MLS made it more or less official today: there will be no 16th team joining the league in 2009. The bottom line is that they're just running out of time.
While MLS made no secret of the fact that they would have loved to have another team in place by then so they won't have to go with an unbalanced schedule, neither of the two leading candidates, St. Louis and Philadelphia, are close enough to the finish line to make it feasible.
Interestingly, MLS has said that the expansion fee for Team #16 will be $30 million, but the expansion fee for Team #17 will be $40 million. Even the legions of BigSoccer posters who continually complain about why the current owners won't spend more and more and more, because "they're rich anyway - what do they care?" can understand that there are but darn few people on Earth to whom $10 million is pocket change.
So if even dangling a Super-Gigantic Bag 'O Bucks can't close one of those deals. there are clearly some major hurdles remaining.
However that may be - and most observers certainly expect both cities to be in the league fairly soon - it's hard to be a big fan of how this process has been handled by the league.
MLS has acted all along as if they just didn't care where the new teams ended up. They've acted like it was The Great Soccer Team Sweepstakes. If somebody put up a gleaming 22,000 seat stadium in Albany or Tuscaloosa or Omaha, they didn't seem to care. They said "Here are the requirements; meet them and you're in"
But if they intend - as they have said and as FIFA prefers - to put the brakes on at 18 teams for at least a few years, so the league can digest and accommodate and more intelligently plan the next ten years, then it would seem to me that where the next three teams are located matters a great deal.
It's lucky that both Philadelphia and St. Louis fill logical geographic and demographic needs. Albany, Buffalo and Rochester would have been a disaster, but they could hardly have said no.
So if we assume that there is, in effect, only one opening left, doesn't it almost have to be in Miami or Atlanta? Can MLS really afford to completely leave out the entire Southeast US until they're ready for another round of expansion in, say 2020?
Frankly, if Miami is really willing to build a stadium, then if they can't find a deep pockets owner right away then the league should start the team themselves. They've had ownerless teams before.
Or perhaps they should check and see if Anschutz Entertainment is in need of a South Florida concert venue.
Start the team in a place where the league needs a team and hang out a For Sale sign. Somebody will come along before too long.
And maybe it's just me, but MLS owes Florida big time after getting a shiv between the ribs back in 2001. They took one for the team, and while it was probably necessary, it sure wasn't pretty. Time to make amends. Can't have too much good Karma.
I'm awfully sorry if this leaves all those splendid Canadian expansion opportunities out in the cold.
Well no, actually I'm not.