This is interesting and a little strange.
The Major League Soccer club FC Dallas has announced its intent to travel to the UAE in late January and stay in Abu Dhabi for nearly two weeks as the team begins preparations for the 2014 MLS season.
Apparently, FC Dallas in recent years has gone to Cancun, in Mexico, for a training camp. That would be just as warm as Abu Dhabi, and a lot closer to Dallas. By thousands of miles.
Anyway, no MLS club has trained in the UAE. Though lots and lots of European sides have been over here in the past decade. A sort of who’s who of Europe football, actually. Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan (when Beckham was with them), etc.
We at The National were alerted to this FC Dallas thing by Dennis Pope, a former colleague, who picked up on the announcement by the Dallas club a week ago. (No word out of the UAE end of this, yet.)
FC Dallas announced this a week ago, on their website.
Not much reaction yet, in the U.S., perhaps because Dallas is one of the less prominent MLS teams … perhaps because it’s the holiday season and not much journalism is going on.
The club plans at least three friendlies in the UAE, according to their news story, and a few bloggers have taken a whack at potential opponents.
One friendly is nearly sure to be Al Jazira, the 2011 UAE champions who are hosting FC Dallas, having them stay in the hotel attached to the stadium and train on their practice fields.
(FYI. Jazira plays in the biggest and nicest football stadium in the country, the 48,000-capacity Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. The UAE has some old and decrepit stadiums, but this is not one of them.)
Al Ain, the two-time defending UAE club, has been mentioned as an opponent (and they open a new, 25,000-seat stadium next month), as has Baniyas, a team that has been threatening to become a real contender for about five years now.
(And, FYI, stateside bloggers; Baniyas is not on Abu Dhabi Island. It is on the mainland. Just to get that straight. And Al Ain is about 100 miles from Abu Dhabi, near the Oman border.)
A team not mentioned in the blogs I saw is Al Wahda, considered one of the UAE’s “big” clubs (and the 2010 champions), also based in Abu Dhabi, and located about two miles from Jazira. If you want proximity and a 10-minute bus rise, Wahda would work fine for FC Dallas, while based at Jazira.
Another concept not investigated at all is the number of Russian Premier League teams knocking around the UAE into late January.
The biggest of Euro leagues resume league play before the end of January, so the Italians and Germans and Italians and English will have left the UAE by mid-January … but strong sides from Russia and Ukraine stay later, and they would certainly give Dallas a very good workout.
(Though looking back, it appears Zenit St. Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk left, earlier this year, just ahead of when FC Dallas would be showing up in the UAE, early next year.)
It would be interesting to see how a lower-tier MLS team would perform, over here, where February makes the middle of the season.
I would think they would be better than UAE teams, though the latter each have four foreigners who generally are players with impressive credentials.
Where the MLS would have an advantage is in the other players on the pitch. The UAE has a solid national side, ranked No. 71 in the world, but the depth of talent is limited, and a decent MLS side would have an advantage over most UAE teams in the lower half of their starting XI.
FC Dallas against a good Russian side would rate as a significant underdog. Zenit, for example, is in the final 16 of the Uefa Champions League.
An issue over here would be the February fixtures list, which gets crowded for UAE clubs, especially those beginning play in the 2014 Asian Champions League, as Jazira will on February 25 and Al Ain on February 26. (Baniyas has a ACL qualifier on February 8, so that could be an issue for a Dallas friendly.)
Fans here in the UAE might even be mildly interested in a U.S. team.
They don’t know the MLS much at all, of course, and have no idea it has the sixth-best average attendance in the world (behind Italy and Argentina, ahead of France and China) … though some of them know David Beckham played in Los Angeles for several years there.
I am looking forward to talking to some Dallas players and officials.
In Europe, the UAE and the Gulf are seen as locales for potential investment; it would seem unlikely Dallas would be here looking for investors. And UAE teams are unlikely to be interested in any Dallas players.
What has not been answered yet is the “why?” What can the UAE do for Dallas? How does the UAE (or Jazira, anyway) believe Dallas can help them?
To be sure, one of Abu Dhabi’s royals, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, will be getting into MLS, at least peripherally. A team co-owned by the New York Yankees and Manchester City FC (owned by Sheikh Mansour) will become the 20th MLS team, in 2015. That would be New York City FC.
Though clearly NYC FC is more of a Yankees-Man City thing than it is a Mansour thing. (Follow the wiki page, linked above, and not a single UAE citizen is mentioned in the piece. Though Claudio Reyna and Jason Kreis are.)
But I digress.
A curious concept, this FC Dallas-in-Abu Dhabi thing. The whole of it. Ready to check it out more thoroughly in the coming weeks.