Who put Bud Selig in charge of MLS?
There seem to be few explanations other than Selig-esque crass commercialism to justify the decision announced this week that the 20th MLS franchise has been awarded to New York City and its new owners, Manchester City and the New York Yankees. But apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber is not only willing to take credit for the anointment of the newest club, he appears to actually thinks it's a good one.
Put together two of the most hated sports franchises in the universe and plop them down in a city that has shown a complete inability to support one, let alone two, professional soccer teams and you get what, exactly, that is appealing?
One wonders if the awkwardly named N.Y.C.F.C. was saddled with the moniker just to even things up with the New York Red Bulls and their uninspiring identification. "Go over-caffinated, sugary energy drinks!" doesn't lend itself to song or loyalty any more than the attempts by other MLS franchises to pander to Euro-snob U.S. fans by changing their names to sadly mimic storied franchises overseas ("FC Dallas", "Sporting Kansas City", "Real Salt Lake").
As smart as the decision was to add first Seattle, then Portland and Vancouver (with their devoted fan bases and true rivalries) to the fold in recent years, the selection of another New York City franchise appears even more ill-conceived than the attempt to create a rival for the L.A. Galaxy was by adding Chivas USA (whose attendance is abysmal so far in 2013).
Derbies aren't like sea-monkeys. They don't magically appear when you add water, or, in this case, a big pile of oil money and the Yankees' "mystique." That the Yankees were added as a minority owner in what appears to be an attempt to leverage Randy Levine's ability to strong-arm local politicians into handing over the use of public spaces to build nine figure playgrounds for rich owners makes the decision even more odious.
While the eight million or so denizens of The Big Apple will now have their choice of two soccer teams to ignore, those throughout much of the rest of the nation, many with soccer-rich traditions that pre-date both Garber and MLS, are left scratching their heads and wondering what they have to do to warrant consideration for franchises 21 and 22, which are apparently still in the works.
Prior to the NYC announcement, Garber had had identified Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Orlando as possibilities for additional expansion. Orlando actually makes some sense, based on the dearth of professional soccer at the highest level in the fourth most populous state in the country. Miami has already had its chance and it, like Atlanta, has consistently proven for decades its inability to sustain franchises other than pro football. Minneapolis? A nice place in July and August, but it will almost certainly need a turf field, which causes its own problems.
The wrong-headed approach to MLS expansion appears to be driven by identifying owner groups seeking a franchise and then either choosing somewhere to plop it, or to accede to their demands for a location, rather than on the fan-base of an area and its interest in soccer. St. Louis, with a long history of soccer enthusiasm and excellence in support of teams at the youth and college levels, is ignored not because it wouldn't support a franchise, but because the individual who has put himself at the forefront of its efforts to capture a club is likely not up to the task. And don't even get me started on poor Rochester, which carried the banner for soccer in New York State for years and isn't even close to being in the conversation anymore.
More and more, despite its bizarre and inscrutable rules regarding salaries, designated players, and player contracts, MLS is just another American professional sport. While the players are still expected to be grateful for whatever is thrown their way, when it comes to ownership and the location of franchises, money is the only thing that talks.