February 2, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
EVERYTHING THEY NEED
MLS teams warm up to the idea of spring training in Florida, Arizona
It's not exactly a spring tradition yet, but Major League Soccer coaches like the idea of taking their teams south during the winter.
|Six MLS teams and two lower division sides will cap their preseason training with the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando.
Photo courtesy Disney Soccer
This month, MLS clubs, along with some from the North American Soccer League and USL, will convene in Florida and Arizona for the league's own version of spring training.
The Arizona portion actually includes two different segments, with some teams training there in January, and then a four-team tournament in mid February leading up to the MLS season.
By far the biggest concentration of teams will be in Central Florida, where six MLS clubs, the Philadelphia Union, DC United, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew, will be joined by NASL side Tampa Bay Rowdies and USL Proís Orlando City FC to train and participate in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
"I think unless you are in Champions League or something like that, our idea is that we really don't need to leave the United States and go somewhere else," said Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes. ďWe have everything we need here in the States and we can get games with either USL, NASL teams, teams that have some of the same qualities that we play against in Major League Soccer and then we obviously have an opportunity to play against Major League Soccer teams.
"Itís good for all of us in how we try to prepare. It provides us with the opportunity to play against the same competition."
Of course, Vermes understands that MLS teams are grasping what Major League Baseball teams discovered a century ago. Itís better to prepare for the season in the warm weather.
"The last piece, I think on the east and west coast, because of the weather, to be very comfortable at this time of year, such as Florida, California, Arizona, those types of places, it totally makes sense that there is going to be teams wanting to go to those places," said Vermes.
" We've been doing this now for our fourth season. It has become a very important part for us to the way we do things," he said. "Both places (Arizona and Florida) provide us with the resources, the competition, the weather that we are looking for in trying to have a successful preparation leading up to the start of Major League Soccer."
This will be the fourth year the Philadelphia Union will be training in Central Florida, and Team Manager John Hackworth, who is heading up his first camp this year, likes the setup.
"We're really excited about it and the fact that we kind of piggy back off what major league baseball has done and create a spring training environment down there is going to be beneficial for us as a team in our preparation and it gives the fans an opportunity to maybe head south during the winter months and get a glimpse of some really high level soccer," said Hackworth.
For both coaches, itís not just about the weather. Itís about putting the players through their paces and getting plenty of game opportunities, something not readily available when the teams train closer to home.
"The cool thing about that tournament at Disney is, talking to other MLS teams, you get to really know the whole roster, because you are obviously going to play a lot of guys through that whole process," said Hackworth. "I donít think there is any team that's got in their goals for the season to win that tournament, but we all certainly want to prepare well for it. I think itís a great opportunity in a lot of ways."
Vermes sees another opportunity ion taking part in a tournament with teams from the lower leagues.
"Not only the competition is good, because they play similarly to MLS teams, but it gives a chance to see a whole different level of players that are out there that we don't normally get to see on a live basis, so all of those are great scouting opportunities for us as well," he said.
Fans up north still looking to take a soccer break in the winter can still book travel packages that include lodging, Disney Pro Soccer Classic game tickets, attraction tickets and exclusive VIP experiences. Information is available at www.SoccerSpringTraining.com.