When you win the MLS Cup – which, just a reminder, the Seattle Sounders did – the offseason is abridged. Players basically get a month and a half off and then they’re right back to it.
But the thing is, I want to watch the Sounders constantly. By the time February rolls around I am deep into soccer withdrawals (no, the Premier League doesn’t help; I am an MLS snob). That’s why, for the second year in a row, I made the trek south to Tucson to watch my favorite team play my least favorite team in a friendly.
If you’ve never been, allow me to give you a short sales pitch on why you should consider the trip next year instead of sitting on your couch reading horrible websites filled with awful news, like Twitter and Facebook.
Round 1: Weather
It’s February in Seattle, and the weather is, well, it’s horrible. It’s wet. It’s cold. It’s dark. It requires popping Vitamin D in high doses. Tucson is the opposite of that. During my three-day stay, it was 78 degrees and sunny. I’ve heard that later in the summer it’s as intolerable as Satan’s taint, but this time of year? Perfection. Until the sun goes down, at which time the temp drops down to about 45, so bring a light jacket.
Score: Going to Tucson 1, Staying Home 0.
Round 2: Non-Soccer Stuff
You go for the soccer, but Tucson has plenty of other attractions to offer. A few things to know:
- Rent a car. Tucson is about as walkable as San Jose or the surface of the sun.
- Expect to stay at a sketchy hotel and pay too much for it. The pre-season schedule is announced well after the attendees of the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase have scooped up all the good places.
- Still, go to the rock and gem show. I don’t care about rocks or gems. But I love mocking white people with dreads. The rock and gem show in Tucson is the biggest in the world, and it’s right across the street from the soccer stadium. Things you can buy there: $8,000 geodes, fossils, swords, terrible jewelry, leather accessories with tassels, Nazi stuff (this was a disturbing new trend for 2017), lawn sculptures, hatchets made out of buffalo jaws, minerals probably mined by children making pennies a day, the list goes on. It’s madness.
- Also go to the Tanque Verde Swap Meet. It runs late into the night on weekends, and you can drink and eat homemade candy purchased from strangers and buy all manner of cheap crap you didn’t know you needed. I will forever regret not bringing home a statue of an anatomically correct, Tecate-swilling monkey.
- Food and drink. OK, here’s the thing. You gotta get out of downtown Tucson to eat anything really memorable, especially after 8 PM, when everything shuts down for some reason. Get a recommendation from a local and drive into the outskirts of town. We went to BK Tacos and had (surprise) tacos and a Sonoran-style hot dog, which is wrapped in bacon, covered in pinto beans, mayo, onions, diced tomatoes, mustard and jalapeno sauce. Damn. We also went to this breakfast place, the name of which I’m forgetting, but while there we had a great buffet and sat across from members of a motorcycle club called the Street Kingz, who reminded us that Arizona is definitely a state in which people take advantage of the open-carry law. Perfectly friendly dudes, but pistols in back pockets will never not be jarring.
- Finally, get out of town and walk around amongst the cacti. While the city itself is a bit of a sprawly strip mall, the surrounding hills are absolutely beautiful, like a Martian landscape to us Pacific-Northwesterners.
Score: Going to Tucson 2, Staying Home 0
Round 3: Twitter Friends and Sounders Staff
One of the many things I love about the Sounders is that there are fellow supporters everywhere, and Tucson is no exception. It’s a chance to connect with Twitter folk IRL. I remain one of the very few members of a highly exclusive club, the People Who Have Seen @WhoIsJoseRivera in person. The Sounders are half the reason I like going to Tucson, and Jose and his brother Danny are the other half.
You can also hob-nob with fans at a gathering that takes place at Pueblo Vida Brewing. The beer is excellent, and last year Sigi and his staff showed up to have a few pints and hang with us riff-raff. This year, Brian Schmetzer put in a friendly appearance. If you can, get to town a day early to attend.
Score: Going to Tucson 3, Staying Home 0
Round 4: Soccer! You Can Watch! In Person!
This is the second time the featured match of the Desert Friendlies has pitted the Sounders (hooray!) against the Timbers (boo!) at Kino Sports Complex.
Last year, the schedule was a bit better, as I was able to watch not just the Sounders play, but also a couple of other MLS teams in a single day, all for 20 bucks. This go-round, attending the Sounders’ open practice would have required getting in town a couple days early and catching more MLS games would have meant sticking around after the weekend.
Still, this game has not disappointed yet. The 2016 match was the first time I saw Jordan Morris play, and, though I didn’t know it at the time, the last time I saw Obafemi Martins.
A few things to note:
- The Timbers Army has a Desert Corps, and they are loud, numerous and very annoying. They’re also organized, always bring a tifo and chant loudly. One nimrod who apparently doesn’t know about our awesome attorney general briefly whipped out a two-pole that said “Trump Likes Seattle.” I walked over there to get a picture, but he put it away, perhaps because he realized his banter was ineffectual. Thankfully we had way more fans in town this year, and many of the 4,000+ people there were wearing rave green.
- I forgot how absolutely great it is having Clint Dempsey around. I love that man, and seeing him on the pitch, even while a bit rusty, was so comforting. And Nico. And Cristian. And all the players who seem like an odd kind of extended family to us. There they are, in a stadium that’s just an intimate as Starfire. Can’t beat that.
- The second half is typically an entirely different game, with trialists, draftees, and other new, often unrecognizable faces replacing the first team. I had never seen Henry Wingo play, and maybe years from now I’ll be able to say I was there when he debuted, just like Jordan 12 months ago. That’s the fun of pre-season.
Final Score: Going to Tucson 4, Staying Home 0
Maybe I’ll see you next year. Seriously. You should go.