For soccer's Sounders, Bradenton is goal-den

photos courtesy of Casey Morell/Catalyst

When people think of sports in the Sarasota area, their thoughts probably turn to exercises in elderly recreation like shuffleboard or bocce ball or to ostentatious displays of wealth like polo or yachting. But for ten days at the tail end of February, the region belied its clichéd perception and turned into training camp for the Seattle Sounders, a professional Major League Soccer (MLS) team. In preparation for the upcoming MLS season, the Sounders and the Chicago Fire played a preseason match on Sat., Feb. 26. at Bradenton’s IMG Academies, a multi-sport training and residency complex just north of New College, and the Catalyst went to take a look.

IMG boasts a series of playing fields, gymnasia and other facilities for training programs in baseball, soccer, football, tennis and other sports. The complex is residential in nature, where student athletes can train in their respective sports for part of the day and go to school for the remaining portion. Its relationship with U.S. soccer is quite strong: many younger members of the U.S. national team who aspire to play professionally live and train in Bradenton.

Sounders defender Tyson Wahl lived and trained at IMG from 2000 to 2001. He told the Catalyst that the complex has changed dramatically over the past decade. “There’s a whole lot more development,” he said in an interview after the match, which the Sounders won 1-0. “It seems like the IMG Academies are doing well for themselves, so that’s definitely a positive thing — it’s helping the growth of soccer down here.”

On more than one occasion, the suncoast’s great weather was mentioned as a highlight of the trip.

“It’s been good — the weather has been tremendous,” said Sounders Manager Sigi Schmid on his team’s stay in Bradenton. “I’ve been here when sometimes it rains and sometimes it’s been cold but the weather here has probably been the best ten-day stretch that I’ve gone through in the times I’ve been here.”

“Considering it was snowing in Seattle, we’re pretty happy that we got nice 80 degree weather all week,” goalkeeper and team captain Kasey Keller joked.

Not all of the team’s trip to Florida was filled with training, though — Wahl mentioned that a few members of the squad went to one of the area’s local beaches earlier in their stay and Schmid spoke of a trip to see the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team play a match as well.

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