Cohiba Don is a happy happy guy today. The man who once famously remarked, in regards to a second team in the New York metropolitan area, that it was a question of "When, not if" is now officially one step closer to what he surely believes will be the capstone of his career.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that the league has "zeroed in" on a location for a stadium which will house New York #2.
Aside from the usual "must build some fields for the kiddies" stuff and the requirement to buy the city eight acres of green space to replace the eight the stadium will take up, the plan - which, to be sure, the article calls "nascent" - could put a 20-25,000 seat building in Queens, near Citi Field and the Billie Jean King Tennis complex in as little as two years.
Reportedly, the league's proposal does not include first locating the infamous "Deep Pockets Owner" before breaking ground. The league will privately finance the thing, at which point it's believed - most likely correctly - that an owner will not be hard to find.
Local politicians are supposedly hopping on board, as they are wont to do when you're not asking them for money. One such is NY Assemblyman (that's like a legislature only with more yelling) Francisco Moya, who represents the area where the stadium would be built:
"This is exactly what this community needs. There's a true natural fan base for Major League Soccer…in the most diverse borough in the entire country" he said, and announced that he will personally submit a bill asking for the State's blessing.
Which sounds terrific until the article notes that:
"Mr. Moya, who grew up playing soccer on the public fields in Flushing Meadows, said he would sponsor a bill in the Assembly, though the die-hard FC Barcelona fan said he wouldn't cheer for the new team."
And there you have it, in a nutshell.
It's not exactly big news that parts of New York are wildly "diverse" in terms of the ethnic and national origin of it's citizens, but when even the local pol who is backing the proposal admits that he has no intention of giving a shit about the team, can we really expect his constituents to feel any differently?
It's always seemed to me that the "50 bazillion soccer fans in New York, just waiting for a team to support" theory has a lot in common with the "50 bazillion youth soccer players just waiting for role models" theory: I can't find the hole in it but there sure does seem to be one.
That said, I like Don a lot. I think he's a terrific Commissioner and he's certainly done a great job building MLS from the smoldering pile of ashes in which Doug Logan left it, teetering on the brink of extinction with the three remaining owners only promising to keep the doors open for a couple more years.
It's true that I make fun of the guy when he says dumb stuff, but it's a minor flaw and I really don't mind. He can embarrass himself verbally all he wants as long as the league keeps getting stronger.
(Is this the point at which I take my traditional jab at the imbecilic Toronto blogger who urged Don's replacement 18 months ago due to the fact that he's nothing but a "caretaker" Commissioner and the league needed someone who would, you know, DO stuff? No? My bad.)
Nobody can argue that this isn't a ballsy move. Depending on the terms of any "private funding" - namely, how much of the league's ass will be on the line? - this is surely a first in American sport: a league building a stadium and then inviting people to come bid on putting a team there.
Make no mistake, this is Don's program, Don's Dream and Don's Passion.
This will be the thing he'll be remembered for. An all-in roll of the dice on something which is along, long ways from a sure thing.
Starting up S.U.M. to create a revenue stream which encouraged the cowardly weenies in places like Seattle and Portland and Montreal who had been saying "MLS? Oh gosh, that's just too risky, I'd never do anything that bold and gutsy. I only want a sure thing" to go ahead and buy a team? Yeah, that's a nice case study for second year Kellogg projects but the rest of the world isn't all that interested.
Expanding to 20 teams, getting a bunch of stadiums built, both nice, but it's likely that 20 years from now all of it will be seen as having been more or less inevitable.
But this; this is Don's legacy. If it ends up hosting blockbuster crowds, wild passionate fans and intense media interest, then it will be a crowning glory.
However, if Assemblyman Moya and his fellow Barcelona fans have as little interest in laying down their money to watch third round draft picks, foreign journeymen and grizzled old veteran MLS ankle breakers in Queens as they have in Harrison, then it may not be long before Don's Dream becomes more like Don's Folly.