A few weeks ago I was invited to join a panel of dedicated Timbers Army this past weekend to discuss MLS expansion on The 107 Report, the best (and only) Portland Timbers podcast, hosted and produced by Bruce 'Obi' Eaton. We discussed the viability of each bidding group competing with Portland, and we tore through all aspects of the Portland Bid and told more than a few jokes at the expense of MLS top Brass.
Since then, all kinds of MLS and USL news has broken. My, it's been a busy week.
Podcasting the MLS2PDX experience, tons of news about MLS expansion competition, and a submission to the american soccer FAILblog, after the jump.
Podcasting is tiring... and intoxicating
The panel for this podcast met at the Cheerful Bullpen two Saturdays ago. The panel was Obi, local raconteur Daaaaave, political operative for MLS to PDX Jeremy 'Finnegan' Wright, Paul the Pounder, a very dedicated Timbers fan (dude was commuting from Boise for games for a while), John Strong from 95.5 the Game and Portland Timbers radio broadcasts, and little old me.
You can download part 1 here, in which we take on the other bidding groups challenging Portland. Part 2, in which we discuss the annals of Portland's bid, is due out soon.
A few highlights from parts 1 and 2:
- When we put down the kool-aid, Portland is at best the 2nd most likely expansion location.
- John Strong clearly talks about sports for a living, and I do not. For instance:
Atlanta I scoff, Miami I fear, St. Louis I pity, Ottawa I laugh, Montreal I respect, Vancouver I love.
- I am more worried about Miami than any of the other panel members.
- Jeremy thinks that the rumor reported on the Willamette Week's website that Mayor Elect Adams and company were discussing alternate stadium sites may have come from another commissioner's office, so it looks like the commissioners are playing a bit of internal politics about this.
- We are concerned about the survival of the USL if Vancouver moves to the MLS and Portland does not. The closest team to Portland would be Minnesota Thunder. Not easy for the timbers--every game would be a plane flight away.
- This is the first time in MLS expansion history that the league has had several truly viable, competitive choices for expansion. There is talk of the MLS awarding four new franchises, but wariness abounds. Daaaaave thought they might award four franchises, but two for 2011 and two for 2012 or 2013.
MLS2PDX news items
There are tidbits of information that have trickled out through the series of tubes since we recorded the podcast two weekends ago.
Portland's bid was mentioned earlier this week in a NYtimes GOAL blog interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber
Q: So many of the new stadiums in the league are what you call public/private partnerships. But isn't that pool of public money even more questionable in these economic times?Emphasis is mine. Garber also mentioned that he is visiting Miami very soon to tour their stadium. The NYTimes interviewer refers to the Miami bid as "a slam dunk", and Garber doesn't take the bait, but doesn't talk any trash either.
A: In the short term, with some buildings under construction, those are not an issue. Kansas City has work to do. But there's been positive feedback. Portland is a new market that requires additional commitments that probably won't come till the first part of '09.[...]
In case you didn't know, the MLS Cup Final is this Sunday in Los Angeles, between the Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls. Yes, those Red Bulls. Steve Goff, soccer reporter for the Washington Post, reports that officials from all seven expansion cities are in town for the annual Owners' meetings Friday and Saturday leading up to the Cup. Steve covered Commissioner Don Garber when he spoke after Friday's meetings. Garber announced many new changes to the league, most of which are of little interest except for two:
- Montreal has dropped out of the running for an expansion club in 2011. Six candidates remain for two teams. Representatives from Vancouver, Portland, Miami and Ottawa made presentations to the board of governors today.
- Rosters have been trimmed from 28 players to 24 and the teams will have the option of having as many as 20 senior roster players. The current limit is 18. As a result, the reserve division is dead.
MONTREAL IS OUT OF THE RUNNING! MONTREAL IS OUT OF THE RUNNING! This is big. Montreal was a possibly better equipped bid. Daaaaave was right again--Gillett just couldn't be the money man after Wall St. dropped a deuce in everyone's 401k. As I mentioned previously here, Vancouver is the strongest bid overall, so without Montreal, their MLS expansion franchise is all but guaranteed. The fight is now Portland vs St. Louis, Miami and Atlanta. No, Ottawaaaaaa has no chance.
To second point, the Timbers lost two of our best players from the 2007 campaign to the MLS Reserves system: Bryan Jordan and Josh Wicks both signed contracts with the LA Galaxy, who promptly sent them to their MLS reserves team. Both saw a bit of first team action, and Jordan was yo-yoing between Portland and LA, but it didn't seem like fun. These new changes to the Roster rules means that players who are shooting for MLS won't get there until they are worthy of first team action, but may land on USL teams in the interim.
In other words, they may not languish in pick-up games where they pull the guys from the mailroom to make sure it's 11v11, like this:
Buzz about the Miami bid continues to grow around the web, mostly from eurosnob soccer fans who don't find it illogical to pay hundreds of dollars to watch european soccer but ignore their home town teams. FCB Miami president, Marcelo Claure answered questions from the Miami Ultras. There are no fucking Miami Ultras. There aren't even Miami Fans. USL1 Miami FC averaged 1,700 fans per game in the 2008 season. What's an Ultra you ask? Well my friend Herr Doktor Professor Jose Bickle, Ph. D.--the Don Vito to my Fredo in the Timbers Army--put it best. Ultras are:
Intense fans whose support of the team is equal parts lifestyle choice, political affiliation, performance art and social revolution. Rabid, coordinated, invested, contrarian, passionate, focused. Willing to sacrifice players/management/other fans for the sake of the team as a collection of traditions, practices and cultural ideas and objects. Embrace the symbols of the team as personal signifiers.Amen, Dr. Bickle.
Anyway, Claure talks marketing, team name/colors, stadium, and claims that they will join the league and start to play in 2010, no matter what, since "stadium wise, we could start playing tomorrow." This is the first glowing, slow-pitch fan-boy interview of a prospective MLS executive. Portland may well have our very own 'owner speaks to the fans' interview soon; Obi from the 107report is trying to schedule some sit down time with Paulson soon, although Obi's questions won't be, y'know, stupid.
In somewhat surprising news, the Atlanta Sliverbacks will sit out the 2009 season USL1 season. On the podcast we wrote off the Atlanta bid, which does not include the Silverbacks ownership, but this might be the organization's preparation to stay out of the way: the Silverbacks organization mentions the possibility of an MLS team coming to town.
Other theories are that the senior team was the only unprofitable part of the operation, and they will keep running their successful youth teams and W-league team.
Atlanta's 'temporary' demise leads us to an interview of USL President Francisco Marcos, discovered by faithful online member of the Timbers Army in the...Potomac Soccer Wire? Wow. Marcos talks about the league struggles when its three top teams (in terms of attendance) are bidding for MLS expansion franchises (Portland, Montreal and Vancouver), and Seattle--paltry attendance, even when the Army marches by the busload to Timbers away games--jumped to MLS last year.
The interview pre-dates news of the Silverbacks' demise, but there is a tone of petulance to the article, which makes me worry about the future of the USL. The Austin Aztex join the USL1 in the 2009 season, taking the place of the MLS bound Sounders, and an expansion team re-birth of the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies is scheduled for the 2010 season, but with major markets dropping away, the financial difficulties of maintaining a nation-wide pro league are daunting. They are eyeing expansion into the Southwest, to which I say: that's a dumb fucking idea. A summer league in the Southwest? Silly USL.
BREAKING NEWS: USL2 Champions the Cleveland City Stars are moving up to USL1 for next year, replacing the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Possibly the silliest is Marcos' threat to charge teams large 'exit fees' to leave the league and go to the MLS. Rumors are now flying around that a good portion of USL1, including all the teams vying for an MLS expansion franchise, have not yet paid their dues for the 2009 USL1 season. They're certainly not going to pay-in only to be charged to leave.
St. Louis has finally announced the identity of their secret investor. Perhaps more accurately, they finally found an investor: St. Louis Cardinal's first basemen Albert Pujols. Yes, the man with the unintentionally evocative last name pledged to throw down some serious change for the St. Louis MLS bid. I don't think there's anything too scandalous or threatening about this: the St. Louis stadium plan is still 1,000,000 square feet of retail space in a sprawling mixed use development. I doubt anyone is going to build that in this economic climate.
I'll throw this remarkable piece of mid-america soccer Haterism out as further proof that St.Louis might not be ready for the MLS.
That's about all, folks. Coming up next: Part 2 of the MLS2PDX podcast, in which we discuss the Paulson bid in great depth, and Part 3, in which Obi interviews Merritt Paulson about the MLS2PDX bid. Little bits of expansion news hit about three times a week, and I'll keep you all in the loop.
let the flamewars begin!