Fire, Galaxy in Valley for MLS exhibition - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Fire, Galaxy in Valley for MLS exhibition

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Posted: Friday, March 13, 2009 5:52 pm | Updated: 1:12 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The push is on again to showcase MLS soccer in the Valley and, not coincidentally, do so on a stage which would help steer professional soccer to Phoenix.

It's been a fickle proposition to date. The United States and Mexico held an exhibition at University of Phoenix Stadium in early 2007 which drew tens of thousands of soccer fans, but a couple other matches haven't been well attended.

On Saturday, the L.A. Galaxy and Chicago Fire will play their final exhibition match of this preseason at Sun Devil Stadium in preparation for the start of the 2009 season, a showcase put forth by the Phoenix Soccer Development organization.

During a Friday press conference at the Marriott in Old Town Scottsdale, Development president Dana Gagnon said Saturday's match will be "the largest MLS game in Arizona history."

Advanced ticket sale figures, however, were not available.

Expansion has arrived in Seattle this year and Philadelphia in 2010. Seven more cities put in applications for 2011, but three withdrew (Atlanta, Miami, Montreal).

If there is more expansion, the most likely candidates are Portland, St. Louis and possibly a second team in New York City.

In large part due to summer heat, Phoenix appears to be a long shot, but both sides offered a chance to see a couple championship-contending teams.

"I think it's important," said Fire coach Dennis Hamlett, whose team has also played preseason matches in Mexico and Florida.

"It sort of spreads MLS into cities, hopefully ones which will apply for a team. It's a great area and has hosted international games. ... "It's important to us and our teams to get out and showcase MLS."

No David Beckham sightings this time - he's playing with his AC Milan team until returning to the States in July - but there will be some star power.

The Galaxy led MLS in scoring - and goals allowed - last season, while the Fire reached the MLS semifinals. Former Tempe Marcos de Niza and MLS standout Greg Vanney retired from the Galaxy after last season (he started the AZFC club organization in the Valley and will be in attendance tonight), but Landon Donovan is back. The U.S. National Team's all-time leader in goals and assists and three-time MLS champion recently finished his Germany commitment.

"The city has been good to me and good to soccer the U.S. beating Mexico here a few years ago was great - and this should be a good night and a lot of fun," Donovan said.

And if the weather is a hindrance for summer soccer here, at least the entrenched facilities are of help to those clamoring for an MLS team.

Chicago's Brian McBride has been a multiple World Cup participant for the United States the past decade before he retired from such competition in the past year to spend more time with family.

"We walked on the (ASU soccer stadium) training field, and it was amazing," McBride said. "The stadium looked great. To a man it's the nicest field we've played on, or top, five at least."

Beyond the climate and a final tuneup before the MLS regular season starts next weekend, there are no guarantees of long-term interest in housing an MLS soccer team here, but at least fans should see a good soccer show.

"I hope we have a great crowd," Hamlett said. "We have two exciting teams playing and we're bringing our whole groups. I think it'll make for an exciting game the fans will enjoy."

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