Forty-seven kilometres and a bay separate New York City’s Flushing Meadows Park from Red Bull Arena — and it might be all that separates Major League Soccer’s newest franchise from its closest rival if the league gets its way.
Already home to the New York Red Bulls, who actually play in a 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, N.J., MLS is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to build a league-record $300-million soccer-only venue next to the New York Mets’ Citi Field in the borough of Queens, according to the New York Post.
Long rumoured to be MLS commissioner Don Garber’s first choice in terms of expanding North America’s top tier by 2015, the Post reports construction could begin as early as next year for what continues to be a nameless and ownerless franchise.
“I definitely think this could happen in 2013 and it will generate construction jobs, permanent jobs and sales-tax revenues for the city and the state,” a New York official told the Post. “This would be a big boon to the state and the city, and, of course, it would be very exciting for the different ethnic groups in the city that love the sport of soccer.”
As first reported by SI.com last month, MLS owners will fully fund construction before auctioning off the franchise between potential ownership groups that are fighting to own the league’s 20th team.
Although already funded, state and local authorities still need to pass off on the arrangement in order for construction to begin.
The league is said to be chasing an expansion fee of close to $100 million for its second New York franchise, 10 times what MLSE paid for Toronto FC before the 2007 season and more than double what Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo handed over this year.
“Flushing Meadows is centrally located and can easily be reached from Long Island,” another source told the Post.
And with the New York Red Bulls averaging just 18,025 (around 70% capacity) fans this season, in part due to its location outside the city, the hope is that the league’s first local derby — the manufactured Galaxy-Chivas derby doesn’t count — will attract fans from a different area of New York while bolstering support for the wayward Red Bulls.
The revival of one of the world’s most storied franchises is anticipated to do just that.
RETURN OF THE COSMOS?
At the height of their existence, the old NASL’s New York Cosmos averaged close to 50,000 spectators a game at the newly constructed Giants Stadium in the late 1970s before the league folded in 1984.
Now, under the partial guidance of former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona, after assuming the Cosmos brand in 2010, the storied club will begin play next year in the current NASL (formerly USSF D-2) as the league’s ninth team — a path the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact and Seattle Sounders all had success navigating before joining MLS.
“Major League Soccer remains committed to securing an expansion team in New York City,” Garber said in a league statement last month. “The current focus is on exploring a stadium site, but we will continue discussions with several potential ownership groups, including the Cosmos.”
Assuming proper authorities, who are said to be supportive of bringing a second MLS club to the Big Apple, sign off on the league’s plans, let the auctioning begin.
Since the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folded in 2001, cities across the southeast have been hoping for MLS to return to its old stomping grounds with its 20th team.
To be blunt, though, the only way that’s happening is if current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman takes the reigns.
Although league officials were in Orlando this year to explore granting that city, which currently houses a club in North America’s lowest tier, an expansion team, considerable success in what’s considered North America’s third division hasn’t been enough.
Orlando is rarely mentioned any more ahead of the Carolinas, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Atlanta, all cities that have popped up in recent years in terms of expansion and relocation.
Since TFC entered the league in 2007, MLS clubs have constructed or reconstructed seven soccer specific stadiums. Further, the San Jose Earthquakes are set to break ground on their new home in the near future. But while the league’s growth has been marked, pressing issues remain. D.C. United continues to play in a rat-infested RFK stadium and New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft continues to demonstrate disregard for his club, a one-time MLS leader in revenue that’s now a laughing stock. And while it’s a painful reminder of poor expansion decisions in the past, Chivas USA continues to go down in a flaming ball of glory since setting up shop in L.A. in 2005. That said, for the first time in a long time, the good outweighs the bad by a long margin in MLS. And it looks like it will stay that way.