The Cheap Seats: Immodest proposal

plus, of course, a promise from Colosseus, the God of Soccer Specific Stadia, that a 20,000-seat multi-use facility will be built within X number of years -- or else watch your team dribble it's cute little MLS-colored soccer ball down to Tejas.

Where, of course, Landon and Troy and all those other cuddly Quakes will immediately be replaced wholesale by (gasp!) Mexicans.

Goodbye San Jose Earthquakes, Hello Houston Pumpjacks. Or Hello Houston Ten Gallon Hats. Or Hello San Antonio Six Shooters. Or, my favorite: Club America USA.

Too bad. I'd hate to see the San Jose team disappear. The club arguably has the most tradition of any in the league. OK, that isn't saying much for an eight-year-young league, but you've got to start somewhere. Here are a few of the highest highlights: First, the Goal -- Eric Wynalda's brilliant curling shot that gave the Clash a victory in the league's inaugural match. Second, the (original) Boy Wonder -- Landon Donovan, 'nuff said. Third, the Coach: Frank Yallop may go down as the greatest coach the league ever saw, though some of the Screaming Eagles might beg to differ. Fourth, the Start -- in a fit of either temporary insanity or gracious pity in 1996, Thomas Rongen gave yours truly his first (and only) start in MLS, though, this is celebrated only in the Lalas household. But what a fiesta September 18 is every year; by the fourth ouzo, I've not only started that game, but scored a hat trick.

But soccer is a business. Plain and simple, and if you think otherwise, you're as whacked as that Texas Rangers pitcher who did his best Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart impression by throwing a chair at someone. MLS is fueled on cash and gate receipts and stadium concessions. Nostalgia doesn't count for much in the accounting office.

So that's how we've gotten to this precipitous verge of losing yet another of the Original Ten. But I've got a solution, if you really care about soccer in the Silicon Valley. And my solution is one that NorCal dot-commers can understand better than anyone:

Initial Public Offering. That's right: I-P-O.

Hey, as they say: When in Green Bay, do as the Green Bayers. Remember a bunch of years back when the small-market Green Bay Packers, the NFL's most storied franchise, were on the verge of total collapse? They survived by doing what any red-blooded American would do under the same circumstances: They sold themselves. Now they have a renovated stadium, a perennially competitive team, and the strongest fan base in their league, a fan base that not only has an emotional stake in the team, but a financial one. Same holds true for a lot of the teams in Europe who have gone so far as to put themselves on the local stock exchange; that's right, you too can buy part of Manchester United, just like Malcolm Glazer, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Why, oh, why, didn't ol' Mal come to the rescue of my beloved Mutiny?)

Here's the question: How many so-called soccer fans would open their wallets to own a piece of their team? How many people would put their money where their mouth is? (Because lord knows U.S. soccer fans love to run their mouths off -- usually anonymously. Weak.) If offered, would you buy a couple of shares in MLS? Would you pay $250 for a little morsel of the league we know and love? Would you pay $500? (I, for one, would gladly pay a couple hundred bucks to keep the team I love nearby, except that as a starving artist, I can't afford that. At some point, you'd think I'd see a pattern and get out of the starving artist business. Stupid is as stupid does.)

Now, is this going to happen any time soon? Let's put it this way: David Lee Roth will sing with Van Halen again before MLS or any of its teams is offered to the public. But I thought with all the words being flung around about San Jose, Club America, Chivas, and AEG, we would all do well to think about the realities of the league, financial as well as emotional.

Ultimately, the survival of this league and its struggling teams like San Jose comes down to this question: How much do you care?

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at cheapseats@g73.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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