Those of you hoping that the so-called "NY2" soccer team, perhaps even the historic New York Cosmos, will be the next Major League Soccer franchise may want to avoid reading the information below.
USL Pro side Orlando City Soccer Club officially announced late Sunday evening that Brazilian native and businessman Flávio Augusto da Silva has made what was referred to as "a significant investment and future commitment to the Orlando City franchise." The purpose of his investment was made very clear in the club's press release: Build a soccer-specific stadium in Orlando, and ultimately acquire a MLS franchise.
The following was included in the team's statement: "The new owner gives Orlando a major advantage in its drive to be named the next MLS expansion franchise. To secure a move up to the major leagues, MLS requires clubs to have, among other things, a fiscally stable and established ownership group and a stadium seating between 18,000 and 25,000."
Orlando was never really on the radar of MLS commissioner Don Garber until he visited the city last May. "Orlando was not on our list. It is on our list now," was what he told a group of fans during that trip. He also said the following about Orlando's chances of getting a MLS franchise: "It's not a matter of if, but when."
That "when" could be a lot sooner than many had thought just a few days ago.
MLS currently has 19 operating franchises, and it's no secret that Garber is looking to expand the league to 20 teams as soon as possible. The popular opinion on the subject has been that the New York City area (nowhere in New Jersey) would get a MLS team sometime in the next two to three years. While the idea may sound good on paper, it's also one that comes with several flaws.
The New York Red Bulls, who actually play their home games in Harrison, NJ, have failed to win over a large amount of soccer and casual sports fans in the region. The previously mentioned Cosmos will play in the NASL this year, but they remain a very unproven commodity in the area. There's also the fact that any proposed New York soccer-specific stadium is still very much so in the planning stages only.
One could easily argue that no lower division side deserves a MLS promotion than do Orlando. Orlando averaged a league-high 6,606 fans per home game in 2012 according to the Doherty Soccer website. They've got some big-time money backing the club, and they also have a defined plan for the future. In short, Orlando have done just about everything MLS could ask of them (short of moving to New York).
That doesn't mean that Orlando is the perfect city for a MLS franchise. The league has no plans to switch to a winter schedule at this time, and it gets rather warm in the middle of Florida during the summer months. Higher paid MLS stars aren't going to love the idea of playing in Orlando in June, July or August (unless the new stadium has a dome or full roof). It also has to be noted that the MLS team in Florida idea has already been attempted.
Soccer fans in New York and Orlando shouldn't get too worried if their city isn't awarded a MLS franchise between now and 2015. It's been suggested that the league could eventually expand to 22 or even 24 clubs. Perhaps it's simply a matter of whichever city gets a soccer-specific stadium first wins.
Get your groundbreaking ceremonies planned and quickly, guys.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, New York Red Bulls, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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