MLS fans in the Tampa Bay region will have a taste of the action this weekend, as MLS preseason matches are set to take place in the area.
This year features one of the strongest MLS preseason slates in recent memory, with events taking place in cities such as Tucson, Portland, and Charleston. Starting this weekend, St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area will host matches that feature MLS squads such as the Montreal Impact, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, and the Chicago Fire. These will be a part of the Suncoast Invitational, which will also include the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Al Lang Stadium, along with the Joe DiMaggio Complex, should be solid venues for this event, which starts on Saturday and concludes on February 25. The fact that Al Lang Stadium is a converted ballpark elicits plenty of parallels between the MLS preseason and baseball spring training. In fact, some club officials say that baseball spring training offers plenty of inspiration to the MLS, which is viewing training camps and preseason invitationals as ways to give players head start on the season in a warmer climate. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
The Montreal Impact will train at Al Lang for a second straight year. Philadelphia will train in Clearwater at the Joe DiMaggio Complex a third straight year. Additionally, two teams training in nearby Bradenton — D.C. United and Chicago — will make their way to St. Petersburg to play matches. Those exhibitions begin on Saturday and end with a triple-header at Al Lang on Feb. 25. Toronto, which lost the MLS Cup to Seattle this past season, will come over from Orlando to play Chicago on the 25th.
“It only makes sense to us that we follow the model that baseball has followed for many, many years with regards to spring training,” said Philadelphia Union chief business officer Tim McDermott, who pointed out that it was 31 degrees in Philadelphia on Monday. “It allows us to accelerate our training and also bring a little bit more exposure to our league and our fans. The city of Clearwater has been great to work with and this is something I only see growing in the future.”
Overall, this is amounting to a very good weekend for MLS preseason action. More matches are set to get underway in Tucson, and the Carolina Challenge Cup is also scheduled to take place on Saturday. The schedule for the Suncoast Invitational can be seen here.
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.
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