MLS Expansion Rumors: Analyzing the Pretenders and Contenders for the 20th Spot

Ned Harwood@@RBStampedeContributor IIIJuly 16, 2011

MLS Expansion Rumors: Analyzing the Pretenders and Contenders for the 20th Spot

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    There’s no doubt that the MLS is on its way up in American society. Fifteen years ago it would have been impossible to think about the incredible production the league has endured since its inception.

    The MLS now boasts 18 teams, spread amongst each region, with many of these clubs becoming a top entertainment option in their respective location. In 1996, the league was begging cities to take on a team. Now, cities would do anything to buy a piece of the multi-million dollar enterprise.

    The last couple of years we have seen multiple MLS bids come and go, mainly leaving fans drowned in speculation about who we will see grace the league in a few years. Rumors have gotten to a point where it is hard to tell what part of the body the whistle-blower's words are coming.

    I am here to analyze the potential bids and distinguish the contenders and pretenders for the 20th MLS spot and beyond.

Pretender No. 3: Atlanta

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    Atlanta can no longer be seen as a trustworthy expansion option for Don Garber and the MLS. Former proposed investor Arthur Blank (Owner of Atlanta Falcons) has made no move to prove that ATL is a credible city since 2009.

    After withdrawing their bid for 2011, Atlanta’s MLS plans have seemingly fallen off the map, with not even an unreliable rumor hitting the web. In 2010, the ball was in Mr. Blank’s court after Don Garber stated the city was a serious contender for the 20th spot.

    However, Mr. Blank clearly didn’t get the handy hint and has practically given up on the dream of bringing top soccer to the Dirty South.

    Even if Blank muscled up the money for another bid, Atlanta is already the host of two pro soccer teams, Silverbacks (NASL) and Beat (WPS), making it so that another team would likely ruin these two already established organizations.

    Until the Blanks get back down to business and the city becomes a little less soccer-crowded, Atlanta can only be a pretender for the 20th spot. 

Contender No. 3: St. Louis

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    The Gateway City is sitting nice and pretty after Don Garber’s recent expansion comments. On July 14, the MLS commissioner stated “You get east into the Midwest, we're feeling a little weak there. We need a team in St. Louis, and we're trying to figure out how to make that work."

    Suddenly, St. Louis has jumped into prime contention for an expansion spot despite not having a current professional team in the USL or NASL. It should be known, however, that St. Louis was the frontrunner for a 2011 bid before the MLS became aware of investor Jeff Cooper’s financial problems.

    Now the league and city are looking for a viable owner who could bring the beautiful game to one of the most passionate soccer places in America.

    The Good News: All they need is an investor. The Bad News: There is no one in sight.

Pretender No. 2: Miami

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    Miami’s chance at MLS redemption has sadly come and gone, with Don Garber looking elsewhere to fill the gap in the Southeast.

    Marcelo Claure and FC Barcelona have tried vigorously to bring a team to Miami the last couple of years, each year coming short of success and leaving South Florida's stadiums vacant.

    In 2010, Don Garber made the trip down to South Beach to see if the city had rekindled the soccer spirit that the MLS thought it had back in '96 (Remember, Miami was the first MLS team to flop in 2001 for financial problems).

    However, with only a few dozen supporters appearing at the meeting, the Soccer Don left relatively displeased and somewhat teased by Miami for suggesting they had serious soccer spirit. 

    Possibly the most painful part for Miami in this whole process is the fact that Orlando is in a much safer place heading into the home stretch.

    The Orlando owners have a good relationship with the league, no bad history, and a fan base that is willing to wait for its arrival (something Miami fans have not been known for).

    Patience is a virtue, Miami, and I hope you're willing to accept that sooner rather than later. 

Contender No. 2: Orlando

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    It seems as though Orlando is the most likely club to save the Southeast from its MLS starvation. After the MLS shut down Tampa and Miami for financial reasons in 2001, the league has been without a team in the Southeastern part of the States, resulting in multiple petitions and protests throughout the region.

    Don Garber has stated that he “can’t imagine that when this league is fully expanded that we don’t have teams in the Southeast.” With Miami and Tampa already flunking in the MLS and Atlanta struggling to show signs of life in the NASL, Orlando seems like the most logical option.

    Phil Rawlins, owner of Orlando City SC (USL Pro Team), has worked very hard in the last year to gain the attention of Don Garber and show that they are serious about a promotion.

    After just a few months of professional soccer, OCSC lies atop the USL in points, attendance, and already have a TV contract with the good people down at Bright House Sports Network.

    If there was ever a time and place for the Southeast to get a team, it would be in Orlando in 2013. 

Pretender No. 1: Detroit

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    Just two years ago, Detroit was looked at as a serious contender for the 20th MLS soccer team. Andreas Apostolopoulos was keen on bringing soccer to the Silverdome, and Don Garber was all but on board with the plan.

    Two years and a recession later, the dream of Detroit soccer is slowly fading in the distance as the league looks for new investors. The city is still without a soccer team in the high USSF levels, and Don Garber is looking elsewhere to fill the Midwestern void.  

    Detroit had a chance to prove they were worthy of an MLS team this summer at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup as the USA faced Canada at Ford Field.

    Though a big crowd was expected, merely 28,000 showed up to welcome the USMNT in Detroit, a flaunting sign that this city just isn’t ready for pro soccer yet.

    The Motor City may keep driving for a team, but unless they refill, they will soon run out of gas. 

Contender No. 1: New York

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    What else did you expect? Don Garber has had a crush on the Cosmos club ever since its revival and now it seems as though NY is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

    Despite not playing a game in over 25 years, by roaming around NY you would think the Cosmos are a current MLS club due to their excessive marketing techniques.

    Brazilian legend and Cosmos owner Pele has been working extremely hard to get the Cosmos brand into the veins of NYC and I must say it has been a success.

    Walking around New York City you will randomly see kids in Cosmos jerseys and hats stride past you with pride, as if they have supported the team since the NASL days. However, the apparel didn’t just stop at kits and caps. 

    This past week, the Cosmos released their own “BlackOut” clothing collection, which features perfectly nice polos tainted with the color black.

    A sign of the apocalypse? Maybe. But I am sure Don Garber and his Brazilian acquaintance are already chuckling at the thought of their playdates in 2013.

    Pele has expressed his interest in calling the Cosmos’ home Queens, a particularly preferable location for New Yorkers considering the Red Bulls are a full train ride away.

    If indeed the Cosmos front office can find a perfect public spot, not only would they attract plenty of non-soccer fans, but possibly steal some of the Red Bulls’ supporters too. What would ensue would be a thrilling East Coast rivalry that replicates that of Los Angeles.

    A rivalry that would gain NY media attention and expand the MLS in the most populous area of America. Don Garber is already licking his lips.

    However, the Cosmos will not likely just help enhance the economy of the league, but the quality as well. Pele has very strong connections with the Brazilian youth programs and could possibly lure the best young talents from Brazil to the Cosmos after the team’s inauguration.

    Imagine: instead of top young talents such as Neymar, Willian, and Anderson staying in Brazil to play their professional ball, they coming to the USA to play beneath the Brazilian legend in one of the greatest cities in the world.

    It would certainly be an appetizing option for those who wish to play professional football a little closer to home.

    Once a few top young talents come to the MLS, suddenly the league transforms from a retirement home into a feeder league, with European clubs constantly looking to attract the “Brazilinos.”

    The reputation of a ripe young league looks much stronger on a soccer resume than a league where the old and cranky go to vacation.

    With the unlimited possibilities that the Cosmos bring to the MLS round table, I can’t imagine Garber going anywhere else with the 20th spot. If I was the commissioner, I now would ask only two questions: Where is a pen and when can I sign?

Other Notable Cities: Future Spots

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    Although these cities' expansion plans are still premature, each location has a high chance at gaining a team, whether it be expansion or adoption, in the future. 

    Las Vegas

    Yeah, that’s right. The Sin City might be a tremendous opportunity for the MLS in the future.

    First off let me start by saying that Las Vegas is the only team on this list that does not feature a professional sports team in either the MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL. That being said, an MLS team would have a greater chance to bond and blend with the community than a third team in LA or a second in NY.

    Other than hitting up the casinos, entertainment options in Vegas are fairly limited, making it so that an MLS team could really make some cash if they were to place the stadium in a prime location. And by looking to your left, it seems as though Texas Developer Chris Milam really has some bright ideas on the infrastructure.

    A trend that we have seen in the last couple years in the MLS is: New Stadiums = More Fans. And I am willing to bet that if this said stadium is built by 2014, Las Vegas could be a very attractive option for Don Garber and company.

    Possibly the best part about the whole expansion would be the fact that home game attendance would have less of a chance to fluctuate than other clubs’. With Sin City being a top tourist attraction in the United States, there would constantly be a part of the population that had not yet been to a game.

    Add these “one-timers” on top of the consistent fans, and the team has a great chance to be well supported. Although I doubt the Vegas population would have the capabilities of supporting an MLB team for 81 games or NBA team for half that, selling 20,000+ tickets 17 times a year might not be all too difficult when you consider all the factors.

    An expansion to Vegas would also spawn a Mountain West rivalry with RSL. All of a sudden, a move to the desert doesn’t seem all too sinful. 


    I have always been a big fan of Minnesota in the MLS and here is why. First, the fan support in Minnesota (for any sport) replicates that of what we see in the Pacific Northwest. No matter how good or bad the professional teams are performing, the seats always seemed to be filled up at Target Field, the Metrodome, and the Xcel Center.

    For example, the Twins this season have a 99.1% capacity rate despite the team playing under .500 since Opening Day.

    The Minnesota Wild have reached the playoffs merely three times in the organization’s history, yet nearly every home game ends up sold out at the end of the season. In other words, if you build it, they will come.

    The second reason why Minnesota seems like a logical option is because the Wilf family (Owner of Minnesota Vikings) continue to express interest in moving their NFL team to Los Angeles, presenting an enormous economic opportunity for the city’s NASL team, NSC Minnesota Stars.

    However, if the Vikings don’t depart Minneapolis, Zygi Wilf has confirmed he would be interested in bringing MLS soccer to Minnesota.

    Thirdly, a Minnesota team would provide a powerful rivalry opportunity in the Midwest, something that the middle of America desperately lacks compared to the Left and Right coasts.

    Finally, with MLS being in the summer, it would never be too cold up there, eh?

    San Antonio

    The San Antonio Scorpions will be joining the NASL in 2012, providing hope that someday there will be another big team in big Texas. The owners of the Scorpions (also the Spurs owners) are looking to take a slower approach to the MLS and prove that they have consistent fan support over a few years, instead of applying blind.

    This of course is a safer, but much more tedious strategy. The Scorpions may draw big crowds for their 2012 season, but the real trick will be keeping attendance up once the commencement craziness has died down.