Expansion and growth are vital to soccer in America, and the United Soccer League has been a catalyst for that growth whether by creating grassroots movements in the lower divisions or providing four teams for Major League Soccer expansion since 2009. Overall the USL has been experiencing stability like never before, and it is certainly aided by the number of MLS-operated clubs in the third division. However, some of the newer clubs are perhaps getting a little too big of an ego after so few years in existence.
The #MLS2(Insert three letter abbreviation here) movement is driving me insane. Especially when it’s by clubs such as Charlotte and Louisville. The two teams have less than a full season under their belts, so it might be best to temper that movement for the time being.
Charlotte on the Back Burner?
John Horne recently wrote an editorial over at Crown Town Soccer calling the fans to write to their political leaders, with a goal of generating more groundswell for an eventual MLS expansion. Now personally, I love CTS and they’ve helped immensely in my being able to keep up with the Jacks, but this editorial doesn’t make much sense to me.
Part of this issue lies in the fact that Charlotte has five professional teams in its city. The Cary-Raleigh Triangle, two and a half hours away, has an additional five for a total of 10 pro teams in an 80-mile radius. In that respect, it really should not be a big deal that MLS expansion is on the back burner.
I don’t have much to be critical about with the Independence on the field. And even off the field I really only have one critique, and that’s the communications department leaking information to the local media instead of owning the message. The Ramblewood fiasco could have gone a lot differently if they’d controlled the spin instead of letting the media break the news.
The thing to remember is that Charlotte and The Triangle will be a natural spot for MLS to look for expansion because of the television market power in the area. Additionally, it’s near a region that MLS is looking at now for expansion in the southeast. With that in mind, to me the editorial seems like a gross overreaction to a couple of comments placing the importance of international friendlies over the Independence.
The Fall City Expectation
Just slightly to the East is Louisville who, in my opinion, have been better than the Independence from a front office standpoint, and currently sit third in the East in their first year of competition. However, they also have one of the more active #MLS2___ twitter accounts out there. There are a couple issues here that I think need to be addressed before the club can entertain the notion of a two division jump.
The club just lost a major player in minority owner Orlando City Soccer Club last week, and plays in what would be a bottom-tier television market for MLS. That’s not good for leveraging oneself. Sure, OCSC will still be in a professional working partnership with the Louisville-based outfit, and that will surely come in handy down the line, but let’s look at the bigger issue.
The USL stated they want all teams as either the owners of a soccer-specific stadium or primary tenants of a soccer-specific stadium by 2020, in line with their bid for Second Division status. Personally, I haven’t seen a whole lot in the way of stadium plans for LCFC, and unless you’ve got $100 million and can give me Andrea Pirlo drinking wine while playing at Yankee Stadium, you’re not getting an MLS team anytime soon.
Mercifully, principal owner Wayne Estopinal wants to go the slow-and-steady route on this one. He thinks 2020 would be the first chance the club would have of looking at expansion. Given how long it will take to get plans drawn, a site settled and construction completed, I would agree that 2020 is the earliest LCFC can really entertain expansion thoughts, regardless of the excellent in-game experience.
Stability is Key
I get that the USL markets itself as a path to MLS, but it may be time to change their tune. Eight of 24, and soon to be nine of 27, clubs are MLS-owned outfits and more “2” teams are inevitably on the way. This is especially true after clubs take notice of what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest with Seattle Sounders 2.
And please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for expansion given the right circumstances. I’ve even lauded Sacramento Republic FC and their MLS expansion bid in one of my first articles for this site. That being said, not every team can be a Sacramento or Orlando.
Sometimes it takes a more even-keeled approach to experience success. At the end of the day, all clubs should aspire to be the Charleston Battery or Richmond Kickers, bastions of stability for longer than any of the MLS clubs have been around.
While top-flight status is a desire I can relate to as a fan of the Oklahoma City Energy, whose stated goal is to join MLS in eight to ten years, sometimes the expectations and obligations that come with that status are lost in the trappings and glory of playing within the first division.