Valley gets a glimpse of soccer at its best

Valley gets a glimpse of soccer at its best

Published Jan. 19, 2012 11:45 a.m. ET

In a sports market that includes two professional basketball teams, two professional football teams, hockey, baseball and two major universities, it seems odd that there could be anything missing. Yet in Arizona, soccer has yet to take hold as it has in other parts of the country.

Top-tier soccer comes to the Valley on Saturday, though, as the US men's national team squares off in an exhibition — or "friendly" — with Venezuela at University of Phoenix Stadium at 7 p.m.

The match is one half of the culmination of the annual January camp for the US team, led since July by new coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The roster of 20 players, mostly from Major League Soccer, trained in north Phoenix from Jan. 3-12 in preparation for the match Saturday and another four days later against Panama in Panama City.

The meeting with Venezuela offers Arizonans a look at the one pro sport they don't see often and is a sign of the state's rising soccer profile. University of Phoenix Stadium and Sun Devil Stadium were among possible locations for World Cup games when the US was trying to land the tournament for 2018 or 2022, and the state has become a popular training and exhibition site thanks to endless sunshine.

The annual camp and matches offer rising stars a chance to make an impression on coaches as they begin to evaluate talent for World Cup qualifying. With the team in transition under Klinsmann, it may have been even more crucial for a number of players. While the top US soccer players are entrenched with clubs in Europe, a number of others get the chance to shine, and FOX Sports Arizona has pinpointed five worth watching this Saturday.

Click here
to check out our top five players to watch.