Shrader: Next stop, Salt Lake City
and investment banker -- Dave Checketts proved that it takes a little bit of vision, a dynamic sales pitch and a touch of luck to acquire a professional soccer team in America. On Saturday, the Quakes get their first good look at Real Salt Lake, a team that was put together in a matter of months after it was introduced as the 12th MLS team, in July 2004.
If you believe what you read - and at this point I sincerely hope you do - there are nearly a dozen other cities interested in becoming a home for Major League Soccer. Here's a short list of cities that have been reported to be in the running for a team in the league that hopes to have 18 teams by 2010: San Antonio, Seattle, Toronto, Cleveland, Rochester, Portland, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix.
(As the league owners try to decide what they want to look like in five years, it is very difficult for this observer to believe that San Jose would ever be excluded from the list of the top 18 soccer cities in the USA. Given a new stadium and some ownership certainty, I would dare say it's among the top half-dozen soccer cities.)
I have given you the list of potential soccer cities in America; now please allow me to give you the names of the cities on my personal list of potential expansion cities and why:
Kauai, Hawaii (friendly, quiet, scenic and my favorite Hawaiian island); Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (would attract golf-playing veteran European players, could get them a little cheaper than market price, maybe); New York (we need at least two trips to the Big Apple every season and if Los Angeles has two teams, why not New York? Maybe they could move into the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan); Memphis (we could call them the Blues and leave a couple of tickets for Elvis); and Omaha, Nebraska (my family lives nearby and my mother is 81 and, well, the club could pay for a trip home a couple of times a year, don't you think?). Just a couple of those cities works for me, I wouldn't be greedy.
One or two of those choices may not turn any more heads than the choice of Utah's capital city.
But Salt Lake City - although it's not a really large city by American mega-city standards - is an attractive, can-do city. They hosted the Winter Olympics three years ago. It would open a few big-league-city eyes in this country if they make it as a major league soccer city. Here's hoping they do. The future of soccer in Kansas City is uncertain, and some cities, like San Antonio and Toronto, are making plans to build stadiums without the certainty of an MLS team. This league cannot afford to be moving teams around, or moving into cities without an almost 100 percent chance of success.
There is a 100 percent chance we'll make it to Salt Lake City for the game Saturday night (a 6:30 p.m. PT start on FSN Bay Area and 1590 KLIV), and a nearly 100 percent chance we'll enjoy the experience. It's America's soccer, in an American city, in America's major league.
Just tell me how to get there and what the game time is, and I'll be there on time. I might need a few days to get acclimated to the local conditions when the league expands to Kauai, as I'm sure it will someday. As sure as I was three years ago MLS would have a team named Real Salt Lake.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.