MLS Expansion: Where we were

With the draft upon us, we believe the official start of the MLS 2010 season is here.  As we are getting ready to cover  the new season we started to look back at our posts from the winter of last year as we were gearing up for the 2009 campaign.  At the time, expansion was the hot topic, with a long list of cities vying for 2 2011 spots.  Since then, Portland and Vancouver have become  the big winners and the list of possible expansion cities for the next round have changed dramatically.  We thought we would re-visit some of that discussion in the last moments before the unofficial start to the new season.

When MLS officials announced the next round of expansion, St. Louis, Montreal and even Portland were among the favorites to land the new franchises.  Passed over in the prior round of expansion, St. Louis, lead by Attorney Jeffrey Cooper, landed a stadium deal and big name investors like Albert Pujols.  Nevertheless, MLS has long had concern about Cooper’s financial stability.

When Montreal  and Atlanta dropped out of the race (leaving Portland, Ottawa and Vancouver among the possibilities) the Gateway City seemed almost guaranteed a spot for 2011.  Then a dark horse entered the race in the form world famous F.C. Barcelona.

barca

The Spanish powerhouse combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to  submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florida.  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.  Add in the lack of a Soccer Specific Stadium (the team would share with the FIU Football team) and the Miami bid seems like a sure loser.

However, the leadership of MLS seems to disagree.  Apparently wowed by the glam of FC Barcelona and the billions in Claure’s pockets, the league seems eager to embrace South Florida.  Commissioner Don Garber just announced that if the Miami bid is accepted, the team would start play in 2010, a year ahead of schedule and at the same time as Philadelphia.

Count me among the unconvinced.  The “beloved” Miami Dolphins strugle to sell out their games, the Panthers are barely a blip on the Miami scene and Marlins are an annual embarassment.  Why would MLS be any different? The idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the Leage.   MLS may love the idea of Barca dumping money into its coffers, but like Chivas before them, I see little chance of a big time soccer power adjusting to life in Major League Soccer.  League rules will not permit “Barca USA” to serve as a farm team of the parent club or as a way station for up and coming talents.  MLS should have no interest in serving as a marketing opportunity for the Spanish Giants.  As much as Barca might love the idea of selling jerseys in North America, I think the League would be far better served  taking $40 million from St. Louis and and Portland in 2011.

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