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Major League Soccer players report for training camps

January 24, 2017
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2016, file photo, Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, front left, hoists the MLS Cup with teammates after defeating Toronto FC in Toronto. Last season's MLS Cup winners, the Seattle Sounders, open soccer camp Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Tukwila, Wash. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — One thing is always consistent across Major League Soccer as training camps open for the season: Hope.

The Portland Timbers are optimistic that they’re shoring up with starting-caliber depth so that injuries — which set the team back last season — don’t throw them off. And a few more road wins wouldn’t hurt, either.

The Timbers, the league’s 2015 MLS Cup champions, went winless away from home and failed to make the playoffs last season.

“I think obviously when you fall short like we did, the initial aftermath is tough,” coach Caleb Porter said. “But the positive that comes from that is you dig a little deeper, reflect a little more.”

The team departed Tuesday for Tucson, Arizona, where players will spend the next 12 days getting ready for the season. The Timbers play in the opening game of the MLS regular season at home against the expansion Minnesota United on March 3.

Last season’s MLS Cup winners, the Seattle Sounders, opened camp Tuesday in Tukwila, Washington. They’re also among the 10 teams heading to Tucson for preseason matches.

Seattle was the surprise of the 2016 season. The team was in ninth place in the Western Conference in July and let go of longtime coach Sigi Schmid. New coach Brian Schmetzer sparked a historic turnaround capped by the title match against Toronto. Seattle won 5-4 on penalty kicks following a scoreless draw.

The Sounders will play in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup Feb. 18-25. In its 13th year, the tournament includes the USL’s Charleston Battery, the Columbus Crew and the expansion Atlanta United.

Sporting Kansas City, eliminated by the Sounders in the knockout round of last year’s playoffs, is on a youth movement with seven of its nine new players under the age of 25.

“It’s definitely younger, it’s got more pace to it, and it’s going to be a hungry group,” coach Peter Vermes said in his preseason press conference. “I’m excited about this new group, and I’m excited to use some of the assets we have, because a lot of the guys we’ve brought in can play a lot of different positions.”

Some other things to look for as MLS clubs open training camps this week.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: Two new teams join MLS this season, Atlanta United and Minnesota United, bringing the league to 22 teams.

Atlanta will play 12 of its first 20 games on the road before the debut of Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30. Home games will be at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium until the $1.5 billion, retractable-roof stadium is completed.

Minnesota will play its first home game March 12 against Atlanta. The Loons will play this season at the University of Minnesota until a new stadium is completed in Saint Paul.

MORE EXPANSION: The Los Angeles Football Club will join the league in 2018 as the 23rd team, and the league says it is “making progress” on plans to add a 24th in Miami. But MLS isn’t done: the league hopes to be at 26 teams by 2020 with two more on the horizon. A Jan. 31 deadline has been set for interested potential owners or ownership groups to apply.

Cities that have expressed an interest in an expansion team include Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

REBOOT: The five-time MLS champion LA Galaxy are in rebuilding mode after last season’s sixth-place finish in the West and early playoff exit. Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Mike Magee, A.J. DeLaGarza, Jeff Larentowicz — as well as longtime coach Bruce Arena — have all left the club in the past three months. Arena moved on to coach the national team and was replaced by Curt Onalflo. The team also added veteran midfielder Jermaine Jones, who spent the last three seasons with the Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution.

DEALING: As camps opened, teams were actively filling out rosters and finalizing deals. Among the notable signings Tuesday was Orlando City’s deal with U.S. national team defender Jonathan Spector, who played this past season with English Championship side Birmingham City. The Columbus Crew signed Ghanaian midfielder Mohammed Abu as a special discovery player. The Colorado Rapids signed midfielder Bismark “Nana” Adjei-Boateng using target allocation money.

MORE PRESEASON ACTION: The Timbers host a preseason tournament at Providence Park from Feb. 9-15 that includes Real Salt Lake, the Minnesota United and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Suncoast Invitational tournament in St. Petersburg, Florida, Feb. 18-25, will include the Montreal Impact, D.C. United, the Philadelphia Union and the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.

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