NEW YORK – MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Thursday that the league remained focused on placing a 20th team in New York City and was investing its own resources to investigate potential stadium sites.
Discussing expansion in his 2011 State of the League teleconference, Garber said MLS had hired a full-time staffer as well as consultants – attorneys, land-use advisers, stadium designers and architects – to explore the viability of stadium sites in the New York area and accelerate the expansion process.
“The issue remains the soccer stadium,” Garber said. “We do believe we have two or three sites that are viable, and we’re going to continue to work as hard as we can to move this [forward] as fast as we can.”
For now, the focus has shifted from whittling down ownership contenders to ensuring any group that enters the conversation has as much of a head start as possible in the stadium-construction process.
One potential stadium site discussed by the Commissioner was Randall’s Island, the onetime home of the New York Cosmos of the NASL. The newly reformed Cosmos were once considered the frontrunners to land an expansion side in New York City but recently underwent a change in leadership after owner and CEO Paul Kemsley resigned and sold his shares of the team.
Garber said he would meet with the new Saudi Arabian ownership group Sela Sport at MLS Cup, but emphasized that the Cosmos weren’t the only group in New York City – or elsewhere, for that matter – vying to become the league's 20th team.
“We’ll continue to work with [the Cosmos], but also with many others,” he said. “I think people think we throw that out just to have leverage. People in New York know that there are several potential ownership groups and, until we’re further along in the process, we’re going to speak to as many people as we can because that’s the best way to ensure that we get an ownership group that will have resources and be able to make the commitments to be good partners in Major League Soccer.”
In other words, while MLS is certainly focused on adding a second team in the New York area, it will not shut the door on other markets that express legitimate interest and have the financial backing in place to support a team.
Garber did say, however, that discussions with the Wilpon family had been put on the backburner but mentioned that he was meeting with an ownership group from Florida on Thursday afternoon. He also said there continues to be interest from groups in Las Vegas and Detroit and that the league had noticed the success of former NASL and USL sides when transitioning to MLS.
Following the Commissioner’s address, third-division USL Pro champions Orlando City SC tweeted that they were the group that met with Garber on Thursday.
Still, there is no hurry just yet.
Although expansion is a priority, Garber dismissed suggestions that there was any deadline for welcoming another team – based in New York or otherwise – into the fold following the Montreal Impact in 2012.
“I would say this is less about pushing potential ownership groups back as it is about trying to work with many markets to see if we can get them to build the fanbase and public support that allowed us to have successful expansion in places like Portland, Montreal and Vancouver,” Garber said.