MLS | IMG, MLS look toward improvements after Chicago Fire win final preseason game

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

MANATEE -- The inaugural Major League Soccer preseason as originally scheduled at IMG Academy is over.

And after the Chicago Fire blanked D.C. United 1-0 on Wednesday in the final game between MLS sides, thoughts turned to how IMG could improve the experience for the teams and fans should the league make Manatee County its permanent hub for Eastern Conference teams.

IMG soccer director Scott Dean said improvement will come with more time to prepare for the event. For the first year, there were about 25 to 30 days to prepare for the clubs arrival.

Having several months to prepare only opens the possibility for more fan-friendly items such as a fan zone and programs with rosters in them.

"With the timing of it all, those are the things we can help to execute," Dean said.

However, the fan turnout was strong for the brief period available to market the event, Dean said. A few hundred fans attended Wednesday morning's match between the Fire and United, a stark contrast to the nearly packed house that witnessed the two sides battle Feb. 8.

Having a stadium to house the fans as a top venue helped.

"Now it becomes a true pro environment," Dean said. "You have great training facilities; you have a great game venue."

One coach, though, said the stadium could be improved, too.

"The stadium is not bad," said a D.C. United assistant coach, who asked not to be identified. "It's a bit wobbly. You can see here, the lines here, it's not straight. But I know it's hard to get them straight. If you play ground balls, really fast ground balls, you'll notice and feel that's a problem. ... But overall, what can I say? It's good."

The New England Revolution, Columbus Crew and Toronto F.C. were the other three MLS sides to visit Manatee County during the main portion of the preseason that began Jan. 31 and wrapped up Wednesday.

Players such as Michael Bradley and Eddie Johnson, who have been fixtures on the United States Men's National Team, played on the IMG Academy pitch.

And the MLS's stay is not complete over yet.

One side, FC Dallas, is just arriving after training in the Middle East and has two games scheduled next week.

They'll face USF at 4 p.m. Feb. 19 and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League at 7 p.m. Feb. 22.

A few hundred fans attended Wednesday morning's match between the Chicago Fire and D.C. United, a stark contrast to the nearly packed house that witnessed the two sides battle Feb. 8.

Tickets are on sale at www.imgacademy.com/mls for the two games F.C. Dallas is playing. The matches are open to the public.

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