Major League Soccer had a problem.
With clubs spread all over the country, scheduling quality preseason matches was proving to be a problem. If a team stayed home during training camp, it would be limited to playing college teams, lower-tier opponents or holding intrasquad scrimmages. Journeying to play against MLS rivals, on the other hand, would add to what is already one of the most arduous and fatiguing travel schedules of any first-division league in the world.
“I think back to a preseason in Toronto, where you can’t really stay in Toronto,” said Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, who managed in Canada for parts of seven seasons. “We flew to Los Angeles to do the first part, then we went back to Toronto, then we went to Mexico City to do a part, then we came back, and then we went somewhere else to start our season.
“By the time you’re done with that, you’ve already traveled 8,000 miles.”
Exhausted before the regular season even started Toronto, the reigning MLS champion, went 10-18-6 in 2018, its worst finish in six years. So this winter, like the two that preceded it, Vanney’s Galaxy team will play a half-dozen MLS opponents while traveling just 260 miles. By bus.
And for that he can thank Tom Braun, the club’s president of business operations, and Dan Beckerman, CEO of the Galaxy’s parent company AEG, who came up with the idea for a preseason competition in the desert east of Palm Springs.
In just three years the event has grown from a six-team, 12-game tournament played behind closed doors to one that will kick off Wednesday with 12 MLS clubs, two from the USL Championship and four from the NWSL. And with the doors now open to fans, attendance is expected to top 28,000 over seven match days.
“What we offer the clubs is a really meaningful event,” Braun said. “Instead of flying around trying to piece together competitive matches, we’re giving you the opportunity to come to a great setting, be around some of your competitors [and] have some really nice grass fields.”
In fact the Coachella Valley Invitational has proven so successful it’s a wonder no one thought of it earlier. For AEG, a global sports and entertainment presenter, it was a no-brainer since Goldenvoice, an AEG subsidiary, has for years put on the enormously successful Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals at the sprawling 1,000-acre Empire Polo Club in Indio. All Braun had to do was get someone to manicure…