While plans for MLS expansion are still very much up in the air for the next two years, Milwaukee is making a push at joining the league in 2008, a group known as Milwaukee Professional Soccer, LLC, announced Wednesday afternoon.
Led by Peter Wilt, who is credited with building the Chicago Fire into a perennial powerhouse, and renowned sports attorney Marty Greenberg, the group has plans to build a soccer-specific stadium as part of a revitalization of downtown Milwaukee.
"I feel very fortunate to be able to take on this challenge, to be able to return home to Milwaukee, where I've actually made my permanent residence over the last 27 years," said Wilt, who has been named CEO of Milwaukee Professional Soccer, LLC.
Under Wilt's leadership, the Fire captured both the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in 1998, their first year in the league. The team would go on to capture two more Open Cup crowns (2000 and 2003) and three division titles (2000, 2001 and 2003).
Wilt, 45, also helped find the Fire a new soccer-specific home, a 20,000-seat stadium, the first 100 percent publicly funded soccer and entertainment stadium in the country.
He was named MLS executive of the year in 1998 and was inducted into the Illinois Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
Wilt, who was replaced by John Guppy as president and CEO of the Fire in April - a move criticized heavily by Fire fans - is now in charge of bringing an expansion team in that would be a natural rival of the Fire.
"We need more rivalries in our league and part of creating rivalries is city to city," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "You've got the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers awfully close and granted it's a very different league, but it's the closeness that creates that intense rivalry that we think adds to the character of this sport."
Garber said any expansion plan needs to have three components - a committed ownership, a viable market and a soccer-specific stadium. He said, at least in its infancy, that this project has all three.
According to Greenberg, who is one of the managing members of Milwaukee Professional Soccer, LLC., the building of a soccer-specific stadium in downtown Milwaukee will be part of a "mixed-use development," that will include housing, office buildings, businesses and entertainment.
"It would be wonderful for Milwaukee, it would bring jobs downtown, it would be a destination place, it would globalize our city and we're calling our project 'the Urban Playground' because it urbanizes soccer in downtown Milwaukee," Greenberg said.
Wilt said the plan is to be an MLS expansion team in 2008. The first hurdle is the purchase of land, which will go up for bid in November, and he anticipates the stadium's construction to take 18-24 months.
In the meantime, he will continue to serve as Chicago Fire general manager, helping Guppy in his transition into the job for the remainder of the season.
"The next couple of months is vitally important on the team side as we're heading up to the trade deadline, the transfer window closing and the discovery deadline all on Sept. 15," he said.
As for the future of MLS, Garber said he thinks the league can be "an 18-20 team league within 10 years."
"We think that's the right number," he said. "We've got to manage it with our ownership group, our player pool and do it strategically so that we are orderly as to how we grow our league."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.