3 GA)
The Revs also wrapped an undefeated preseason here – Saturday’s final was technically a scoreless draw. And that’s a hugely positive sign as the Jay Heaps Era begins in earnest. Benny Feilhaber and Kelyn Rowe were particularly spectacular operating in opposite wide midfield positions, stretching defenses, controlling play on the ground and providing some highlight-reel goals in the process.
On defense, the returns of A.J. Soares and Kevin Alston were encouraging as both had good tournaments. Stephen McCarthy showed his versatility across the back line, and Colombian import John Lozano was also quality at center back.
One of the few disappointments was Saër Sène’s failure to leave an impression. The big Frenchman was either largely invisible in front of net, or was busy squandering a handful of good scoring opportunities. It’s too bad José Moreno wasn’t able to get his visa issues cleared up in time – it would have been nice to see what the Colombian brings to the table.
HIGHLIGHTS: RSL edge NY 1-0 for third place
Real Salt Lake
(2-2-0, 3 GF / 4 GA)
Jason Kreis’ preseason camp has been more like a triage unit as more than half the starting lineup has either been rehabbing injuries on the fly or still not returning to the pitch. So in that sense, it was heartening simply to see Javier Morales, Álvaro Saborío, Kyle Beckerman and Fabián Espíndola play at all.
But this tournament was a positive for the minutes earned by RSL’s new recruits, who will be relied upon heavily this season as the veteran core has thinned a bit. Rookies Sebastian Velasquez, Enzo Martinez and Emiliano Bonfigli provided some highlights, as did new recruits Terukazu Tanaka and Jonny Steele.
Particularly encouraging for Kreis was the play of center back Chris Schuler, who was excellent in the spot next to Jámison Olave normally occupied by the rehabbing Nat Borchers. And left back Chris Wingert made an argument for player of the tournament.
New York Red Bulls
(1-3-0, 2 GF / 5 GA)
Some tough moments for Hans Backe’s crew. It took them three tries to win – and even score a goal – and that ended up being the result that sent them to the third-place match. The Red Bulls’ time here was a mini-rerun of their 2011 season, to a degree: interrupted by international call-ups and injuries.
A thigh injury Wilman Conde suffered against LA will rule the big center back out for New York’s opener at FC Dallas, and goalkeeper Ryan Meara suffered a broken nose – not exactly what you want to see in preseason.
But Thierry Henry showed zero signs of fatigue off his Arsenal loan, and was dangerous in his deeper forward role, turning provider and showing signs of chemistry with Kenny Cooper, almost certain to be his strike partner while Luke Rodgers’ visa issues carry on.
Youngsters Meara and Jeremy Vuolo both got good minutes in net as Backe mulls his options at goalkeeper. And Home Grown product Connor Lade was a revelation at left back, showing poise and speed on the flanks.
Still, the ramshackle Red Bulls were exposed too often, and ultimately failed to fire on offense. They may be glad to see preseason come to an end.