More than one MLS general manager or team executive has expressed concerns that for all the proclamations that MLS wouldn't repeat the mistake of the NASL, in more than a few cases it has done exactly that.
Chivas USA came in amid much fanfare, its owner Jorge Vergara proclaiming its
heritage and style would subsume the league's efforts to develop
American players and sell its version of the world's game to Americans.
The Mexican owners of the Los Angeles Aztecs believed some of the same
tenets, and while the implementation of Chivas USA has brought
structure and generated financial streams for the offshoots of Chivas
Guadalajara in this country, the MLS entity is floundering at the gate
despite building a successful team. It has pulled up its roots, and
right now, in its fourth season, is very much the second MLS franchise
in Los Angeles, and not much more.
The dysfunctional Red Bulls resemble not so much the glamorous Cosmos
as they do perhaps a dozen NASL teams who came into important markets
with deep pockets and shallow business and soccer sense. Perhaps the
dismissal of executive Marc DeGrandpre
and hiring of head coach Juan Carlos
Osorio can turn things around on and off the field, but if
nothing really changes in the next year, RBNY will be just another
league entry with a fabulous new facility and no defining identity.
Osorio is a product of the game's global sprawl, whereby soccer coaches
of troubled teams often resort to buying their way out of trouble.
The giddy expansion of the NASL, which expanded from 18 teams to 24 in
1978 to cite just the most extreme example, paid off some bills with
the expansion fees but soon cast the league even deeper into debt when
most of those new franchises, along with a lot of the existing ones,
MLS is being wooed by investors in several cities, so its ambitious
plans to expand to 18 teams by 2011 aren't being driven by desperation
a la NASL. Yet its rapid expansion from 10 teams in 2004 to 16 in 2010
(by adding Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC, San Jose, Seattle
and Philadelphia) contradicts its ambitions to improve the product on
Expanding the slots for foreign players to 112 throughout the league
this season (each of the 14 teams is allotted eight slots, which can be
traded) is tempered by only a slight increase to the salary cap (said
by a source to be $2.18 million per season). The league is thus
dependent on domestically produced and/or college players, and despite
a handful of collegians emerging as starters in their first or second
pro seasons the past few years, dilution of quality is inevitable. This
isn't so much a short-term deterrent to the individual teams, since
branding and identity are greater factors in the first few years of a
team's existence than superb play, but is certainly detrimental to the
league's image to potential sponsors and as a TV product.
Getting back to expansion, who will the two be? Adding two more
Canadian teams, despite the remarkable success of Toronto FC isn't
likely, since the American suitors are many and the league's TV reach
north of the border is limited, as ESPN has no presence in Canada.
Vancouver has very deep pockets, a high-profile champion in NBA star Steve Nash and a viable waterfront
stadium plan. When MLS steadfastly insists it multiple possible
ownership groups in Seattle, it's not giving the Saputo family, who run
the USL Impact, much of a push. Yet Montreal has a new stadium with a
grass field, the Impact just edged out Toronto FC for a place in the
CONCACAF Champions League, and the Saputos are ambitious.
Portland could well be Toronto USA, with a stadium (PGE Park) close to
downtown, powerful local ownership, diverse population base and a solid
soccer legacy. Yet extensive renovation, well into the tens of millions
of dollars, will be needed to raise PGE to MLS standards, and not
everyone within the MLS offices is convinced it can be done.
St. Louis has decades of soccer heritage and a stadium plan but no
viable ownership group, and if PG&E Park doesn't measure up and
someone in St. Louis doesn't ante up, a second team in New York is the
best bet. The next few months will tilt the arrow in one direction or
(Reply below with your expansion