New Major League Soccer stadium in Tampa Bay?

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CARSON, Calif. – The stadium-related, out-of-nowhere story from Tampa Bay yesterday will need much untangling.

Luckily, almost everybody who has anything to do with domestic soccer is in Southern California this week, site of Saturday’s MLS Cup final; we’ll have our untangling tools at the ready.

Here’s what we know about yesterday’s whopper, a news story from Tampa that says a group (with more money than it knows what to do with, apparently) is about to spend $400 million on a soccer stadium, minus any promises of an MLS franchise.

  • Hopes are for a 28,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. (It does tend to get wet in Tampa, so that ability to shut the lid would be nice.)
  • The stadium to open in March of 2016.
  • The money is out of England, from VisionPro Sports Institute Holdings, which has heavy business and political connections to Tampa Bay.
  • The timing couldn’t be better; MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated Major League Soccer’s desire to find its way into the Southeast, and also reinforced the league’s desire to avoid ill fitted venues (i.e., big football stadiums in most cases.)

There are three sticky points here:

One is the commitment for 19-team MLS to make a second New York franchise No. 20. That’s still targeted for around 2016, and most of the MLS expansion energy will presumably remain pointed in that direction.

The other is finding an owner. As I’ve mentioned several times before, nothing happens until a city has the right owner to go with the right stadium plan.

(MORE: Slicing through the clutter of MLS expansion talk)

Finally, there is a matter of history. Tampa Bay had an MLS team before, the short-lived Mutiny (pictured). That lasted five seasons, folding in 2001 as MLS contracted to 10 teams (and came very, very close to going away altogether.)

That was a very different time in MLS. Tampa was league owned and operated, and surely suffered from that status. Still, that could create an awkward obstacle if competition gets fierce with a place like Orlando, where officials are eager to get past the MLS expansion velvet ropes.

(MORE: Tampa Bay’s potential competition in Florida, Orlando)