TUCSON, Ariz. — Time for four MLS clubs to put a little something on the line.
Althought the 2012 Desert Diamond Cup, which kicks off on Wednesday here at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, is part of preseason, the fact that all four clubs taking part — LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution — have intriguing storylines heading into 2012 makes this tournament that much more important. After all, it is the final serious warmup competition for all of them.
LA Galaxy — The defending MLS Cup champions enter 2012 somehow even more dangerous than they were in 2011. The addition of Edson Buddle gives them the most accomplished and potent attacking tandem in MLS, and this tournament will afford Buddle time to find his rhythm with just David Beckham this time around, as likely strike partner Robbie Keane didn't make the trip and Landon Donovan is still recovering from the flu. How coach Bruce Arena lines up the backline, which will be without injured star Omar Gonzalez for up to six months, will give some insight into how the LA defense will hold up in the early going of the season.
New England Revolution — Rookie coach Jay Heaps has begun an evolution (!) at the club he starred with for nearly a decade. He has bolstered the attack with the addition of big French striker Saer Sene, who should see lots of time here, as will new Colombian center back John Lozano. The preseason revelation, if you can call the No. 3 overall draft pick such a thing, has been Kelyn Rowe, who has already shown his skill and attacking willingness on the flank. But the key, as ever, will be the on-field generals: midfielder Shalrie Joseph and goalkeeper Matt Reis.
New York Red Bulls — Thierry Henry is back from his Arsenal loan, and he has a new partner up top: offseason acquisition Kenny Cooper. But coach Hans Backe also has English terrier Luke Rodgers to turn to. So could he go with a three-man frontline? In the first match, the Red Bulls will play mainly reserves, saving their starters for Thursday's friendly with Pumas UNAM in Phoenix, but after that, the first team should take center stage, including new center back Markus Holgersson. The real question to be answered in Tucson is: Who is the No. 1 in goal for New York?
Real Salt Lake — Injuries have devastated the RSL lineup this offseason. At present count, the club could be without upwards of eight starters when the season kicks off against the Galaxy on March 10. So this tournament gives an opportunity to several promising talents looking to make the squad or jump into a starters' role. Reports are that third-year centerback Chris Schuler has impressed in preseason matches thus far, and young draft picks Enzo Martinez and Sebastian Velasquez could bring some flair and fancy footwork to bear.
|Feb. 22, 8 pm||New England 3, LA 2||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Feb. 22, 10 pm||New York vs. RSL||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Feb. 25, 8 pm||LA vs. RSL||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Feb. 25, 10 pm||New York vs. New England||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Feb. 29, 8 pm||RSL vs. New England||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Feb. 29, 10 pm||LA vs. New York||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Mar. 3, 8 pm||Consolation Match||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
|Mar. 3, 10 pm||Championship Match||MLSsoccer.com Channel 1|
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WATCH: Desert Diamond Cup Preview