As much good work as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has done for MLS in the United States, he occasionally makes American soccer fans scratch their collective heads, like with his recent comment that there’s way too much soccer on television. Another confounding example in recent months is his effort to land a second MLS team in the New York area. Two weeks ago Garber declared an expansion team announcement was likely in four to six weeks. Last week, reports spread that Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour is set to fork over the $100 million expansion fee for a new MLS team to be creatively called New York City FC.
I like the idea of the league having 20 teams, but it bothers me that Garber wants it to be in New York City so much. I understand his rationale – the corporate cash that would flow, the major media exposure, the potential Manchester-like rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, etc. Understandably, MLS is not going to turn down someone willing to pay that mind-boggling $100 million expansion fee. But the thought of NYC having a second team and a brand new soccer specific stadium seems unfair when the New York Red Bulls don’t even consistently sell out their own practically brand new soccer specific stadium (Red Bull Arena opened in 2010). Obviously, New York City is big enough to support two teams but they don’t even support one very well. The Red Bulls currently rank tenth in the league in attendance, averaging 17,053 per game.
I realize the Red Bulls actually play in Harrison, New Jersey and that the proposed stadium for New York City FC would be in Queens, but it’s still asking a lot for two MLS teams in such close proximity to thrive. Keep in mind that Los Angeles has the Galaxy and Chivas USA, but the Galaxy have the third highest average attendance in MLS this year (21,271), while Chivas USA have the lowest in the league (8,045). I’m not saying the situation would absolutely be replicated in New York City, but it should give Garber pause.
With the league already spread so geographically thin across our vast continent, it seems redundant to shoehorn a second franchise in the New York City area when the Southeastern region of the U.S. doesn’t have a single team. MLS did give the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion a try for several seasons before folding both clubs in 2001 as neither had solid enough fan support, but the soccer climate has changed significantly in the twelve years since those clubs’ demise and it’s time to set up a new team in the region.
For several months, it seemed Florida’s Orlando City SC (which plays in the USL PRO league) had momentum for the MLS expansion slot with their Portland Timbers-like fan support and diehard ownership. But on Friday the Florida legislature voted down a stadium funding support bill that would have helped Orlando City construct a new downtown stadium and presumably boost their quest to become MLS’ 20th team.
Garber probably isn’t too disappointed about the Orlando City setback. Now the inevitably splashy official announcement from MLS and Sheikh Mansour can proceed later this month without any loud opposition. The announcement is expected to coincide with Manchester City’s post-season tour, which includes a match against Chelsea at Yankee Stadium on May 25.
Assuming the second New York City franchise materializes as the league’s 20th team, rather than eventually placing an uneven 21st club in the Southeast, a better option might be transplanting dismal Chivas USA to North Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. I’m completely in favor of new teams, investors, and stadia that will benefit MLS overall, I would just rather see MLS expansion teams awarded to devoted and deserving fan bases clamoring for their own club (as the league did with Portland) rather than MLS trying to manufacture a new crown jewel of a team that no one is really asking for. Well, except for Sheikh Mansour that is.