After four days in Kansas City, Sporting KC returned to Tucson for the second phase of preseason, which includes four games in the fourth annual Desert Diamond Cup. Sporting KC will play at least three Major League Soccer sides in the tournament including the Colorado Rapids, Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake.
This is Sporting KC's fifth consecutive year traveling to Tucson for preseason preparations. Sporting KC won the Desert Cup in 2011 and will look to use this year's tournament as a building block heading into the MLS season.
"There are a few different things we are trying to do in Tucson," Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. "Guys are still getting fit and you want to stay healthy throughout preseason. The tournament setting gives you something to play for and it gives you that competitive aspect. We are going down there hoping to win the tournament and win as many games as we can."
Besler, along with homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin, are joining the team following the U.S. Men's National Team January camp. Haitian midfielder Soni Mustivar will join Sporting KC in Arizona after the club receives his P-1 Visa.
"There are still some more additions to come," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said. "But what we have right now is here and especially with the national team guys coming back, it's a good thing going into this final phase leading up to the games in Tucson. It's especially important that Matt is back because he is the captain and his leadership, setting the tone is something that is very important for us."
One new face in camp is Canadian international Marcel De Jong (pictured, right). The Ontario native spent the past five years with FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga (Germany). De Jong made his senior debut for Canada's national team in 2007 and has since earned more than 30 caps for The Reds. Other trialists in camp include goalkeeper Matt Bersano, defender Amadou Dia, midfielder Christian Duke and striker James Rogers.
Speaking with reporters last Friday, Besler expressed his excitement to re-join his teammates in camp as Sporting KC pushes toward the March 8 season opener.
"Hopefully there isn't a learning curve," the Sporting KC captain said. "That is one of the reasons I am so excited to get back on to the field. We do have some new guys, especially in the back and I want to get to work. I want to get things sorted out. The last couple years we have had one of the best defenses in the League and I want to make sure that this year, that is the case again."
While De Jong is the only new player in camp, seven players who featured during Sporting KC's first training stint in Tucson are no longer with the club. Those players include goalkeeper Kevin Corby, defenders Brent Griffiths and Daniel Rodriguez, midfielders Santiago Otero, Felipe Hernandez and Tony Rocha and forward Alex Dixon.
Sporting Kansas City will open the Desert Diamond Cup on Wednesday night at Kino Sports Complex against the Colorado Rapids. The match will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be streamed live on SportingKC.com.