Monday, January 12, 2009

Canadian hopes slipping in MLS expansion race

With less than two months (and possibly -- although unlikely-- less than a week) to go before MLS announces the location of its next two teams, let's take another look (a lot has changed since I last did this)at where the bids rank. Unfortunately for Canadian fans, it's looking less and less like the league will add to its Canuck footprint in 2011.

To be clear, this in an evaluation of how I think MLS will act, based on the information that's out there. It's not my opinion on what I think is right, nor is it my totally self-centred preference (do you really need to ask what that is?).

Below the jump the bids are ranked from most likely to happen to least likely:

1 - Miami (chance of success - 95%)

If you've been reading The 24th Minute you know that I'm not a big fan of this bid. However, in the current economic downturn MLS has to like the big Euro money behind it. It's unclear how much stock MLS puts in the affiliation with Barcelona, but SUM, MLS' marketing arm, might not want to piss off the club (SUM runs a lot of exhibition tours involving the big clubs. They are huge money makers). You don't have to be a conspiracy nut to understand that the league wants to foster good working relations with big European teams and saying no to their requests to play in MLS likely isn't a goof way to do that. Lastly, the media noise coming out of South Florida isn't so much positive as it is assuming. Why are the journalists so confident that it's a sure thing? The noise has to be coming from somewhere. So, although it's a big mistake (hope I'm wrong, but...) I fully expect Barcelona-Miami to join the league -- likely in 2010.

2 - St. Louis (chance of success - 85%)

Everything is in place for St. Louis to finally join the league. It has a strong soccer history, fits nicely into a geographical footprint and, most importantly, has the soccer specific stadium plans approved and ready to go. Local interests insist that the money is there this time and so far there hasn't been anything to suggest otherwise (although there hasn't been anything to confirm that either). If the group has the coin, St. Louis will have a team.

3 - Vancouver (chance of success - 66%)

It's the stadium, stupid. Also, the conservative, anti-sport attitude of the Canadian business community likely isn't helping either (what money they were going to spend on non-puckhead sport is probably tied up in that little ski jumping/bobsledding tournament scheduled for 13 months from now). There are positives. The stadium plan is approved and the soccer culture is there. Also, we don't know if MLS has had any success in rounding up more national money in Canada. If it has, the Canuck bids get a boost. Still, it seems likely that Vancouver will be given bridesmaid status this time and told to come back when the soccer specific stadium situation is figured out.

4 - Portland (chance of success - 65%)

Portland and Vancouver are similar bids and both seem destined to become front runners for 2013, rather than players in 2011. I rank Portland slightly below Vancouver only because an approved bad stadium plan is better than an unapproved mediocre stadium plan. Despite what PDX backers will argue, approval for the stadium re-fit/new AAA baseball park is far from a sure thing. Portland undoubtedly has great fans and would probably go ga-ga over MLS. But, it's unclear whether MLS gives a you know what about potential fan support. Certainly, if it does, it's the least important factor in an expansion bid.

5 - No team awarded (chance of success - 33%)

Although no one is talking about this possibility the struggles in Philadelphia and Montreal's resistance to paying the full $40-million could be evidence of a trend MLS will look to avoid. Although I don't think the league will shelve expansion, I don't discount the possibility either.

6 - Ottawa (chance of success - 25%)

I think it's clear that Ottawa is in this race as an effort to increase its profile for 2013. Eugene Melnyk admitted as much to an Ottawa reporter last month. There is a lack of urgency to the bid (no work was done during December because Melnyk was organizing the world juniors) that screams "we know we can't" There is one way that I could see Ottawa getting a team in this round. If a couple of the other bids are in worse economic shape than we realize than MLS could look to cash the guaranteed cheque. Melynk has been clear that he'll pay what's asked.

7 - Atlanta (chance of success - 10%)

This bid is all but invisible. They still don't have a viable stadium plan in play and there is next to no hype around it. The city's USL team, the Silverbacks, have folded up the tent for next year. The team is not going to operate in 2009 -- that's hardly good news for the MLS bid. At best this is a 2013 bid. At worse, it's an after thought.


Anonymous said...

We soccer fans in South Florida are ready to support MLS.

Anonymous said...

People outside of Portland seem to be afraid to talk about Portland's chances if the funding IS approved.

With a fully funded permanent venue, deep pocketed owner and proven support, do the Timbers leapfrog Vancouver and St. Louis?

One has to think so, especially since MLS seems to be wanting to take the time to see if the funding goes through.

People outside of Portland can't help but imagine that the money will be hard to land in this economy, but that's just gut feeling. Meanwhile the candid discussions amongst Portland supporters suggest much more optimism that this will indeed be approved.

hornplayersoccerlover said...

You're probably right for the most part about Atlanta. we here in A-town have heard almost nothing since the bid was put in. However, the Silverbacks' folding, er, um, "sitting out" for 2009 has no bearing on MLS in Atlanta.