By JOSE M. ROMERO
At least six MLS clubs are either locked in or have verbally committed to hold preseason training at Grande Sports World, a 45-acre, multi-field facility in Casa Grande, Ariz.
GSW will welcome Real Salt Lake to the facility from Jan. 23-Feb. 1. RSL will be the first MLS team to arrive in Arizona for preseason training, and will be joined by the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps from Jan. 28-Feb. 9.
GSW director of soccer operations Greg Vanney, a former MLS player and native of nearby Tempe, also has commitments from the Seattle Sounders (late January to early February), Montreal Impact of USSF-2 (which will go MLS in 2012), Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew. Montreal, Portland and Columbus are expected to be at the site during February, starting with the Crew Feb. 10.
Columbus played a preseason match at GSW last year and apparently players and staff liked what they saw, so the Crew booked for a longer stay this year, Vanney said. He has been busy this week trying to schedule the various teams as the clubs get their offseason training plans in order.
Seattle and Real Salt Lake trained at GSW, about a 45-minute drive south from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, last winter in the preseason. The Whitecaps also trained in Casa Grande heading into their last season in the second division.
Practice sessions are expected to be open to the public for viewing.
"We're trying to build the sport in the community," Vanney said. "We just ask people to be respectful of teams because they're there to train."
Other MLS clubs, such as Sporting Kansas City, will train in Arizona later this winter. Sporting KC is set to hold practices in Surprise, which is about 30 miles northwest of central Phoenix. Surprise is also the spring training home of baseball's Kansas City Royals, and both teams will likely be training in town at the same time.
Some fans, particularly from the Pacific Northwest clubs, voiced displeasure about their teams coming to Arizona given the political climate and controversy over the state's SB 1070 targeted at undocumented immigrants. But those teams are moving forward with their plans for training.
"It seems like some of those concerns have sort of died down," Vanney said.
Parts of the law and how law enforcement personnel were to enforce it were struck down in higher courts earlier this year.
More MLS teams could be coming to Grande Sports World early next year, and national teams are also in the works. Canada's U-23 and U-18 teams are committed for mid-January and the U.S. U-18 national team is scheduled for mid-February. So is New Zealand's national team toward the end of the month.
Grande Sports World is adjacent to the Francisco Grande Hotel & Golf Resort in Casa Grande, a city of close to 45,000 located between Phoenix and Tucson. The facility features eight professional grade fields and a 58,000-square foot athlete's performance center.
Temperatures average 67 degrees in January and about 71 in February.
"It's hard to beat the weather we have here in February," Vanney said.