By JOSE M. ROMERO
PHOENIX — Like Florida and Arizona in major league baseball, the two sunny states are also entrenched as the destinations of choice for U.S. winter preseason training for Major League Soccer clubs.
And just like in baseball, it appears Arizona is increasingly becoming the locale of choice. Twelve of the 18 MLS teams will pass through the desert beginning Monday through March 8, when MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls have a training match scheduled in Casa Grande, Ariz.
Real Salt Lake is first to arrive and begins training Monday at Grande Sports World outside of Casa Grande. There's hard, dry earth under the green grass of the site's fields, but weather shouldn't be a factor.
Here is a closer look at Real Salt Lake's pre-season:
REAL SALT LAKE
Length of stay: Jan. 24-Feb. 1 at Grande Sports World, Feb. 7-15 at Reach 11 complex (North Phoenix).
Tentative training game schedule: Feb. 1 vs. Vancouver, Feb. 8 vs. Seattle, Feb. 14 vs. Colorado.
Key Arrivals: Arturo Alvarez, Jeff Attinella
Key Departures: Robbie Findley, David Horst
What to watch for: Real Salt Lake is the first to get to Arizona in no small part because it has a Feb. 22 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match (first leg) against the Columbus Crew in Ohio. So it could play as many as three CCL games plus another preseason match to be determined, in addition to the three training games in Arizona, before the MLS regular season starts. The CCL matches will be every bit as tough as MLS regular-season contests, so coach Jason Kreis is charged with getting his team in shape for major competition in only a month's time… With 24 players under contract, spots on the senior roster for rookies figure to be very scarce.
Of note: Real Salt Lake has U-18 and U-16 academy teams in residency at Grande Sports World, so it should be quite a thrill for the youngsters to see the pros from the highest level of the developmental chain up close and personal. In turn, RSL's front office gets its opportunity to see the club's future in the players' home environment… The team's schedule for the first portion of Arizona training has practices starting at 10 a.m. local time daily except Jan. 27 (4 p.m.), Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. All practices are free and open to the public to watch.