Urban Meyer Spouts Off…Columbus Fans Get Upset

Photo is courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets/http://www.elevenwarriors.com/  

Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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In case you didn’t already hear about it…the entire sports community of Columbus, OH seems to have its collective panties in a twist because of a comment that Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer made during a recent interview. In the closing statements of the interview, Meyer was asked what should lure Georgia’s high profile recruits to Columbus and he answered like this, “You get a premium education with the opportunity to go compete for a national championship in a large city that really has no professional sports team. There’s a lot to be offered up here.”

You can read the full article here.

Instantly the Columbus Crew, Clippers, and Blue Jackets fans were pissed. How can Urban act like those sports don’t count? How dare he show such blatant disrespect for the other sports in this great city? Well…the answer is this…he didn’t.

You see, Urban Meyer didn’t say anything that isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that Columbus doesn’t host any top tier professional sports. In my mind, Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA comprise the upper echelon of professional sports. I’m sorry hockey fans, but the NHL is not one of those top tier sports. If it was, ESPN would carry it…they don’t…and there’s a reason. At best, the NHL is a second tier sport.

Hockey, despite its recent rise in popularity, especially in Columbus, is still very much a niche sport. Not everyone, including myself, fully appreciates what’s happening on the ice and viewership suffers because of it. Low viewership equals less money for media outlets that carry the sport, and we know how ESPN feels about money. Still don’t believe me? Head down to Nationwide when the Jackets aren’t doing so hot and that place is a ghost town. Ohio State was selling out games the year Luke Fickell was head coach and we almost lost to Indiana!

The same can be said for the Columbus Crew as well. Are they a professional sports team? Absolutely they are. But nobody in their right mind is going to dispute the fact that the worst team in the NFL (the Cleveland Browns) still draws more eyes every Sunday than the Columbus Crew draws in a month. The reasoning for this is the same as hockey, nobody really understands the game.

And then there’s the good old Columbus Clippers…ring your bell everyone! I am a delusional and diehard Cubs fan, and since I can’t afford regular trips to Wrigley, the Clippers are my go to source for live baseball. They have a great stadium with a great atmosphere. But are people ordering the sports package from their cable provider in order to watch Clippers games on TV? No. Maybe a few truly dedicated fans will watch road games on TV, but most people go to the ballpark a few times a year…and typically it’s for 10 cent hotdogs on special nights. I mean come on, the Clippers have won a couple of national titles in the last few years and their park is still mostly empty for a night game on a week day…I’ve been there…I know.

Now, let’s return to Meyer’s statement. Was he really out of line? Absolutely not. Whether we like it or not, the professional sports that are in Columbus don’t hold a candle to Buckeye football. The Buckeyes are the biggest draw in town, both at the stadium and on television. So when it comes to recruiting, that means that Meyer can tell his prospects that when they come to Columbus, they’re automatically the biggest thing in town. Is this feeding their ego? Sure it is. But if you haven’t noticed…that’s what recruiting is all about!

Now I know that many of our readers are fans of these professional teams, I get that. But Urban Meyer has the right to act like the Buckeyes are the biggest thing in town…because THEY ARE. That’s just the way it is.

Three Reasons Why You Should Watch the MLS Cup this Saturday

Photo by John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports/http://www.usatoday.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Follow us on Twitter! @OS_Report

As some of you may know, there is a massive soccer game coming up this Saturday in Kansas City that is beginning to gather a good amount of buzz. The 2013 MLS Cup will be played at 4pm at Sporting Park in KC between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. This year marks the first year of the higher seeded playoff team hosting the championship match.

Unfortunately for "big market" fans, the match this Saturday will have no David Beckham, no Clint Dempsey, no Thierry Henry, and no big-name glitter. The MLS Cup final will feature two traditionally small-market teams in Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. Sporting KC is the new kid on the block with their relatively new stadium, name and look, and Real Salt Lake is the team that NEVER wants to die. As a reminder, this was supposed to be a "rebuilding year" for Salt Lake and we can all see how that has worked out.

But I am here to tell you that there are still multiple reasons why all soccer fans in America, MLS fans or fans of the European game, should pay attention.

Sporting Park, KC's new stadium will have a jammed packed crowd of over 22,000 in there almost 19,000 seat stadium to create a must watch atmosphere that should set a good bar for future teams hosting the cup in their home stadium. But why else should the causal soccer fan tune into the season finale on Saturday? In this post, I will give you my three big reasons on why you should tune into this game.

1. Important US Men's National Team players are involved

Beginning with RSL, their steady leader for the past couple of seasons has been USMNT midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman managed 4 goals this year as captain, but his presence is felt in aspects of the game not recorded on a score sheet.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images/http://www.grantland.com/

The name and the hair should be recognizable to US soccer fans around the country and so should his game. In addition to being a standstill in the middle of the park for RSL, he has also spent time with the USMNT as many already know. He has 32 caps with the senior squad and scored once back in 2009. More recently, Beckerman was a regular pick by Klinsmann during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup as the US took the title earlier in the summer.

In the back, you will notice a familiar name between the pipes in Nick Rimando. Similar to Beckerman, Rimando has been a constant number 2 or 3 goalkeeper over the past couple of years  for the USMNT and has always been consistent. Keep in mind he was also RSL's goalkeeper when they last won the MLS Cup in 2009. Rimando has been here before and should play a key role.

Beckerman and Rimando's experience will be key to watch as they go up against another USMNT midfielder on Sporting KC, Graham Zusi. That match-up between Beckerman and Zusi in the midfield will be key in gaining control of the game.

With Sporting playing at home, I expect them to try and control the tempo early and play through Zusi. Zusi has been one of those "up & comers" for Klinsmann and US soccer fans to watch while his growth has been consistent. Just this past week Zusi was named to the MLS Best Eleven Team for the second year in a row.

The last player to watch is someone that has burst onto the national scene in 2013. That is Sporting KC and USMNT defender, Matt Besler. He became a standout performer for KC during the 2012 season winning numerous league awards such as Defender of the Year, Breakout Player of the Year and he was also included on the MLS Best XI.

Besler made his debut for United States on January 29, 2013 in a friendly match against Canada. Previously, on August 23, 2012, Besler was called up to the United States squad by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a friendly against Mexico, but he didn't feature in the match.

On March 26, 2013, Besler made his first World Cup qualifying appearance in a 0–0 draw at Mexico. Due to the magnitude of the match and the result the US earned down in Mexico, many consider this to be Besler's official coming out party as the USMNT held Mexico to a scoreless draw in the intimidating Azteca Stadium.

All of these players are fighting for roster spots in next summer's World Cup. Keep an eye on their play as these are some of the most influential players for both teams. The balance on both sides makes this match so interesting as each team has depth, experience and leadership.

2. It is the PERFECT Lead-in to SOME college football championship games

Sure you miss the big SEC Championship game between Auburn and Missouri, but you still can catch the two biggest games directly after the MLS Cup match. The ACC Title game and the Big Ten title match both follow the MLS Cup game shortly after kicking off right around 8pm on Saturday.

These are the two biggest games because of the simple notion that if each Ohio State and Florida State win their respective games, then they will both most likely meet in the BCS National Championship game.

3. It is our domestic league, we should care, right?

It is safe to say that there are A LOT of soccer fans in the United States. During the last two World Cups, the United States has been in the top 3 countries in tickets purchased for traveling fans and visitors. To extend on that, the US is already on pace to be one of the top three countries in World Cup tickets purchased again for Brazil as those numbers are still being determined.

It is also safe to say that most soccer fans are fans of the European game. This means that they follow either the top leagues in Spain, England, France, Italy or Germany. This leaves a smaller percentage of fans we assume follow MLS. Without getting into specifics, the number is most likely higher than most think. There is a reason that MLS has a higher average attendance than the NBA and NHL.

The main reason I think soccer fans need to follow the game this weekend is because it will simply be a high quality soccer game featuring numerous Americans between two successful American soccer clubs. Fans SHOULD care that this high profile game is going to be on national TV and they should want to know the result. I have a personal belief that for soccer to continue to grow in this country the average American soccer fans needs to support MLS on some level, even if it is a small one. This might just be my personal belief, but the game needs attention from everyone to continue to grow. Keep in mind that the TV deal for MLS is up after 2014 so a MLS Cup with good ratings will only benefit everyone.

Orlando City is coming to MLS; Is Miami Next?

Photo is courtesy of http://soccerstl.net/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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It has been a busy couple of weeks for Major League Soccer and the state of Florida. As of Tuesday evening, Orlando City was introduced as the 21st team into Major League Soccer. New York City FC was introduced as the twentieth team back on May 21st and will be co-owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees.

It was not long ago that Florida had not one, but two MLS teams. Unfortunately for soccer fans in the Tampa and Miami regions, both teams folded after a couple short years due to various reasons.

Last week Orlando and Orange County agreed to fund a new $84 million soccer stadium downtown and the owners of the minor-league Orlando City Soccer Club will invest a reported $100 million to be the league's latest expansion franchise — the only one in the Sunshine State at this current time. It looks like Orlando City will be playing the beginning portion of their 2015 MLS season at the Citrus Bowl while their stadium finishes up. The stadium is projected to open up in June 2015.

If you recall a post I had a couple of months back about some potential MLS expansion cities, Orlando was one I mentioned that had a stellar chance at landing a bid. The qualities and potential for the Orlando market are evident. They have an established fan base from their USL Pro team, investors at the top, a wealthy owner, and not to mention Orlando happens to be one of the top travel destinations in all of the US with Disney World right around the corner.

To play devil's advocate, there is a perception from the outside that larger markets in Florida are just flat out bad sports markets. There are a lot of transplants who don't have ties or affiliations to the particular teams in the area. There is much more to do than spending hard earned money on a sporting event, such as going to the beach or out with friends because the weather is always nice. I get all of that and so does MLS. But the reality is that if soccer in America is going to continue to grow at the pace everyone wants it to, then Major League Soccer needs to have a presence in the southeast.  The opportunity is most certainly there for the taking and MLS is willing to take the risk once again.

Speaking of taking chances in Florida, Major League Soccer might not be done expanding in the Sunshine State quite yet.

According to multiple reports, David Beckham is in talks with LeBron James about bringing him in as an investor with his MLS team in Miami, if that gets finalized in the coming months. As a Cleveland guy, I don't know if I have any particular feelings about LeBron wanting to invest in Miami but there is one thing I do know. LeBron has people talking about Major League Soccer. Take a step back and think about where MLS was just five years ago. Pause. (This is when you think about MLS in 2008) Flash forward to 2013 and all of a sudden MLS has the attention and, more importantly, the interest of LeBron James.

The same concerns I discussed above are definitely relevant in Miami, if not amplified. The market has been known for its lack-luster support of their sports teams but could the star-power of Beckham and LeBron prove everyone wrong? Maybe. The support will always be there in the beginning, but will it be sustainable?

Major League Soccer has been in the news constantly over the last couple of weeks in what is turning out to be a busy off-season. With more expansion seeming inevitable in the near future, good times are ahead for soccer fans in the Sunshine State.

Why Should YOU Pay Attention to MLS this Weekend?

Photo is courtesy of http://www.mlssoccer.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Follow us on Twitter! @OS_Report

With only one week remaining in the MLS season, I thought I'd give the average soccer fan a reason to tune into soccer in the United States this weekend. If you have been following Major League Soccer this season, then you will understand how important these last couple of weeks has been for all the teams involved in the playoff race. Sure, there is college football to watch on Saturday and the NFL on Sunday, but there is actually important soccer to be played as the season begins to wrap up and all sports fans should pay attention. Don't act like you won't be watching the World Cup in Brazil next summer either. The sport of soccer is coming and as MLS continues to grow, here are 3 reasons why you should pay attention to MLS this weekend.

Reason 1: Almost every team has been involved in the Playoff Race

To be exact, 16 of the 19 teams in MLS were still fighting for the playoffs only two weeks ago. The parity in MLS is unseen in the European leagues as they are dominated by larger clubs with more money and resources. The Spanish La Liga is realistically dominated by two teams, England has 3-4 teams fighting for the top spot and the same can be said for Germany, France and Italy. But that is not the case in Major League Soccer.

If you look at the Eastern Conference, you will find that only THREE points separate five teams with one game remaining. The West is not much different. Five points separate the current number one seed from the fifth seed.

This scenario is a fans dream. Regardless if you are currently in the playoffs or not (top five teams in each conference qualify), you still have a reason to watch and root on your team late in the season. Sure, expectations are higher for certain teams but it doesn't get much more exciting around the league knowing that with one week left in the season, there are 13 teams still fighting for postseason play. For you mathematicians out there, that is 68% of the league.

Reason 2: The Supporters' Shield champion will be crowned!

If you aren't familiar with the Supporters' Shield in MLS, it is an annual award given to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record, as determined by the MLS points system. Along with the MLS Cup and US Open Cup trophies, the Supporter's Shield is considered the third major award across the league. Currently, the New York Red Bulls have a slight lead for the award with 56 points. As you can see here, a lot can still change this weekend.

With Real Salt Lake winning their final game Wednesday night, they have finished the season with 56 total points which ties them with New York. Charles Gooch of the Kansas City Star went into deeper details on how Sporting KC could end up on top by stating, “A New York loss or draw against Chicago (at home on Sunday) and a win by Sporting Kansas City in Philadelphia (on Saturday), would mean Kansas City would take home the Shield -- and the automatic Champions League berth and theoretical home field advantage it brings in the playoffs.”  The bottom line is that the Red Bulls are the only team that controls their own fate. If they manage to beat a tough Chicago Fire team at home Saturday, then they will take home their first ever Supporters’ Shield Trophy.

In the unique scenario of Sporting KC & New York both losing, the door will then open up for Portland to take the trophy with a win at Chivas USA on Saturday.

This is why you have to love MLS and the playoff format. Not only do you have two –thirds of the league still playing for a playoff berth, but you have the top teams still playing hard for trophies even if they have clinched a playoff spot. The format is working out perfectly this year by forcing clubs to remain relevant and competitive throughout the entire season. Again, all you can ask for as a fan are story-lines and more are developing in MLS each week. For more info on the playoff scenarios, go here.

Reason 3: Better Ratings = Growth

Most fans don't try to understand the importance of TV ratings to a growing league such as Major League Soccer. Why would they? But the reality is that good ratings for MLS on NBC Sports & ESPN mean very good things for the league. Through these contracts, television networks disperse an enormous amount of currency worldwide to soccer leagues and their clubs. Television rights and distribution are the lifeblood of any league in any sport across the globe. The television contracts for each club in their local market are equally important for the same reasons. The money off these deals is cycled back through the clubs and can be used to help create a positive image of their brand to the community.

The NFL & the English Premier League both earn over $1 billion annually from their current TV deals, which exemplifies the amount of money that is out there. Major League Soccer receives an estimated $27-$28 million from its various deals with ESPN, NBC Sports and others. The current contracts with MLS are up after the 2014 season and negotiations for the new deal are expected to begin soon.

So how exactly does watching your local club play on TV actually translate into growth of soccer in the United States? Simply put, better local ratings results in better local TV deals for individual clubs. Better TV deals for clubs equals more revenue streamed into the club for development of talent and brand awareness in the community, which in turn is better for the league. Better ratings for the league will eventually result in better TV deals on the national level.

When MLS enters these negotiations shortly with NBC & ESPN, they will need leverage. Why should NBC & ESPN increase the amount of exposure for MLS if the ratings show that people aren’t watching? Just for the record, a lot more goes into these negations than just TV ratings but I thought we would keep it as simple as we could for the sake of this article. As the game grows, MLS will want to earn the right to push the game out to a national audience in a prime timeslot and they will need the backing from the public to accomplish that goal.

USA vs. Mexico: My Experience

Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP Photo/http://ftw.usatoday.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the U.S every single year and it crowns the champions of the National Football League in front of millions of viewers. Could you imagine a sport, just as popular, all over the world but only have the "big game" played once every four years? It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where that would even be possible due to the large demand to watch a game with that much on the line. Well, you can stop thinking about that scenario because, believe it or not, that situation is real.  In the world of soccer, the world's most popular sport, the World Cup comes once every four years. And once every four years in North America, the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) squares off against Mexico at Columbus Crew Staidum.

"Dos A Cero". 2-0. The phrase becomes more popular every four years when the USMNT and Mexican National Team meet up in World Cup qualifying. Mexico still holds a distinct advantage in the rivalry claiming victory in 30 of the 62 matches ever played. But when it comes to playing soccer in Columbus, Ohio they have not been as lucky. To be clear, Mexico has never won in Columbus. More specifically, they have lost the last four World Cup Qualifiers played at Crew Stadium by a score of 2-0. Hence the "Dos A Cero" that everyone has now ringing in their ears after Tuesday night in Columbus.

But Tuesdays game felt a little bit different than the others. Now, I will admit I have not been fortunate enough to attend any of the other USA vs. Mexico games at Crew Stadium in the past but there was a feeling of anticipation before this game that I have never felt before any other sporting event in my life. This is coming from a guy who has been to a lot of Browns games. Pause. Okay, that was a joke. In all seriousness, the only sporting event that I have been to that can compare to this was the 2002 Ohio State vs. Michigan game at The Shoe in front of 105,000 people and I would still give the World Cup qualifier the advantage without a doubt.

Photo by JP Lococo

The scene was historic. 25,000 people all standing and singing in unison (that can be seen in the pictures on this page) was reflective of a Champions League Final game in Europe. You could feel the anticipation growing throughout the day and even in the days leading up the the match. Supporters traveled from 49 different states to watch the USA play and there were massive parties the night before with all the supporters groups & locals. The festivities were endless and the night was prepped for action.

After a competitive but scoreless first half, the game quickly picked up after half-time. Mexican goalkeeper Jesús Corona rushed off of his line to try and intercept the cross from Donovan, but he was too late. As Clarence Goodson created a path for Johnson, the Seattle Sounders star firmly headed the ball past Mexico defender Fernando Arce, who could not react quickly enough to clear the ball away with his right foot.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images/http://www.nytimes.com/

It was that scoreline again. 2-0. It still doesn't seem real, even as I put my thoughts down on this paper. Especially since Clint Dempsey of all people "missed" a penalty with less than two minutes remaining in the match. Whoever was a part of the crowd that night witnessed history. The USMNT is going to the World Cup for the sixth consecutive time and this will be another opportunity for our country's soccer team to prove itself on the international stage.

In the future when I reflect on this game, I will remember the unique passion I saw on the faces around me in the crowd. It didn't matter if it was a grown man who most likely never played soccer at all growing up or a passionate Ohio State student, everyone was chanting for the same team. Columbus truly put on a great show and soccer fans in the area should be proud.

There will always be rumors of moving the location of this game and I am okay with that. If the game eventually gets moved, I'd root on the USMNT all the same. But in saying that, you can't ignore history. There is something in the air of Columbus that Mexico can't handle when they are here and the U.S. always plays well. I was fortunate enough to witness this first hand and I hope this game proved that soccer is alive in the United States and, equally important, Columbus.

If you watched the game on tv or were at the match, what are your thoughts? Did you care that the U.S qualified in Columbus? Do you think this game should ever be moved?

2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League: What should you know?

Photo is courtesy of http://www.sjearthquakes.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Follow us on Twitter! @OS_Report As most teams in Major League Soccer prepare for their playoff runs and end of the season, a new tournament is just beginning for a select few teams.

Like in Europe, teams in North America and Central America actually have a Champions League tournament too! Can you believe it? I want you to tweet me right now (@jp_lococo) telling me I’m crazy if you are already thinking in your head, “Yeah, I am most likely not going to read the rest of this post because I couldn’t care less.”

I have many friends who, I would say, consider themselves “soccer fans”. Most of them follow the English Premier League on some level and they also keep an eye on MLS, mostly because I guilt trip them into paying attention. Nonetheless, they consider themselves fans of the beautiful game.

But if I asked those same friends how the CONCACAF Champions League works, a strong percentage of them couldn’t even name the five MLS teams that are competing in the tournament this year. Could you?

Every season, the UEFA Champions League takes place and brings fans across the world some of the best soccer action as top clubs with their world-class players clash for European glory. Beginning this past Wednesday, the CONCACAF Champions League began in our region.

What should you know about the CONCACAF Champions League? Below are five things I want soccer fans to know about this international tournament.

Photo is courtesy of Mexsports/http://www.mlssoccer.com/

1.) This year Sporting KC, L.A. Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact are the five MLS teams representing MLS in the tournament and all will be looking to make history by becoming the first MLS team to win the Champions League since the new format came into play six years ago.

2.) Speaking of new format, prior to 2008, the tournament was referred to as the “Champions Cup”. During the “Champions Cup” era, the tournament was played under numerous formats consisting of considerably less teams that are now included in the current format.

3.) The tournament currently consist of 24 teams that are drawn into the group stage. There are eight groups consisting of three teams in each. Each team will play the other teams in its group, home and away, with the top team entering the knockout rounds when the competition re-starts in 2014.

4.) The tournament consist of four teams from Mexico, four from the US, one from Canada, two from most of the Central American nations, and a total of three Caribbean teams.

5. ) Mexican clubs have been the most successful in the tournament through the years. Mexican clubs have accumulated the highest number of victories, with 29 titles dating back to the “Champions Cup” days. Not much has changed since CONCACAF implemented the format switch in 2008. All but one final has been between two Mexican teams and the outlier was in 2009 when Real Salt Lake of MLS lost to Monterrey.

It is never easy for MLS teams to win games in Mexico but the gap between the two countries is definitely closing. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has openly stated he wants MLS to become one of the top leagues by 2020 and improving the results in the Champions League will definitely help in achieving that goal.

If you consider yourself a legitimate fan of MLS or soccer in the United States, then I hope you have taken something away from this post. It is vital to the growth of soccer in the United States that MLS teams continue to improve on their results in this tournament. Equally as important is the fan support continuing to grow. Strong fan support will always improve the product on the field. The energy and passion from the stands urges players to push forward to play even harder than they normally would. Creating vibrant atmospheres will continue to draw in fans to the tournament who may have been outsiders before because they now see others paying attention. With the interest of this tournament continuing to grow every year, hopefully fans will continue educate themselves and root on OUR league, Major League Soccer, in international play.

How interested are you in following the CONCACAF Champions League? If you aren’t going to be following it, then why not? Leave your thoughts on the tournament below.

MLS On The Rise & Expanding

Photo by Andy Mead/Icon SMI/http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Follow us on Twitter! @OS_Report

 

Wednesday night marked the 2013 MLS All-Star game that resulted in AS Roma defeating the All-Stars 3-1, but the biggest news that came from the evening may have came off the field.  Commissioner Don Garber announced at halftime during the broadcast of Wednesday night’s All-Star Game at Sporting Park that Major League Soccer plans to add another four teams by the 2020 season. There are now 19 teams in the league and New York City FC will join Major League Soccer as the 20th in 2015.

 

The comments by the commissioner have stirred up a flurry of conversations about which regions and cities should receive the remaining four bids up for grabs. Garber went on to say, “As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”

 

It has long been stated that Garber wants the MLS to be considered one of the top leagues by that time. Certainly having 24 teams with established fan bases and soccer-specific stadiums will aid in that process.

 

The process of deciding which cities can support an MLS expansion market will be selected by multiple criteria.  Factors taken into consideration include the following per MLS's release:

 

"Committed and engaged ownership;"

 

"A comprehensive stadium plan;"

 

"Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;"

 

"Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;"

 

"Geographic location;"

 

"A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club."

 

These are the key factors that MLS will look into over the next couple of years, but which cities are in contention? Here is a quick overview of some top candidates.

 

Orlando

 

Photo by  Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

Orlando City has pushed to reach some of the requirements listed above for a long time and they have made good progress. They have a wealthy owner in Flavio Augusto da Silva who cares about the game, good fan support for playing in the USL Pro (Division III in the US Soccer pyramid) and are already in the early stages of submitting a bid for a soccer specific stadium to be built by 2015. Major League Soccer wants as many regional rivalries as possible. With Miami as another possible site, there is a good chance that if at least one of the Florida locations is chosen, the other will soon follow.

 

Miami

 

Having already failed once with the Miami Fusion in years past, there are some concerns. Developing long lasting fan bases anywhere in Florida is hard enough, let alone Miami. With the constant nice weather, loads of transplant workers who never grew up following a sports team in Florida and having the beach as an entertainment option will prove as obstacles in proving to MLS a fan base can be developed.

 

In saying that, lets not forget that David Beckham has an option to buy an MLS franchise and he seems to be targeting Miami as the site. If the infrastructure and support can be proved to MLS, then Beckham may have the connections to bring in a big name player or two that will really get people excited. Still seems like a lot of if’s to me though.

 

Atlanta

 

They already have an NASL (Division II) team in the Atlanta Silverbacks and an owner who is willing to offer some support to the cause. Also throw in the fact that Atlanta is one of the biggest markets in the United States without an MLS team and you might have a serious reason to look into this city as an expansion destination. Don Garber will continue to expand down to the Southeast markets and if MLS teams don't materialize in both Orlando and Miami, look for Atlanta to make a strong push at a bid.

 

Detroit/Pittsburgh

 

Both of these cities have expressed interest in making a bid for an MLS team in the past ten months. I believe that adding an MLS team to either market will be key to the growth of the game in the Midwest, specifically in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Crew's main rivals are the Chicago Fire (over five hours away) and Toronto FC (seven hours away). I believe that if a team was added in Detroit or Pittsburgh then you are really creating that regional battle and tension the Midwest is missing.

 

Concerns are that the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. Yeah, I also was unaware that an entire city could go bankrupt, but they figured out a way to do so. Not sure how much support people will put behind building an 18,000-seat stadium when they seemingly have bigger issues to work out first.

 

Photo by David Kilpatrick/http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/

Which leads me to think that Pittsburgh might be a more realistic option. They just built Highmark Stadium, a 3,500-seat soccer complex, right on the river with plans on expanding the facility to over 18,000 seats. I dislike all things Pittsburgh but we do have to admit they have good sports fans. If they have the facility and a decent team, you would have to believe the support would follow.

 

 

Other cities that will be in the running are San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Las Vegas.

 

This is an extremely exciting time in Major League Soccer. If you consider yourself a "soccer fan" but for whatever reason don't follow MLS, then now is the perfect time to start paying attention. Whether we want to believe or not, soccer is growing in this country and Don Garber has the league on the right track.

 

Will Major League Soccer be a top league within the next ten years? I don't know, only time will tell. But with the recent announcement of more teams joining Major League Soccer within the next couple of years, I think it is safe to say that soccer is continuing to grow.

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