Dear Mr. Commissioner: What's It All About?

Dear Don;

As a longtime fan of the United States of America's Professional First Division soccer league, and someone who has supported the league financially to an extent which seems utterly ludicrous to my bride - although probably not near enough to even begin to finance YOUR WINE COLLECTION - I hope I've earned enough chits to ask a simple question, to wit:

What the hell is going on?

Like most all of my fellow fans, I followed the ExpansionPalooza through all it's twists and turns and Joey's and Barcas and St. Louis-stiffing and Bronx-sniffing and money-whiffing until it finally limped across the finish line with Vancouver and Portland being the last guys standing.

Unfortunately, in the latter case, the good burghers of Portland SEEM TO BE HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS about the Paulson's "guarantee" which seems to be a tad, shall we say, ephemeral.

What's even more toublesome is that THE CONSULTANT'S STUDY (which all MLS fans need to sit back and absorb) which was used to "prove" the viability of a Portland MLS team, contains "basic math errors and assumptions that change from page to page.", which the lead consultant says was the result of errors he made while transposing them into the presentation "on an airplane" when he was "sick".

Furthermore, since the city is already in debt up to their ears, any further borrowing on behalf of stadium construction will have to be on a junk bond basis, which will be extremely expensive if, indeed, any buyers can be found at all:

"For a majority of the new borrowings, the city plans to issue the municipal equivalent of a subprime interest-only loan. For years, it would make no payments on the debt while interest accumulates at an estimated 9 percent. Then it would retire the loan with a series of increasing balloon payments in later years through 2035."

If that scheme sounds vaguely familiar, it's because mortgages like that are exactly how the country got to the situation it's in today. Exactly.

Just as troubling is that Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who was the swing vote in the decision to go ahead with the proposal, IS NOW SAYING HE MAY VOTE AGAINST tearing down the old Coliseum, a key feature in the development plan.

This is the reason that, just yesterday, THE MAYOR ANNOUNCED THEY"RE NOT GOING TO VOTE in order for them to "look at other options". Like, maybe, St. Louis?

Now a group of citizens who are demanding that the old barn be saved from the wrecking ball are holding a demonstration tonight, claiming that the place is "historic" or "architecturally unique" or some such.

And just top it all off, the local veterans are saying that tearing down Portland MEMORIAL Stadium is disrespectful to the war dead.

Next it'll be PETA, telling us that tearing down the Coliseum is unfair to the rats.

Now I myself have no idea where all this is going to fall out, but it's beginning to look an awful lot like, in your rush to get the two 2011 teams announced by the self-imposed "start of the season" deadline, you may have jumped the gun here. By anyone's standards this thing is not in the bag.

And unlike Vancouver, a case where everyone agreed to forget about all that "soccer specific stadium" nonsense in favor of putting the team into BC Place and cashing Greg Kerfoot's check, there really isn't much in the way of alternatives in Portland. Either they build something or they don't play.

It's not that I don't understand, Don. You painted yourself into a corner with all this high-profile expansion business and you figured you'd have - plenty of good candidates.

Then, one by one, they began to fall by the wayside until there were only two left and, while neither one actually met the criteria, the Expansion Committee figured they were as close as you were going to come and so you signed them up.

And as I said, if you're willing to swallow the football-stadium-artificial-turf situation then Vancouver was a no-brainer. But Portland seems to be, increasingly, a case of wishful thinking.

But however all that might be, that isn't what's bothering me, and a lot of my fellow fans. What we're finding increasingly worrisome is that, apparently, you're not done.

You seem to be hinting that MLS wants to add two MORE teams for 2012.

And the question I have to ask is: Why?

Yes, I understand the desire for those bigass checks these guys are willing to fork over but you surely understand that a league that keeps itself afloat on a sea of expansion payments is on the road to oblivion.

In any case, the $30 million you got from Philadelphia, combined with $35 million each from the two news guys, that's a whopping $100 million in just two years. Are you saying that's not enough to keep MLS going? If so then let's just shut it down now. It's clearly hopeless.

I would also note that you keep talking about improving the quality of play and yet the league has averaged one expansion draft a year since 2002 and are planning on three more in the next two years.

And maybe two more the year after that. That would make, potentially, 14 players - let's say ten just for the heck of it - that simply vanished off of every team's roster.

And, just to top it off, you cut the rosters by six guys so that teams have even less of a chance to come up with someone to replace the guys they're losing.

We were all told, over and over, about how uncontrolled expansion played a big role in killing the NASL. I suppose you'd say the difference is that this expansion is actually not "uncontrolled" because you're limiting it to two teams a year, an argument which is, to say the least, suspect.

To say the most, it's ridiculous.

But I'm willing to be fair and open minded on this, Don. There's no doubt you've been good for the league, and you're certainly not an idiot.

The problem is that we'd like to know what the idea is here. Where is this going? Where's the end? IS THERE an end? Is there some kind of philosophy at work here other than "Hey, look, there are guys out there who are willing to write us bigass checks - let's go grab 'em up"?

We'd really liike to know, Don. Because honestly, from where we're sitting, the direction you seem to be on is troubling and I really don't think it's too much to ask just what the hell is going on.

Your Pal,

Bill