Three years ago, anyone expecting to see top-level professional soccer in Tucson was living in a fantasyland.
Now, Tucson is competing with Fantasyland.
With the $280,000 allocated by the Pima County Board of Supervisors last week, Tucson is stepping up its bid to lure more Major League Soccer teams, and even a Mexican first-division team, to the Old Pueblo for spring training in 2014.
Consider it an attempt to keep up with Orlando, Fla., and Walt Disney World.
Last year, Florida came up with incentives to entice six MLS teams to train in Orlando and play in a tournament sponsored by Disney.
"The way it worked was basically the (local tourism bureau) was given $1 million by the Florida state legislature that was then provided to Major League Soccer," said Greg Foster, a managing partner of FC Tucson, which organizes MLS spring training in Tucson. "Major League Soccer would distribute it to the teams that agreed to participate in spring training in Florida in an agreement to do certain things - stay in certain hotels, compete in the Disney spring tournament."
In Tucson's version, $200,000 will be budgeted for MLS teams and the other $80,000 will go into luring a Mexican club.
Foster says the money will be allocated only if those MLS teams coming to Tucson develop a marketing plan to drive sports tourism here from their home markets.
"If the Philadelphia Union comes to Tucson and they want to get their portion of the incentive, they have to have a marketing plan that will drive X number of people to Tucson for preseason," Foster said.
In the Mexican club's case, the money "will be used to draw a club to Tucson to participate in the MLS preseason training camp for the competitive part of it," Foster said. "The reason for that is the Mexican club will not be in preseason. They have no reason to travel or have a training base in Tucson."
In addition to locking down which teams will play here in January and February, the organizers are considering the format of the training season.
"I think there are a lot of different formats, there could be a cup format with friendlies before as we have done in the past," Foster said. "It could develop into a league format."
He said the Mexican club will likely play one match and it will "probably be part of the climax of the event."
TSA breaks ground on clubhouse
The effort to create a clubhouse for Tucson Soccer Academy's players got off to such a great start that they already had a building up when the groundbreaking ceremony was held last week.
TSA co-founder Wolfgang Weber, club president Ted Schmidt and others put ceremonial shovels into the dirt Thursday, but the hard work of gutting the Young House at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park had already been done by the club's players, parents and organizers along with others over the past month.
The Ann Kathryn Schmidt Kickin' It Clubhouse is scheduled to be finished in November.
"I've had the pleasure of going over to Europe and we had a lot of chances to see a lot of clubhouses, and I have to tell you they are nothing like this," Weber said.
The dilapidated building, which was used to store shovels and other equipment, will soon house a fitness room, trophy case, computer room, conference room, wellness center and locker rooms.
Late last year, TSA signed a no-cost 20-year lease with Pima County to fix up the clubhouse that's now named in honor of Schmidt's late wife, a TSA team manager who died of breast cancer.
"Ann really embodied all of the things we hope that the kids get out of soccer, above and beyond just the competition of playing games," Schmidt said. "That's one of the main reasons why I think it's appropriate that this soccer facility be named in her memory because I expect this facility will go very far to nurture the aspects we're trying to develop in our kids beyond just the actual competition aspect."
TSA has already raised $155,00 for the project.
Tucson's Glad heads to national combine
Tucson defender Justen Glad was one of 64 players invited by U.S. Soccer to a national combine in Portland, Ore.
The 16-year-old, who played at Catalina Foothills High School, is currently on a Real Salt Lake Arizona Academy team in Casa Grande.
The combine, which is designed to evaluate players for the under-18 national team pool, concludes today.