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It Seems To Me . . .

Expansion, new stadiums and ‘Hail Argentina!’

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, May 20, 1999) -- Every week, I get e-mails from Major League Soccer fans asking where and when the league will be expanding. Previously, commissioner Doug Logan has said expansion probably would occur as early as next season. He has said that in the year 2000, the league would go from its current 12 teams to 14; then two years later, in 2002, from 14 to what MLS currently considers its optimum number of franchises: 16.

Now it appears that schedule may slide a little. "Expansion is looking far more probable for 2001 than 2000," Logan said recently. "We feel no external pressures and we don't want to go about it in a foolhardy way. We want the seeds planted correctly and give the next two teams to the opportunity to flourish."

Logan said that in order for the league to expand next year, a decision has to be made this July 1. "We have a go-no-go date on or about the first of July. Is it probable we will expand next year? No. Is it still possible? Yes."

The next obvious question is where. Logan has been quoted on a number of occasions as saying that Philadelphia and Houston are at the top of the list. The league would also like a second franchise in the New York metropolitan area - in Queens or on Long Island, and would like a second franchise in Southern California, probably San Diego.

This is obviously a make-or-break year for several of the existing franchises. I would think that Dallas, Kansas City and Tampa Bay are on the bubble in terms of attendance and community support. Both Dallas and Tampa have shown increases. But, in truth, I would not be shocked to see any of the three, and Miami, playing elsewhere by 2002.

In my story last week on which players Argentina will have available for its June 13 match at RFK Stadium in Washington, I indicated that Ariel Ortega might be one of those who would have to return to play in Spanish league matches that same weekend.

As so many of you were thoughtful enough to point out, Ortega has played this season in Italy with Sampdoria, and is not still in Spain with Valencia. In my defense, this is apparently a fact that has skipped the notice of the Argentine soccer federation whose official web site still lists Ortega at Valencia.

For those of you who gently corrected me, thanks. For the couple of you who took the error as an insult to Argentina, its culture and its people, it obviously was inadvertent. And for the one communicator who said the error showed the total depth of ignorance about soccer in this country -- I wonder how many Argentineans know that Clint Peay has rejoined DC United.

Many of you have asked what I think about the new Columbus Crew stadium. I like it. In Columbus, just about anything would be better than the ancient Ohio Stadium, whose running track-surrounded playing field was miserably inadequate for soccer.

Many in MLS talk about the new Crew stadium as the salvation of the league. It is, primarily for financial reasons, and to a lesser degree for ascetic reasons. The simple truth is the league and its owner-investors will be vastly better off in stadiums they can control, and most importantly keep all the revenue from.

The fact of the matter is, the Crew stadium is relatively bare-bones. Lamar Hunt spent only $28.5 million to build at the concrete and aluminum structure, America's first facility built specifically for major professional soccer. That is about one-fifth the cost of Baltimore's Camden Yards baseball park or Baltimore's new football stadium, or the new football stadium in Cleveland (to cite a few new stadiums).

This year, as an example, the D.C. Stadium-Armory Board, which controls RFK, will earn about $1.4 million from stadium rentals to D.C. United and ancillary income (parking and concessions) earned from MLS matches. The amount MLS is paying out, and the concession revenue it is losing, in New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles is likely much higher. So if MLS could build a series of $30 million stadiums, and keep all the revenues it is now paying out, it would be a financial boost for the league.

That is why commissioner Logan says "We would like to open one new soccer-specific stadium a year."

A great many of you have written expressing your opinions on the quality of the television coverage of soccer in MLS this season. No, I can't agree with many of you that Phil Schoen and Ty Keough, Bob Ley and Seamus Malin are all involved in some kind of conspiracy to drive soccer fans crazy and contribute to the failure of soccer in this country. I do, however, have some strong feelings on a number of aspects of the way television covers soccer and I'll expand on those thoughts soon.

Likewise, any number of you wrote both about adopting a different scoring system in MLS and the quality of officiating in the league. I will revisit both issues in the near future.

Robert Wagman is a regular SoccerTimes correspondent and can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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