CASA GRANDE, Ariz. -- Major League Soccer teams once scattered across the continents to optimize preseason training. But new facilities and tournaments in Florida and Arizona are providing the goods now. For instance, five teams were training in Arizona last week. Here are 10 things to know about the early goings-on from five sides prepping in the Arizona sunshine.
Early reports say this version might slightly favor possession sides that like balls on the ground; the added weight makes aerial incursions somewhat trickier. Mostly, players are describing it as "more true," which means all that lesser predictable movement that could sometimes flummox hapless goalkeepers is less a factor. It doesn't mean, however, there won't be some foibles and fumbles -- they'll just be different.
"It's heavier, for sure," Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "I'm dropping balls I normally don't drop, because they are coming in harder. ... But every ball you play with, it takes some time to get used to."
D.C. United 2011 Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario said what's lost in movement can be gained in zip and sting on those shots. "If you hit it right, it's gonna fly," he said.
"But it's going to be interesting on a wet surface, because the outside of the ball is a little more slick than we're used to."
Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales, Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio are all at various stages of injury recover, none yet cleared for full workouts. You may recognize that list as "pretty much the heart and soul" of the side. If RSL was indeed prepping for a CONCACAF quarterfinal (as Los Angeles, Toronto and Seattle are), all but Saborio might be pushing the recovery pace. That remaining foursome is all close enough as it is, but the lack of a pressing need allows them to be conservative. This way, the longest MLS season yet can be eased into properly.
"We're doing more coaching, a lot more teaching than we have passed the past several years," Kreis said. "It's forced us to spend more time on details, which is also a pretty good reminder for everybody who has been here for a while."
And then there's sleepy Casa Grande, about halfway in between. The teams that occupy Casa Grande stay at a small resort outside of town, one that empties right out onto the practice field. There's not much else around. At all. Even a trip to the nearest Starbucks is a 10-minute drive. The coaches generally love it; team bonding and all. The players? Not so much. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid put a sympathetic spin on it. "It's only a 45-minute drive into Chandler."
Hmmm. Chandler? Hard to tell if Schmid was serious about that one. Because, no offense to the good people of Chandler, but that's probably not exactly the young athletes' idea of a swingin' good time, either.
The former Earthquake went on to say he enjoyed Vermes' constant communication and clear expectations. "There is no gray area, as in 'Can you do this, and then we can move you back up?' He knows what he wants out of the players, and then he's right behind everyone."
It must have helped. Zusi was among the most fit when he reported to Jurgen Klinsmann's January national team camp.
On the other hand, he didn't sound quite as sure about potential practice matches against Portland ...