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.
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.”