Saturday, March 7, 2009

3/7/09: MLS Expansion Race Tightens

As most of you know the MLS is expanding at an astounding pace, four new franchises in four years. This expansion is unmatched in any pro league in the United States and it is great for the sport. The league now has fifteen franchises across the country. The final contenders for the two remaining expansion spots are Ottawa, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Portland. The most promising of the contenders was clearly Miami who's bid was backed by the famed Barcelona FC of Spain. I'll go a little more in depth about each city and its potential bid and give some opinions on which city i'd like to see win the franchise.

OTTAWA- Located in NE Canada with a metro population of 1.3 million it seems Ottawa would be overshadowed by our beloved TFC just a short drive away and the amount of teams in the Northeastern United States. Columbus, Toronto, New York, Philly, New England, and DC are already populating the east coast with soccer. I think that the MLS will want a larger market espically with Vancouver being in the mix and my guess is only one city from each country will be selected. So I would go ahead and scratch Ottawa off the list, not having to drive any deeper into Canada is fine with me.

Vancouver- Located in the pacific Northwest with a population of 2.3 million in the metro area, Vancouver has a very nice set up. The MLS has recently added the Sounders in Seattle and will be looking to give the two sides a rival close by. This is where it comes down to Portland and Vancouver. Vancouver is a larger metro area and will most likely get the go ahead due to the fact that it has a stronger bid than Ottawa. With the MLS only having one franchise in the Pacific Northwest I look for them to grow in the region giving them multiple teams. I think Vancouver is a lock and will certainly be having an MLS team come 2012.

Portland- With a metro area around the same size of Columbus at 2.1 million Portland is a large city with a very competitive bid. The financial backings for Portland seem to be the greatest out of any of the bids. The city has held marches and demonstrations for an MLS team and has shown city-wide support for their cause. Unfortunanly for Portland the MLS will not be putting its two newest franchises all in one region. With the stregth of the bid in Vancouver I just don't see it possible to grant Portland a franchise at this point.

St. Louis- Sorry guys I tried to find a picture without the arch because i've never seen St. Louis without it, but thats like stripping the city of its identity, so whatever right? Anyways I think St. Louis is a lock with a metro of 3 million and being in the Midwest giving it an easy location to play at. Due to the fact that the only centrally located team is Kansas City i'd look to see St. Louis get the go ahead. With a large backing of fans already and the success of youth programs in STL I believe they are guarenteed. With the low possibility of both new franchises going to the Northwest and the low odds for Ottawa (sorry guys but who really wants to go to Ottawa?) I see STL as the best place. The money, the location, and the support means a definite lock.

The growth of the league is exciting and I look to see another round of expansion a few years after these franchises start operations. Although I don't believe Portland will get the franchise this go around I picture them with a team by 2014.
The fan base and the money behind their team has surely caught the league's eyes and will land them a franchise at some point. If there is that much interest it would be ridicoulous for them not to do so.

What I am disappointed to see is that the South has no MLS teams. Atlanta was a bid I thought would be very promising and I look for the MLS to view Charlotte, Nashville, and Atlanta for franchises again in the next round of expansion.

Miami FC lost out and in my eyes thats great. Here's why, Miami FC would have been owned partly by Barca and to be honest do we really want our leagues franchises to be puppets of European teams that don't want to give MLS the time of day? I know I don't, I would rather see locally owned proud franchises gaining interest with Americans by Americans. If every franchise was to be owned by a larger European team then what would our league really be? It would have no identity and no soul. Trust me once Barca does it then so does Valencia, Man U, Chelsea, Juventus, and so on down the list. Crystal Palace Baltimore anyone?

Who cares if we aren't as good yet... can we really expect to be? Give it time, let our league develop and be itself. Soccer in America and Canada will be much better off for it.

With these new franchises all the cities have been planning to build soccer specific stadiums and that is awesome. They will most likely be the largest and most impressive of all the SSS stadiums in the league and will raise the league profile even more.

With more revenue for the league the cap space will raise and the league will in turn get better. Maybe the league could allocate money for better youth programs? Perhaps also spending it on more advertising or what have you.

The bottom line is the more franchises and exposure the better. If the MLS expands to 20-25 teams you would see more national coverage and sponsorships and the league would soar to new heights. I am so excited to see the league growing and expanding even in these difficult times. Attendance is going up and it should be a great league in the future.

Even if the European's want to bash us and rip us apart about our league, keep in mind is very young. The EPL has been around for over 100 years as well as most of the Premier Leagues in Europe.

Our league is a baby compared to them. So don't expect it to compete with them yet. Give it time and let the game grow, support it in anyway you can and encourage your friends to watch, it has grown and become so much more competitive in the past ten years, in these next 10 I look to see it become the best league in the America's and then in the next 20 become a formidable league even when compared to the EPL.

The reason I say this is because of the money and population in America, The states alone in the U.S have higher GDP's than most European countries. If you broke them up Ohio would have the 49th largest in the world right ahead of FRANCE.

The interest will grow right along with the sport. I am so proud of our country and our league and I think they are taking the right steps with expanding and trying to encompass the entire United States and Canada with franchises. Who knows could the U.S eventually encompass Mexican and even Central American teams? Only time will tell.

God Bless and Go Crew. Let me know what you think guys. Comments are always welcome.


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