x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

FC Dallas in UAE on a short stop but with long-term ambitions

The Major League Soccer franchise are in Abu Dhabi looking to build business links and forge ties in the region.

FC Dallas train in Abu Dhabi at Al Jazira's facilities. Courtesy Roger Hammerschmidt
FC Dallas train in Abu Dhabi at Al Jazira's facilities. Courtesy Roger Hammerschmidt

ABU DHABI // Several professional football clubs have made their way to the capital to train this winter, but only one of them travelled halfway across the globe.

Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas flew to the UAE from the US state of Texas, making a winter training trip during the pre-season period which will conclude tomorrow with a friendly in Dubai against a Swedish side.

Dallas-area businessmen and the UAE have long done business in oil, so it was only natural a team from the heart of Texas, America’s most fertile oil country, became the first American team to tour the UAE.

Dallas arrived in Dubai two weeks ago and immediately came to Abu Dhabi, where they were hosted by Al Jazira, staying at the hotel built into the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and training on Jazira’s grounds.

With Manchester City set to own a part of New York City FC, Dallas wanted to be the first club to take advantage of a link that will soon connect the UAE and MLS.

With the help of the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, they were able to make it happen.

Cesar Velasco, senior director of international marketing and communications for FC Dallas, said: “We have a co-owner in the league who is based here in Abu Dhabi now with the introduction of New York City, so we started looking at possibilities.

“It all made sense for us to start coming here, to evaluate the region.”

In addition to training and playing the Swedish club, BK Hacken, on Friday at Zayed Sports City and again in Dubai tonight, the team were able to get a cultural experience out of the deal – seeing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, going into the desert for dune bashing and sand surfing and catching Ferrari World.

Andrew Jacobson, an American midfielder entering his fourth year with Dallas, said: “It’s been a fantastic experience. The weather has been unbelievable, the facilities have been amazing.

“It’s a nice time to get away and focus on playing soccer. Experience a new culture, really try to bring the MLS to other parts of the world.

“It’s very different than we’re used to in America, but it’s pretty neat.”

For one player, Blas Perez, it has even been a little trip down memory lane, after he played here with Al Wasl on loan for six months in 2009.

Velasco characterised it as an opportunity to extend Dallas’ global connections and help build the brand of a league with large ambitions – MLS’s goal is to be one of the five best in the world by 2022, he said.

“If you want to do that, you need the exposure, the recognition and the quality of the game to call yourself one of the top five leagues in the world,” Velasco said.

“We can work in all aspects at the same time, but it needs to be global. It cannot be limited to one region and this is a place where we need to come and prove ourselves.

“It is a region that is untouched by anyone in the US when it comes to the business of sport. There are a number of American-based companies here in the Emirates but, more than that, there are a lot of Texas-based companies here – Bell Helicopter, Exxon, Gulf Alliance – so it’s our back yard and it makes sense to have that tie with these companies, with AmCham [the American Chamber of Commerce Abu Dhabi], with the Emirates.”

For coach Oscar Pareja, it was a chance to get his team out of the American winter chill, which even affects Texas, and playing against a different style of competition.

“The games with a European team is something that we don’t have often in the States, and it is very good,” he said.

“Unique experience for us, in a country that we don’t have the opportunity to come to too often. Beautiful city – the buildings, the people. Amazing the way they have been treating us here.”

A scheduled friendly with Al Jazira did not transpire, but it is Dallas’ intention to get another chance, when they return next year.

“All our business meetings with the contacts is with the intention to make this a long-term, if not permanent, training camp for us for the start of our pre-season,” Velasco said.

“This is a great place to start your training camp – not because of the weather, not because of the facilities that we found are a very high level, but also the cultural exchanges.

“I think it makes sense. We just need to learn from Year 1, and you want to improve for Year 2 and as we come, we’re sure that we’re going to make it better and better every year.”

jraymond@thenational.ae