In case you haven't heard, Orlando City have landed a rather big fish in their little club. Don Garber's former special assistant, Brett Lashbrook, has been hired by Orlando to spearhead their efforts to join MLS, with the hope that it would be sooner rather than later. Part of the deal will have to include a soccer specific stadium, an effort which has received a bit of good news since their last legislative setback.
With the new stadium being fast-tracked (though "fast", as with any legislative process, is relative), the future has just gotten a bit brighter for the Orlando City ownership, and hiring Lashbrook will go a long way to helping them finally reach their MLS goal.
Meanwhile, David Beckham has been in talks with potential ownership groups in Miami, and has been spotted scouting stadiums across the city. Fans even stood outside Miami Heat games (which Beckham was attending) holding banners to encourage MLS and prospective owners to once grace the City of Miami a team. There are other places in contention though, according to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
"From what I understand, [Beckham] is visiting cities, including Miami, to explore the possibility of MLS expansion," said former Miami mayor Manny Diaz, who has been a longtime advocate of pro soccer in Miami. "At this point, it's very early conversations. I don't know what will happen, but it's terrific that he is looking at our city as an option."
Other cities mentioned as expansion points include San Antonio and St. Louis.
But what if MLS introduced both Miami and Orlando into the league at the same time?
2001 Was a Long Time Ago
While Orlando has the support of legions of MLS fans, I have heard many, many arguments against MLS expanding into Miami. Most of these arguments involve pointing out the attendance problems of the now-defunct Miami Fusion, or the current attendance problems of the Miami Marlins or Miami Dophins. These arguments are founded in real facts, and yet these facts would have no bearing on any new soccer team in Miami.
Comparing the struggles of other American sports (such as the NFL or baseball) to soccer, especially in a city bursting to the seam with non-Caribbean Hispanics, is a bit odd. South Americans and Central Americans who are looking for live soccer in Miami will have a team to see live. It's practically impossible for anyone from South America to truly follow their home league outside of illegal streams of poor quality. That's how I ended up following FCD, and I'm not the only who began follwing an MLS team for those reasons.
Those who points out attendance woes for the Fusion are also forgetting that 12 years have passed, and MLS has exploded since then and has made enormous progress. Again, it's not 2001, so the comparisons to the league back then are not really valid at this point.
For a second, let's pretend MLS decides to expand into Miami. The decision has been made and the team is waiting to start it's season. If MLS has finally decided to grant expansion, how can anyone be so certain that it will be a failure?
There are those critics who, armed with nothing but google, anecdotes, and speculation, are certain that they are better equipped than MLS' army of information gatherers. On message boards and blogs, they announce with absolute certainty that Miami is not worthy of a team.
Personally, I am not sure one way or the other if Miami can sustain an MLS team. I'd love to see MLS there. But I have nothing but my gut to go by on, so I'm not really sure. I am not a big fan of generalizations that paint an entire town as "Good" or "Bad" for sports, as very few cities are capable of holding that distinction.
The critics are certain though. They know. Yet there comes a point where these critics must admit that, when it comes to expansion research, MLS outguns them to a laughable degree. One person's observations have nothing on the battalion of researchers that the league can unleash upon South Florida. MLS has had incredible success with their recent expansion efforts (Portland, Vancouver, Philly, Montreal), and there's nothing that suggests their expansion gurus are fools.
The point is that if the league decides it's a good idea, they're probably basing it on information a normal citizen simply doesn't have access to.
Editorial Note: I have had discussions with Big D Soccer readers about this topic on twitter. This is not about you guys. I love you guys. You are the best. I would buy all of you your very own City States if I had enough money. Chamojones can have Monaco.
"But what about a stadium?!"
The pervading theory is that any team in Miami would be playing in a temporary home, such as Florida International University. The citizens of Miami-Dade County are justifiably angry at the way the public has been duped into financing an excessively expensive stadium for a terrible team (the Marlins), so a temporary home would have to do for now. It wouldn't be a terrible idea, as the Sounders do well as tenants of another team's stadium, and the Dynamo did not have terrible attendance in their own leased home.
It could work, and the students of the University could show up in some small numbers to supplement the standard fanbase.
Built in Benefits
There are also bonuses to having Miami and Orlando in the league at the same time.
The rivalry from the supporters would be real (both cities have sports animosity built-in, like TFC and the Impact), and in close proximity. It would allow supporters a chance to actually travel to away games, as Orlando is just a four-hour drive from Miami. The regional rivalry might be short of quality at first, but over time could blossom into a big time league showdown with inflamed passions and all the trappings that go with it.
If both teams were admitted simultaneously, then the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City could be moved to the Western Conference (where they belong), strengthening the quality of opposition all western teams would face.
Of course this is all idle speculation.
MLS could decide San Antonio or St. Louis are more deserving than Miami, and place an expansion team there. We would all happily welcome this decision, and begin to speculate endlessly about their uniforms, stadiums, etc.
I would personally love an expansion team in St. Louis. But San Antonio has done very well for themselves and have earned the chance to be studied for expansion.
It's crazy to think the league was folding teams a little over ten years ago.
It's an exciting time to be an MLS fan, isn't it?
How do you feel about MLS expanding in Orlando and/or Miami?