By Paul Kennedy
No one had more faith in American pro soccer that the late Lamar Hunt. Not once but twice Hunt wouldn't quit when most around him had given up on the pro game in the United States.
First, against the advice of most of the people close to him, Hunt refused to give up on the NASL. In 1969, it shrank from 17 teams to five after its first season, but he continued to support the Dallas Tornado as Ron Newman, Dick Hall, Mike Renshaw,Ken Cooper and others went about spreading the gospel of soccer around Dallas and setting off the youth soccer boom that would sweep the country.
In 2001, with the MLS in danger of collapse, Hunt was convinced to take over the Dallas Burn as the league down-sized from 12 teams to 10. By then, Hunt had put down roots, so to speak, with the construction of the first soccer-specific stadium, which opened in Columbus in 1999.
Hunt's never-say-die attitude was never so evident as with the process of finding a location for the Crew's stadium. After Columbus voters turned down a measure that would have funded a downtown hockey arena and soccer stadium, Hunt admitted, "We didn't really have a Plan B." But that didn't mean he gave up.
In Michael McCambridge's book, Lamar Hunt, A Life in Sports, Jamie Rootes, the Crew general manager at the time, tells the story about a late-night dinner he and Hunt had a McDonald's after yet a second stadium project -- in suburban Dublin -- was rejected by voters.
After they ordered their food, Rootes went to get some condiments and returned to find Hunt hovering over a map of Columbus he had spread out on their table. What was he doing? Hunt replied, "Oh, I'm just trying to figure out where else we can build this soccer stadium."
Hunt's persistence paid off as a deal soon presented itself for the Crew to build on the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
It wouldn't be the only time Plan A wouldn't work out for the Hunt. The original plan was for the Burn -- later renamed FC Dallas -- to play in McKinney and open in 2003, but at the last minute, the McKinney city council "blindsided" the Burn (Hunt's phrase) and called off talks. Three years after the McKinney stadium deal collapsed, FC Dallas moved into its current home in Frisco.
If the history of MLS and the stadiums its investors have built tells us anything, it's always wise to have a Plan B.
Only last month, MLS commissioner Don Garberspoke to Associated Press sports editors about the league's plans to build a stadium for its New York expansion team on a site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
"If we get this done," Garber said, "it will be in Flushing Meadow Park. There is no Plan B."
Only a month later, MLS has owners for its New York team, but in face of opposition from local groups, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park stadium project is not a sure thing.
Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano told ESPN.com the English club and the New York Yankees -- co-owners of New York City FC -- will continue discussions on the proposed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park stadium but also explore other options.
But it's hard to imagine Soriano and his Yankees colleagues sitting at a McDonald's somewhere with a map of the five boroughs in front of them like Hunt and Rootes did when things looked bleak in Columbus.
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