MONTREAL – No stadium, no team.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber reiterated his conditions for future expansion franchises on Wednesday before the Montreal Impact’s game against D.C. United. And when it comes to a club in South Florida, Garber said that the latest stadium setback for David Beckham’s group "puts us back to square one.”
“We cannot go to Miami unless we have not just a viable, but a very, very strong downtown location for a city that will be provided with a Major League Soccer franchise that can privately finance a stadium," Garber told reporters at Stade Saputo, "to do it with one of the soccer world’s most important and significant icons and to make a commitment to make it one of the better teams, or most important teams, in North America."
Beckham and his group were hopeful that their second choice of a downtown stadium site near Museum Park would meet political approval. But on Tuesday, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and city manager Daniel Alfonso declined the proposal put forward by Beckham’s group, saying the site was "off the table."
The setback came less than a month after after Miami-Dade County rejected their first choice at PortMiami.
“If I were living in Miami and I was a person that was able to provide levels of support so that we would agree to go there, I would think that that would be a pretty remarkable achievement for anybody," Garber continued. "If you can’t find the right place to play, it would be suicide for us to go anywhere. And certainly down to Miami where we have failed once before.”
Garber reiterated the league's commitment to expand to the Southeast, however, and remains focused on having three teams in the region, along with Orlando and Atlanta. But large portions of the country do remain without a team, he conceded. And there is no shortage of other options.
“I think that it’s fair to say that, as we look at what’s been going on in the soccer landscape in the US and Canada, the professional scale over the last two years, it has surprised us in terms of how much interest there is in the game," he said, "whether it’s international series, the USL [PRO] teams – Sacramento’s drawing over 20,000 fans a game.
"There is a level of interest in the professional game now that is unprecented. And actually, it has us pleasantly surprised.”
There are no plans, though, for expansion in Canada.
“Right now, expanding to the western provinces or something like that is not a priority,” Garber said.