By JOSE M. ROMERO
PHOENIX — The Vancouver Whitecaps' first MLS preseason camp away from home figures to draw some interest from plenty of those following the expansion club.
Vancouver is no stranger to training in Arizona. The USSF Division 2 Whitecaps played three preseason games in Casa Grande and Tempe (Arizona State University) last February and are back for a total of three weeks in the winter sunshine of the desert this year.
The Whitecaps will be the second team to touch down in Arizona, and they'll hold practices at Empire Field in Vancouver in between Arizona tour stops. The highlight of their preseason figures to be the recently announced Cascadia Summit, which includes matches against Portland and Seattle in early March.
Here's a closer look at Vancouver's pre-season in Arizona:
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
Length of stay: Jan. 29-Feb. 9 at Grande Sports World; Feb. 16-26 at Reach 11 complex, Phoenix.
Tentative training game/scrimmage schedule: Feb. 1 vs. Real Salt Lake, Feb. 4 vs. Seattle , Feb. 8 vs. Columbus, Feb. 18 vs. Chivas USA, Feb. 20 vs. L.A. Galaxy, Feb. 24 vs. L.A. Galaxy.
Key Arrivals: D Jay DeMerit, GK Joe Cannon, M-F Atiba Harris, F Omar Salgado, D Alain Rochat.
Key Departures: None (inaugural season).
What to watch for: Pick a topic. The sheer newness of the club in MLS puts the Whitecaps and coach Teitur Thordarson under the microscrope. Thordarson will be charged with whipping his club into shape for its inaugural season, and the Whitecaps will be making some key roster decisions as they try to find the right mix to take into Year One in MLS. Specifically, it'll be interesting to see how much leadership veteran DeMerit assumes right away. Then, how the expansion draftees build chemistry with the USSF-2 signings and rookies, and whom from the group of non-roster invitees stands out and wins a spot or spots on the final roster.
Of note: Midfielder Philippe Davies, 20, is among the players the MLS side signed from the lower-division Whitecaps. He's the first homegrown academy and Canadian the MLS club has ever signed. "Really looking forward to it," Davies said while in Arizona for a Canada U-23 camp recently. "He (Thordarson) has got to assess the new players, so we'll see what happens. Like Tom (Soehn, technical director) said, he wants players with character and we've got that. The fans (in Vancouver) expect us to at least get to the playoffs."