This week, we look at preseason in Major League Soccer - where teams are going, who are they playing, and what are they hoping to get from their training camps. While most of the leagues around the world are halfway through their seasons, MLS clubs are just beginning their preseason.
Thursday, January 20, was the day MLS clubs were allowed to start their preseason training. Vancouver Whitecaps FC players have been away from their club for six weeks, and while this is a break for the players, they have been given strength and conditioning programs to follow and maintain some kind of fitness in their offseason.
MLS teams are starting to put their squads together, which gives most of the clubs around eight weeks to prepare before the start of the MLS season, as we know Seattle Sounders FC and Los Angeles Galaxy will be raising the curtain to the 2011 season on Tuesday, March 15. This gives around eight weeks for coaches to evaluate their squads, decide who to keep, and who will be starting in the opening game of the season. It is also a time for the players to impress and make the roster, or the starting XI on opening day.
All MLS clubs look for the right environment to put their teams in during preseason. For the Eastern Conference clubs, they have to look to warmer climates, with snow still lying on the ground in most of those cities. Arizona, Florida, Carolina, and Southern California are some favorite destinations for many MLS teams, as well as Major League Baseball clubs. This is also where you find some of the best training facilities in North America.
Because a lot of teams tend to migrate to these warmer climates, there are many opportunities for MLS teams to play each other, as they look to gain match fitness. As preseason schedules are being announced, you will even see round-robin tournaments during these camps.
From February 24 to 26, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, will be hosting the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic Tournament, featuring three MLS teams in FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, and Toronto FC.
In Charleston, South Carolina, USL PRO club Charleston Battery will be hosting the Carolina Challenge Cup, with Chicago Fire, D.C. United, and Toronto FC all competing along with the hosts. Doubleheaders on March 5th, 9th, and 12th will determine a winner in this round-robin tournament.
Of course, our own Whitecaps FC will have a couple of trips to Arizona, where they will have the chance to play MLS teams in Real Salt Lake, Columbus Crew, and Chivas USA. They finishing off their preseason campaign with mouthwatering clashes in early March versus Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers. These games are to be played at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwilla, Washington, where I am sure we are going to see many fans turn out to watch this Cascadia rivalry heat up before the season starts.
It is important that teams get away from home to what will be quieter destinations, where there will be fewer distractions for the players and coaches, especially as a lot of key personnel decisions have to be made. It also makes it much easier for the coaches to get to know the new players and for the new players to bond with their new teammates.
Preseason reminds us that we are that much closer to the regular season starting. Bring it on!