Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 5 MLS Expansion Candidates on the Early Handicapper's Sheet

Ahhh, nothing like a day at the track.

We had the idea to do up a "race sheet" for the MLS expansion derby, but felt it would be best to turn that over to someone a little more in the know. Hence, Chrös McDougall is back with another guest spot.

And yes, we used a morning line calculator...

Seven cities stepped up to the line yesterday, submitting applications to be the 17th or 18th team in Major League Soccer. The league will make its decision sometime between January and March 2009, but it's never too early to handicap the horses.

Four proposals already have a team name and at the very least a legitimate plan to build a soccer specific stadium. One has Barcelona FC. The other two? Long shots, for now. With months to go before any decision and two-and-a-half years until any of these teams plays a game, No Short Corners handicaps the odds for the top five contenders.

Before that, let's briefly talk about the presumed also-rans.

Atlanta (18/1) is arguably a better city (bigger, at least) than Miami and more accessible to fans in the empty southwest, but MLS can't reward two incomplete bids based solely on geography, and Miami is backed by Barcelona. With a killer plan for a new stadium - the ownership group hasn't released details yet - Atlanta could still jump to the top of the pack.

Meanwhile, there's nothing wrong with putting a team in Ottawa (30/1) - a USL team. Montreal and Vancouver have much more to offer, and there are way too many U.S. cities to even consider putting four in Canada. An Ottawa USL team can replace one that is lost to MLS (Montreal, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver) and still get their derby games in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

And now, on to the countdown...

#5 - Vancouver
Grassroots fans and dedicated owners

Strengths: Steve Nash is about as high profile of an owner as you can get; stretching all the way to the west coast means more money from broadcasting rights on one of Canada's three national sports networks; won two of past three USL championships and already have a healthy following.

Weaknesses: New home B.C. Place Stadium isn't quite soccer specific, and the jury is still out on that proposed downtown waterfront soccer-specific stadium; if MLS, an American league, goes all-out in the Pacific Northwest, letting Vancouver bypass Portland could be a hard sell.

Odds: 15/1

#4 - Miami
Big-name backer in tough sports town

Strengths: Barcelona Football Club; 17th largest market with with built-in Latino fan base; most southeastern MLS team? D.C. United.

Weaknesses: Hot, hot, hot summer days already keep fans away from sports; playing on Florida International's football field doesn't really solve much; see also, Miami Fusion.

Odds: 12/1

#3 - Portland
NASL Timbers made Portland "Soccer City USA"

Strengths: According to a city official, Garber told owner Merritt Paulson that Portland would enter MLS in 2011 if it can secure improvements to PGE Park; established fan base averaged nearly 7,000 per game in 2007; Googlemaps says Portland to Seattle = 2 hours, 52 minutes.

Weaknesses: PGE Park needs renovations and is still waiting on an estimated $80 million in public funding; small market size - only Kansas City, Columbus and Salt Lake City would be smaller; NeXturf.

Odds: 7/1

#2 - Montreal
Already better than Toronto

Strengths: Saputo Family = Rich... Saputo Family + Gillett Family = Very Rich; the soccer-specific Saputo Stadium can be expanded from 13,000 to 20,000; can you say Super Classique? Toronto and Montreal are less than six hours apart.

Weakness: With strong proposals from St. Louis and Portland, and an interesting proposal from Miami, some American fans are already skeptical about more Canadian teams.

Odds: 6/1

#1 - St. Louis
Self-proclaimed "Soccer Capitol of America"

Strengths: MLS commissioner Don Garber to the Chicago Tribune: "I'd like to see St. Louis round out their ownership group and find a way to be able to come into the league."; ground can be broken on a stadium right away; soccer-mad youth could mean one of league's best academies; every U.S. World Cup roster since 1950 has had at least one St. Louis area player.

Weaknesses: Ownership group isn't quite Microsoft; most fans will have to cross the river and drive about 10 minutes to the stadium in Collinsville, Illinois.

Odds: 5/2

- Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall is a freelance soccer writer who has covered the English Premier League and Major League Soccer for various news outlets. You can reach him at

1 comment:

Finnegan said...

FYI - the Timbers averaged slightly over 8,500 in 2008 season in the USL and when you add exhibition games that number climbs to 10,000.

Did I mention the Timbers came in last in the league this year?

The biggest problem with St. Louis is it's stadium proposal. A $500 million dollar retail/sports entertainment complex in the suburbs given our current economic climate seems a non starter.