MLS Expansion: How The Seven Stack Up

MLS Expansion: How The Seven Stack Up

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 17, 2008
  • 2 Comments
  • Atlanta Expansion, Expansion Hopefuls, Miami Expansion, MLS Expansion, Montreal Expansion, Ottawa Expansion, Portland Expansion, St. Louis Expansion, Vancouver Expansion

I’ve been meaning to post this for a day or so now but just haven’t got around to it until today. A few months back I did a story on MLS Expansion and how each potential city out there stacked up. Strengths and weaknesses were listed along with some key questions. So in a way you could consider this a follow up to that article now that we know which cities are up for an expansion slot in MLS.

We have bids from two countries, in different regions, some in current USL cities and some with no actual professional soccer club currently in place. Some bids have billionaires attached, while others hope a loyal fan base and a local rivalry will sound good to the league.

One thing we do know is that we won’t hear a thing about any of these bids for a little while. The league is going to take a serious look at each of the seven bids and then go into the public eye no sooner than MLS Cup next month. Even that may be too soon before the league starts naming expansion sites. But we also know that we will know something definitely before the start of the 2009 season next March.

So its a six month window of guessing and wondering. I for one after this story will probably not go into expansion talk for a while until I get some real evidence about who the league is leading towards. Right now its all a guess and a speculation over each bid.

So how do the seven expansion candidates compare? Here is a closer look at each bid and the chances I think each has to become an expansion club. I won’t offer who I think will be in as I have done that many times before. I just want to offer who I think has a better shot here. I will look at a couple different things for each site like stadium, fan base, rivalry, and money in determining each site’s potential.

(We will go ABC order to keep things safe here too.)

Atlanta (Arthur Blank): Another NFL owner that is serious about a MLS club. That’s probably one if not the only thing going well for Atlanta here. As much as I would love a club in the south in Hotlanta, I just think there are too many things that have to go right for Blank in order to get it done.

  1. Stadium: Currently we do not know what kind of stadium proposal Blank is offering up to the league. More than likely he will have to go out and talk with local government to get a stadium in the Atlanta suburbs of Cobb County and Gwinnett County.
  2. Fan base: Currently in the USL the Silverbacks have a decent following thanks to a small stadium outside of the city. Its perfect for USL but obviously too small for MLS. Thing is they don’t always pack the stadium in Atlanta.
  3. Rivalry: Unless Miami gets in they won’t really have any natural rivalry in MLS.
  4. Money: Blank can afford a club, there is little doubt about that. He could easily pony up the cash for an expansion fee and for the club and possibly the stadium.

Chances: Not good. The lack of stadium will kill this bid. If they don’t get over that soon enough with a solid stadium plan then you can bet this bid will be at the end of the list when it is all said and done. I understand that Blank wants to add to his sports club list but let’s be honest its a silly thought to go for a MLS club in a city that doesn’t really need it right now.

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Miami (Marcelo Claure and FC Barcelona): When a soccer club giant enters the picture you listen, no matter what. The biggest concerns though is the history of MLS and Miami. It didn’t work well the first time and the current USL club isn’t pulling in great numbers either. But things are apparently getting better on South Beach…or so they seem to be. They want to launch the bid in 2010 instead of 2011, you think they believe they already have one of these bids in the bag?

  1. Stadium: Sharing a stadium with FIU is one thing but by the time soccer will start in Miami the stadium is expected to be much bigger than most soccer-only stadiums in MLS. Not a good thing, though the rent-free thing is nice. I still believe deep down that they need their own stadium to work properly in Miami. A couple years at the FIU stadium but then open up a brand new soccer stadium. That will work.
  2. Fan base: The Ultras are great, small but great. The Fusion had a small and loyal (at the time) following and I would imagine this club will too. They just have to hope Barcelona works its magic in the area to get more butts in the seats this time around.
  3. Rivalry: Eh, no Tampa this time so that is out the window. If they get good because of the whole Barca thing then I would expect a lot of clubs would want to rival them. Still this isn’t a card that they are playing in this process.
  4. Money: Yeah they have plenty of it. No worries here.

Chances: Good. Their chances are good solely because of Barcelona being on the bid. They are already a little cocky about wanting to start in 2010 though I think. They have to show the league though that it won’t be a repeat of the Fusion and that they will fill a stadium or at least get an average of 15-18,000 at a game on a regular basis. Chances of that aren’t too good really if you ask me.

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Montreal (Saputo and Gillett families): Probably one of the best bids out there for the league to look at. You have a loyal fan base, a nice expandable stadium and owners with deep pockets. Oh and there is this natural rivalry with one of the current clubs already budding in the background.

  1. Stadium: Saputo Stadium was built for MLS, sorta. They planned all along to build it first for USL and then expand it for MLS. It was a smart plan from the start and should pay off for them in the end.
  2. Fan base: May be the second best out of this group. They pack the stadium as it is right now and I doubt they would have any trouble packing it once it gets expanded.
  3. Rivalry: Their selling point is that they would be a great rival for Toronto. Duh, they already are.
  4. Money: No worries here. With Gillett on the card they have no worries about money.

Chances: Very good. Between Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo and Liverpool co-owner George Gillet, the Montreal has plenty of soccer experience on the management side and plenty of experience on handling the money side. Don’t be shocked that they will be able to swing a Canadian TV contract as well, another thing that MLS cannot ignore here because it would bring in loads of extra $$.

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Ottawa (Eugene Melnyk): Easily the biggest and longest of long shots in the field is Ottawa. To most it is a surprise bid with little chances given not only its American rivals to the south in line for expansion but the other two Canadian bids in line.

  1. Stadium: One thing going is the potential soccer stadium that Melnyk is proposing here. It looks lovely all over (even if it is a slight duplicate of the old layout of the Red Bulls Stadium). The quicker they can get this stadium complete, the bigger the chances are for this bid.
  2. Fan base: They had a good showing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup a couple years ago but that may not be enough. I just don’t think that buzz will be enough in the city itself.
  3. Rivalry: Toronto is the obvious choice here but Montreal is also backing on having a rivalry with TFC.
  4. Money: One thing that isn’t in doubt is the mount of money that Melnyk and his group have. That helps but only so much.

Chances: Very slim. Why Ottawa is in the mix is beyond me but you just never know. Thing is there are just too many strong bids in their way even with that lovely stadium proposal on the table. I’ve had trouble taking this bid serious from day one and I bet the league is the same way.

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Portland (Merritt Paulson): One of my personal favorites is Portland. This bid will rely on fan support as well as potential renovations to one of the better venues in the USL, PGE Park.

  1. Stadium: If the league doesn’t like Paulson’s renovations plans for PGE Park then this bid will have a lot of trouble. Thing is I doubt they will not take it serious because of that stadium upgrades that need to be in place. The two sides have worked well before in the past to create a foundation of what needs to change in order to get a club in Portland.
  2. Fan base: The best on this list. No other way to put it.
  3. Rivalry: Instant rivalry with Seattle. You think the Houston-Dallas, or the LA-Chivas, or the DC-New York rivalrys are good, wait until you see a Portland-Seattle one in MLS. It will easily be one the best, if not the best.
  4. Money: Some have doubts about the money on this bid but Paulson is willing to pay whatever expansion fee that the league throws out there.

Chances: Good. Getting over the stadium issues is the big thing here but aside from that the league knows it needs another club in the Pacific Northwest to be successful. Having Seattle up there is good but adding Portland to the mix will make it even better. Its a small city (the smallest American city on the list) but one that would take this club by storm. No NFL and MLB to compete with will make this a big time club in the city.

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St. Louis (Jeff Cooper and company): Once seen as the next city in is back on this list. They failed to get in this time last year when they were going against Seattle and then Philly. History is on their side, but what else?

  1. Stadium: Already has a deal in place to build a stadium outside of the city in Colleyville. Not an ideal spot but the league cannot back away from a stadium deal that is already granted by the local and state government.
  2. Fan base: Biggest question mark on this bid in my mind aside from the money issues. We’d like to think this city would take this team by storm but we just don’t know that as of yet. Not even a USL club in the city to let us in on what games would be like or anything.
  3. Rivalry: A couple good ones with Kansas City and Chicago. Just what those two MLS clubs need as well.
  4. Money: Its what kept them out before and what is likely to doom them again if they aren’t careful.

Chances: Good but not great. The lack of deep pockets still is a concern to the league. But with that the stadium plan and the history of soccer in this city will not be ignored.

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Vancouver (Greg Kerfoot, Steve Nash, and  Jeffrey Mallet): One of the strongest of ownership groups is Vancouver. They’ve been pushing for a soccer stadium in that city for years now and having a MLS club could help their chances there.

  1. Stadium: Right now it is BC Place and not the waterfront stadium that most would like to see right now. Its probably their biggest downfall right now in my mind.
  2. Fan base: Just won the USL title and had good numbers this year so I would imagine it would easily carry over to MLS.
  3. Rivalry: Toronto and Seattle. You  got two right there but the thing is two other cities are using those exact same clubs as their rivalry on their bids. That may hurt this bid’s chances.
  4. Money: Plenty of it, no worries there with Mallet, a former Yahoo execuitve on board.

Chances: Decent. The Montreal and Portland bids lower Vancouver’s chances right now for me. Montreal because of the better stadium situation and Portland because of the better rivalry to Seattle. But saying that this is still one of the best ownership groups on the list and the league will not over look that. Still, they have to find a way to look better than Montreal and Portland here. If they can do that you could see them sneak in here.

  • Kevin Albertina

    Regarding St. Louis' bid, the stadium in Collinsville is actually only 10 minutes from Busch Stadium and a lot closer to downtown than many places that are actually in the city of St. Louis. Also, remember that Chicago's stadium is not in Chicago, Philadelphia's new stadium is in Chester, etc., etc., etc.<br />
    <br />
    As far as fan base, St. Louis would definitely support the team. They used to draw nearly 20,000 for freaking indoor soccer for crying out loud. St. Louis has a richer soccer tradition than any other city in the country and for a longer time.<br />
    <br />
    The biggest problem for St. Louis is Garber. Garber wants to hobnob with the rich and famous and doesn't care about anything else. He makes the comment about soccer specific stadiums, but then doesn't follow through. The rules don't apply to the Paul Allens and the other super rich guys who think of this league as their hobbie. No slight on Seattle intended, they have great soccer fans. But the real reason they got the team was a rich owner, not the fan base or any other reason.

  • Kevin Albertina

    Regarding St. Louis’ bid, the stadium in Collinsville is actually only 10 minutes from Busch Stadium and a lot closer to downtown than many places that are actually in the city of St. Louis. Also, remember that Chicago’s stadium is not in Chicago, Philadelphia’s new stadium is in Chester, etc., etc., etc.

    As far as fan base, St. Louis would definitely support the team. They used to draw nearly 20,000 for freaking indoor soccer for crying out loud. St. Louis has a richer soccer tradition than any other city in the country and for a longer time.

    The biggest problem for St. Louis is Garber. Garber wants to hobnob with the rich and famous and doesn’t care about anything else. He makes the comment about soccer specific stadiums, but then doesn’t follow through. The rules don’t apply to the Paul Allens and the other super rich guys who think of this league as their hobbie. No slight on Seattle intended, they have great soccer fans. But the real reason they got the team was a rich owner, not the fan base or any other reason.