Happy Saturday everyone, I hope you all had a great week. On Tuesday while I was the Avalanche teach the Blackhawks how to play hockey, I saw a tweet come across my Twitter app saying that Orlando had been selected as the site of the 21st MLS team. This didn’t come as much of a surprise as Orlando had long been rumored to be the next MLS expansion city. A month ago the city Orlando approved funding for a new soccer stadium to be constructed in downtown Orlando, something MLS finds appealing (most MLS teams now have their own stadiums). Orlando City SC has been in the USL Pro (Division 3 beneath MLS and NASL) and has had huge support from the city and fans. Early this year New York City FC was announced as the 20th MLS team putting 2 teams in New York. Both Orlando and NYC FC will begin play in the 2015 MLS season. It’s no secret that MLS has wanted to expand for some time and now that they’ve added two new teams to bring the total to 21, I’d only expect them to expand, at least to an even number of teams. Reports are that the MLS commissioner would like 24 teams but further expansion isn’t out of the question (even though he thinks 30 is too many).
First, let’s look at the current arrangement of the 19 MLS teams.
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls
Sporting Kansas City
Chivas USA (Carson, CA)
Los Angeles Galaxy
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders FC
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Miami is considered to be the front runner for MLS expansion especially with the help of English soccer star David Beckham who is pushing hard for a team in South Beach. Beckham has a deal with MLS that is allowing him to purchase a franchise for the low, low price of $25 million (NYC FC coughed up $100 million and Orlando $70 million). However, Beckham has yet to make much ground outside of bringing on some business moguls with well-lined pockets. MLS also wants to see plans made for a soccer-specific stadium in Miami and there has not been much movement from the government in Miami on that front. Many have complained about this request as not all of the MLS teams have soccer-specific stadium. D.C., New England, Seattle, San Jose, and Vancouver all don’t have soccer specific stadiums but D.C. and San Jose have plans for new ones and well Seattle can almost fill Century Link Field (also the Seahawks stadium) so Seattle doesn’t seem to need a new stadium. The addition of Miami to the MLS would almost certainly dash Indy’s hopes of having one of the 24 MLS clubs as it would definitely tip the balance of teams to the east. Luckily, MLS has stated that the discounted price will expire on December 31 and after that…well nobody’s sure. Miami was a former site of an MLS team that was folded before the 2001 season due to financial failures of both the club and the league. Tampa Bay was also removed that year. If I were the commissioner I’d be tentative to return to Miami especially with the way other sports teams are supported in Miami (cough, couch, empty brand new Marlins stadium); to quote Marris, “because they need another team for fans to fill 10% of the stadium.”
Atlanta is another popular target as the Atlanta metropolitan area is the largest market in the US (~ 6 million people) without an MLS team. MLS has been wanting to expand to the southeastern US and with plans for a new stadium for the Falcons in the works, Atlanta could be a likely landing place. MLS has said that although the new stadium wouldn’t be soccer-specific, they would work to make it suitable for a franchise. On that note, the chairman of the Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) has said that the team is not interested in promotion to the MLS. Again, and expansion club in Atlanta would most likely sink Indy’s shot at one of the 3 remaining potential franchises as it would be another team in the east. Let’s hope these rumors fade away.
San Antonio has been battling for years for an MLS team. San Antonio has a soccer specific stadium for its NASL club, the Scorpions, that has a capacity of 8,000 but could be expanded to 18,000. San Antonio also has a 1,000 member supporters group known as the Crocketeers who have been very vocal about wanting an MLS team. Expansion to San Antonio would most likely add a team to the west but does Texas really need another team? They already have 2 MLS sides, 2 MLB teams, 2 NFL teams, and 3 NBA teams. That’s a lot more teams than one team each for the lone star state.
Finally, Minneapolis has been considered as a new site. Like Atlanta, a new stadium for the Vikings has been given a preliminary go-ahead and Vikings ownership has expressed interest in owning an MLS franchise. A team in Minnesota could be either in the east or west and would definitely make it interesting for Indy’s hopes.
Although these are the front runners for expansion there are many other potential landing sites for an MLS club. These include Detroit (past failed expansion), St. Louis (past failed expansion), Las Vegas (past failed expansion), Pittsburgh (past failed expansion), Phoenix, Sacramento (past failed expansion), Jacksonville (Really, Florida again?), Oklahoma City, and Ottawa (Canada). Of these, Detroit and Sacramento have passed legislation to explore the construction of soccer-specific stadiums.
So what does Indy have going for it? One, we’re widely known as a sports town and have had a huge show of support for the Indy Eleven, namely through the Brickyard Battalion who have been pushing for a soccer club in Indy for a while. At this summer’s International Champions Cup, the game between Chelsea and Inter Milan in Indy boasted the second highest attendance of the entire tournament losing out only to the championship and 3rd place games in Miami. The Eleven’s President and General Manager, Peter Wilt, was the first president and GM of the Chicago Fire and has been a major proponent of soccer growth in the Midwest. Indy is also located 3 hours from Chicago and just under 3 hours from Columbus which could lead to the development of great rivalries. While the Eleven don’t have their own soccer-specific stadium, there is plenty of land in southeastern Indianapolis that could be the future site of a new stadium or since Lucas Oil has a retractable roof, MLS could OK the use of the stadium for soccer. After all, Lucas Oil and Indianapolis were one of the host cities in the failed US bid for the 2022 World Cup.
It’ll be an interesting months and years to come as the MLS continues to look to expand and hopefully Indy is on their radar. If Indy does want to be considered, we’ll have to be loud about it and show an incredible amount of support for the Eleven as they begin play this spring. I’m looking forward to the start of soccer in Indianapolis and will definitely try to catch a game in Indy next summer. Until then, it’s still hockey season out here and I’m off to a game. Have a great rest of the weekend and thanks, as always, for reading.