Total Football Café: MLS Uncertainty Edition
Barely two weeks removed from the generally optimistic tone of Major League Soccer’s “MLS Next” unveiling, with its new logo and emphasis on new stars (Kaka! Villa! Lampard!) and new teams (NYCFC! Orlando City SC!) coming in 2015 to a soccer specific stadium near you, MLS had a less-than-stellar week in which we’re reminded that despite the league’s tremendous growth, there are still potentially big issues to resolve.
I suppose the news that an ownership group (including Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan in a minority owner role?!?!) emerged this week to purchase sad, sad Chivas USA should be good news, and it is, mostly, as it’s much better than the franchise folding altogether. The bad part of the news is the team will cease playing for the next two seasons while a total reboot is engineered and a new stadium deal established. Apparently “Chivas USA” will be erased from existence and the new team will be completely rebranded. The team will also supposedly remain in LA. I completely get that MLS wants this franchise to survive in LA, it being an enormous market and all, but every time I see the Galaxy play home matches on TV, there are a lot of empty seats. Does LA really want two teams when it doesn’t even support one as well as it should given its market size? The better option for this Chivas USA franchise would be to reboot in a city where there is a bigger demand for an MLS franchise.
In stranger news, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl made headlines this week with his report that New York Red Bulls and their stadium are for sale. According to Wahl, the club talked to a couple different buyers over the past two years. Meanwhile, MLS denies that the club is for sale. This is weird and a little sad for the league. The Red Bulls have one of the newest and coolest stadiums in MLS, yet they rarely sell it out. They’re one of MLS’ original franchises, but the league seems much more enthused about the potential of expansion team New York City FC. If the Red Bull energy drink company were to sell the club, that would mean yet another rebranding (remember when “MetroStars” was their awesomely awful name?). Adding insult to injury for Red Bulls fans is the news that Thierry Henry will supposedly not return to the team in 2015.
This relative instability of some MLS clubs at the same time MLS is in aggressive expansion mode makes me nervous for the league. Their recent expansion clubs have mostly succeeded because there was generally solid grassroots fan demand for MLS teams in the expansion cities (the gold standard examples being Seattle and Portland). That’s why Orlando City SC will be a successful club. NYCFC will succeed too, but more because MLS will refuse to let it fail. I’m less than convinced about the demand for, and thus potential success of, expansion teams in Atlanta and Miami. The only person seemingly clamoring for a Miami club is David Beckham.
Hey, I like expansion. I want MLS to become a behemoth league with mega clubs spread across this great land. But I don’t want to see expansion teams end up like Chivas USA ten years from now, with just a few thousand fans in the stands, with the club up for sale, getting rebranded, or being erased from existence.
As for my local and favorite MLS team, FC Dallas lost 2-0 at Vancouver last night, continuing their poor road performances this season. They could’ve clinched a playoff spot with a win or a Portland loss. Naturally, Portland beat San Jose 2-1, in San Jose no less, delaying FCD’s playoff confirmation at least another week. Problem is, I’m getting antsy about said playoff confirmation. The schedule is not kind with FCD hosting LA, traveling to Colorado, and hosting Portland to close out the season. My pessimism foresees a very scary scenario in which Dallas will need a second half goal against Portland in the final game of the season just to make the playoffs. FCD has been a strange team in recent weeks – they have the potential to sneak up and win MLS Cup this year, but are just as likely to get steamrolled and miss the playoffs entirely. I am nervous.
Last week, veteran FC Dallas reporter Buzz Carrick reviewed my book for 3rd Degree, the Dallas Morning News’ soccer blog. It was a very positive review for which I’m humbled and grateful. Carrick’s review even included this surprisingly strong statement:
“…this book should be a mandatory read by every employee of FC Dallas. If I owned the team, or any MLS team, I would require all my employees to read this because Nipper is as core to the MLS audience as it gets.”
So much of writing feels like it’s just launched into the void (and a lot of times it is), so it’s always great to receive positive feedback. I’ve received several messages recently from readers who are enjoying the book – thank you for reading and for the encouraging comments!