MLS in Tucson: Four clubs, maybe six, coming for training

2011-09-30T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:19:16Z MLS in Tucson: Four clubs, maybe six, coming for trainingPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 30, 2011 12:00 am  • 

With an eye on making Tucson a permanent home for its preseason training, Major League Soccer announced Thursday it will send as many as six teams to Kino Sports Complex next year.

Four teams - expected to be identified by organizer FC Tucson in October - will play in the four-day, eight-game Desert Cup at Kino Stadium.

Round-robin matches will be played Feb. 22, Feb. 25, Feb. 29 and March 3, with a winner decided on a points system.

Teams from the United States' premier pro league will train on four fields on the complex's north side which, like the stadium, will be sodded for soccer between Jan.30 and March 3.

Two of the clubs will likely practice but not play in the Desert Cup.

"They see spring training as an event, rather than a process of teams' getting ready for the regular season," said FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster.

MLS executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez said he envisions Tucson as a "permanent home for Major League Soccer."

The area could host prospect combines, executive meetings and even a fan convention. Rodriguez said he wants to finalize a plan in "2013 and beyond" for Tucson.

"What we really hope to develop is a relationship with the city, the powers that be, one that will see us come back in growing numbers," he said.

MLS could place all its teams in Tucson eventually, Rodriguez said, but a more likely scenario involves the league's holding training camps both in Tucson and the Orlando, Fla., area.

To lure MLS, FC Tucson signed a license agreement with Kino Sports Complex for one year, with up to three renewable options.

The four north practice fields will be used for 34 days, while the stadium will be booked for the four days of exhibitions.

FC Tucson will pay for use of the clubhouse north of Ajo Way, plus the conversion of the baseball fields to soccer pitches and back again.

FC Tucson will choose among three cost assessments, ranging from $81,148.50 to $111,599.

Rodriguez said fields would have to be made permanent soccer pitches for "some degree of permanence" in Tucson, but the league understands the situation.

"We're realistic about the current economic climate," he said. "We understand that conversion is part of the situation for the present."

Rodriguez praised the cooperation among representatives from the city, the county, the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority and the business community, who were all present at Thursday's announcement.

They hope for a repeat of last year's Desert Cup, which sold out Hi Corbett Field. In its stadium contract, FC Tucson estimates 20,000 fans, total, will attend the four days' worth of events.

"In the past, Major League Baseball came in, they had demands, they wanted sacrifices," said City Councilman Paul Cunningham. "In this situation, it's mutually beneficial for both groups. It's a win-win on both sides.

"The real question is, 'Is it really going to work out as well as we think it is?' I want to be cautiously optimistic."

Rodriguez wants it to work.

"We see this as an opportunity," he said, "to serve as a launch pad for our season."

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