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City gives assist to Major League Soccer spring training

The Tucson City Council gave its support Tuesday to a bid to bring Major League Soccer teams to Tucson for spring training.

In a unanimous vote, minus the absent Mayor Bob Walkup, the council offered support for the plan by local team FC Tucson to create a two-week spring training season for professional soccer.

A dozen supporters of local soccer came to council chambers wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams or sporting t-shirts for the American Outlaws, an organization of U.S. national team fans. They came to hear Greg Foster, an attorney and the managing partner of local soccer team FC Tucson, give a presentation to the council regarding MLS spring training.

Foster was part of the group that organized this year's Desert Cup, that pitted MLS talent against two Arizona teams.

"We learned that Major League Soccer enjoys a great deal of support in Tucson," he said of the event that drew 10,097 people on one night. His presentation included a quote from Mexican national team captain and New York Red Bulls player Rafael Márquez, who praised the fans in Tucson.

Councilwoman Regina Romero was happy about the buzz that the tournament generated, noting that she even heard from relatives in Mexico.

"I was getting Facebook postings from family members in Hermosillo saying 'Ahh, Rafa Márquez," she said.

MLS currently has a haphazard spring training schedule, and many MLS teams would like it formalized, Foster said. He believes he can expand the Desert Cup to a two-week spring training season in March involving four MLS teams plus local squad FC Tucson.

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Foster pointed out that he and FC Tucson were only asking for a letter of support and not asking the city to spend any money. He said the city recieved nearly $14,000 in tax, rental and gate receipts directly from the Desert Cup, plus money the event paid for security, sod replacement and clean-up.

Councilman Steve Kozachik was concerned about establishing FC Tucson as the only broker between the city and MLS.

"We don't have an exclusive middle man for Major League Baseball," he said.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich also brought up the issue of "exclusivity" in her comments, but pointed out that the language of the resolution was about support, making no mention of any person or group being an exclusive contact.

Even though Foster said that this would involve little or no new facility construction by the city, he did leave the possibility open that one of the teams brought in may want improved facilities. This led Kozachik to say that he didn't want to "pre-empt the council work plan." "Work plans" are guiding documents which are often modified.

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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

FC Tucson battled hard against the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Desert Cup.