MLS’s New York Obsession Almost Cost Orlando City

All is well that ends well goes the saying. But it almost didn’t end well as Major League Soccer’s obsession with getting a second New York club almost cost the league the opportunity to elevate the most successful current lower division club to MLS.

In early May, when Major League Soccer was obsessed with placing a team in New York to counter the growing momentum of the New York Cosmos, an opportunity presented itself to get Orlando City’s project partially funded at the state level.

I spend a great deal of time in Tallahassee around the state capital and my wife works in the Legislature. Being the resident “soccer geek,” I was asked by multiple staffers and legislators what I thought of the Orlando City project and whether Major League Soccer would really come to Central Florida and whether it was worth it.

I was still employed at the North American Soccer League at the time, so for me to say anything publicly would have been a conflict, but I spoke in confidence to the staff and state legislators, I made it clear I felt MLS was worth it and would be a big economic boost for the region. But the legislators and staff I spoke to said they never heard from MLS at the time. The league never lobbied legislators, never contacted legislators, and never indicated if the stadium project was approved that MLS would come to Central Florida. Beyond what Orlando City’s impressive lobbying effort was presenting, there was never any indication given at the time from MLS regarding what the economic benefits of the project would be for the State of Florida, particular the Central Florida area.

Orlando City’s project died at the state level thanks to being tied into a bill that included unpopular funding for the Miami Dolphins stadium. House Speaker Will Weatherford had no desire to see the bill pass and he let it die at the end of the session on May 3.

Two weeks later, MLS announced the New York expansion franchise, while Orlando — which should have been the 20th MLS team given the impressive attendance, outstanding supporter culture and existing club infrastructure — was left to wait.

But when Don Garber announced in July that MLS would once again be expanding, Orlando was back on the table. From that point forward, MLS actively and aggressively courted local political support. The league did very well working with the club to build a community consensus for the project.

In the end when the votes were in doubt in Orange County, MLS came through with an effective personal lobbying effort. Orlando will justifiably be team 21 in Major League Soccer in 2015, but I still believe had MLS made even a basic effort six months ago, the last few days would not have been so dramatic.

When push came to shove, Major League Soccer came through and will have a great new market that has proven its strong level of support for the sport at the minor league level. They will also welcome two supporters groups in the Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm that will help grow the fan culture in the league. Congratulations to those sets of supporters who made Orlando City into what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.

17 thoughts on “MLS’s New York Obsession Almost Cost Orlando City”

  1. Kartik, I really think you’re overemphasizing the Cosmos presence here in New York. There’s little talk between anyone I know who loves football about Cosmos here in the city. Having to go out to Long Island insures that they’re never going to really tap into the NYC market like a true New York City club will. It’s exactly the same thing with Red Bull.

    MCFC and the Yankees will put the stadium right in the heart of one of three boroughs and it will guarantee that people will come and support the club. Cosmos can enjoy their presence out in Long Island just like the Islanders have and then in few years figure out the money isn’t there to support them or build their stadium. Even if they do force through the stadium do you think they can generate enough attendance longterm to justify it?

    If Cosmos’ end game is to enter the MLS then so be it but you can’t have a juggernaut existing in a small league like the NASL.

    I’m happy Florida got their franchise although I’d rather have seen Miami get it (and hopefully they will) but MLS needed a true NYC club.

    1. Prepare to be countered by people who visited NYC once and went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. They know nothing of how the city works, the massive number of soccer fans in the city, and why it makes no sense that MLS hadn’t worked harder previously to get a club in the actual city environs (pretty remarkable when you consider how friendly Bloomberg has been to every single developer during his long tenure here). No MLS club in NYC? That’s kind of like Watford or Reading representing all of London.

      However, congratulations to Orlando and their supporters.

    2. I think this is spot on. Charles Wang did everything he could reasonably be expected to do to make the Islanders continued presence on Long Island a viable option yet in the end he moved the team to Brooklyn (which I guess is better than KC). What business plans do the Cosmos and NASL have to really cause concern for MLS? Not being sarcastic but curious what their vision is beyond relying on a fairly soft historical brand.

    3. Christian: Mike Bloomberg will be leaving office soon and the new Mayor candidates have said they are not going to help build a soccer stadium within the 5 boroughs.

      At the same time tell me where within the Bronx, Queens & or Brooklyn is there room to build the stadium. Because MLS originally said Flushing Meadows Corona Park and they did a 180.

      The site they wanted to build the stadium has an underground river, the flushing river was forced under the ground because of the first World’s Fair back in the 1930’s.

      Yes I’m from NYC and I know my city well.

  2. “Major League Soccer was obsessed with placing a team in New York to counter the growing momentum of the New York Cosmos”

    1. lol, NYC’s beautiful television market was the obsession. Not the Cosmos. Cosmos, they were so down on the MLS’ rader, they were inconsequential.

  3. Perhaps an unnecessary sidebar, but the more teams MLS adds, the (exponentially) less likely I see promotion/relegation in the US.

    Not having pro/rel in the US system, I believe, is a HUGE mistake for everyone involved except the team owners of course.

    1. For the millionth time, pro/rel is not going to work in the US. Sorry. That infrastructure you see in Europe was built off decades and decades of support for a wide net of clubs.

    2. DZ, if you look at a map of the United States and a map of the United Kingdom, you can see that in the simplest of terms that a pro/reg system will not work.

  4. We’ll done to Phil Rawlins and his colleagues.

    Be amusing to see if we see the name ‘Pulis’ cropping up on MLS. I’d guess it’ll be Anthony rather than Tony though.

    Hopefully some Stoke youngsters will benefit, and vice versa.

  5. I remember when Don Garber did fly down to Orlando to talk to the supporters, but let’s be fair. That was more for image than to actually support Orlando City.

    Garber only wanted NY2 or NY3 since the Cosmos returned because it was his dream. He gave his full attention to them and ignored Orlando City who should’ve been #20

    But I have to say that Garber has done a great job as commish of MLS. He has led the league very well, but sadly this will be the black spot of his career.

    Rushing to bring this NY2 side too quickly without a real stadium plan. Don’t care if the Yankees are involved, they will play in their baseball stadium for a good while.

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