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More on MLS expansion; let’s talk about Orlando

Nov 27, 2012, 12:04 PM EDT

Orlando City SC

Excited discussion over Orlando’s march toward possible MLS entry, spurred by the promise of Orlando City Soccer Club happenings, dominates a good chunk of league expansion talk now.

While we all love some MLS expansion talk, circle this warning: It reminds me a lot of what happened in St. Louis a few years ago.

In Orlando, president Phil Rawlins and the staff of a young club have done wonders so far. The club regularly drew more 5,000 fans, and true grassroots supporter groups have fueled a genuine buzzy buzz over the team.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has plenty of good things to say about it all. Studies and commissions developed for more studies are being launched to examine facilities and financing and such. Which is all just splendid.

But we’ve been here before. Jeff Cooper got oh-so-close in St. Louis back in 2008 and 2009. It looked like all the elements were in place: local, committed, passionate ownership, a club to build it around (A.C. St. Louis), a market that seemed keen on supporting soccer, and enough money to gain reciprocal MLS interest. Cooper even put together a stadium deal in nearby Collinsville, which put “The Lou” miles ahead of most other interested expansion targets.

(MORE: Harsh realities of MLS expansion talk)

While Cooper was a rich man, what he didn’t have was enough money to ultimately get the big train moving out of the expansion station. MLS isn’t really looking for Jeff Cooper money; rather, it covets the stability of Paul Allen / Microsoft money.

So, when we talk about Orlando and realistic MLS possibilities, keep that in mind. It doesn’t mean Orlando won’t happen someday … it just means that more money may be required.

What Garber said about Orlando in Monday’s annual pre-MLS Cup State of the League address:

We’ll continue to monitor what’s happening down there and I think at some point, if they’re able to finalize a stadium plan that make sense, we’d be very interested on working with them on an MLS team.”

  1. whordy - Nov 27, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    At some point the MLS needs to reconcile the reality of running a financially stable league with the fact that in this sport a domestic league is tasked with at the very least starting off the careers of young players with future NT, top domestic league talent.
    Money may buy a down payment on a stadium and make look good when signing the check to buy a MLS team, but it doesn’t buy a culture. It doesn’t ensure success or a fanbase or what happens when it turns out your team isn’t very good.
    What Orlando has may not seem important to the accountants running this league, but it’s the most important part of running a franchise. Especially alone one in the unique position as soccer is.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 27, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      Your point is well made … but it’s really about financial stability, and avoiding the potential calamity of financial instability. They’ve seen it before with Miami … and they may even be dealing with instability in some ownership groups that we don’t know about.

      Even a small chance of bringing the entire house down may be too big a risk. Not saying that would happen with Orlando, necessarily, just saying they aren’t so much looking for profit as maximum fiscal protection. Based on pro soccer’s spotted history here, hard to blame them.

  2. panchomiguelmoralesdeconejo - Nov 27, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    There are exactly 19 people in the United States with Paul Allen type money- 2 of them the Microsoft partners of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer & 4 of them of the Walton clan.
    If you are right and that is the depth of pockets the MLS wants…that there is some Slim Pickens (and he’s dead and unavailable!)

    • thekingofnorway - Nov 27, 2012 at 1:34 PM

      I think Steve meant to emphasize “the stability” of Paul Allen money, not just the large sums of cash itself. Even within the Sounders, the ownership isn’t all Paul Allen — it’s also Joe Roth (Hollywood producer and majority owner), Drew Carey (entertainer) and Adrian Hanauer (local entrepreneur).

      That was Cooper’s problem in St. Louis. He would be like Hanauer, but his business partners didn’t have the resources and reputations that Hanauer was able to work with in Seattle.

      So it doesn’t take one of those 19 people to lead building a club, but you do need depth in the ownership team you put together.

  3. mmancini99 - Nov 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    I wish MLS had taken hold of the second division a few years ago. Now would be an ideal time to start bringing clubs on at that level, so that the league could nurture and grow them much as a developing player. From there, you would have the option of expansion or even 10 years down the road, a promotion/relegation system.

    • dfstell - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:14 PM

      I agree…..I’d love to see a more pro-rel system. That’s why I’d rather see money poured into the second and third divisions and let them mature.

      • trhendricks5966 - Nov 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

        I would love to see a three division pro-rel system myself – except the southern-fried goober billionaires that control MLS want to keep real football second fiddle to that eggball, nothing-but-set-piece rubbish…. Lord forbid we should do anything to hurt the oh-so-holy SEC.

  4. mmancini99 - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    I wish MLS had gotten involved in the 2nd division a few years ago. That way, they could take this clubs with good but not perfect situations, and nurture them with league assistance until they were ready for prime time. It would be a model almost similar to player development. In around 10 years, you could open up those that flourished to expansion, or even have the option of moving to promotion/relegation.

  5. sdbeisbol - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    San Diego?

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