This opinion editorial continues the discussion about what could be beneficial for FC Cincinnati’s bid to join MLS. The piece below was penned by new feature writer Kevin Edward Wallace who also displays his work on Hope the Blog (thepridecincy.com). We hope you enjoy Kevin’s work. Please leave your comments below!
American soccer is weird, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. We just saw one of the highest profile players (Dom Dwyer) in MLS “traded” for money. Now I’m no economist, but I could have sworn when you exchange money for a good or service, you bought it. But not in American Soccer, nope, that’s trading TAM, GAM, or whatever they call it, for a non-DP. Totally not weird, right? Sadly, the weirdness doesn’t stop with MLS machinations and monopoly money.
The top flight of soccer (MLS) in the US is limited to a select few who play an objectively stupid game of “Woo the Don” (MLS Commissioner Don Garber). Supporters, like us here in Cincinnati, are encouraged to go to private airplane hangars and hold a rally for the MLS commissioner when he visits their city. This isn’t just a Cincinnati thing either, it has happened in other cities as well. So we find ourselves fans of not just a soccer team, but of boardroom politics and billionaires.
People in Indianapolis are following city politics in San Diego, people in Phoenix are bemoaning the passage of a city referendum in St. Petersburg, and the folks in Charlotte leave pithy comments on news articles about Saint Louis tax initiatives. I’d be willing to bet there are a fair number of people who have spent more time trash talking a city’s MLS bid than that city’s actual soccer team.
Though in some cases, the expansion candidates don’t have a team which is, well, weird. And despite how none of this makes sense, I still want what is best for my team and my city. Right now, the best thing that can happen to FC Cincinnati is getting into MLS. This means having a seat with the powerbrokers of US Soccer and getting right into the middle of this weirdness.
But since we do have to become the fans of these bizarre “expansion games”, I might as well have a rooting interest. Of course, the first priority is for FC Cincinnati to get the call to join MLS. But while we’re rooting for things, I am going to be rooting for the Sacramento Republic FC (USL) bid for MLS as well.
For FC Cincinnati fans obsessed with attendance, Sacramento is a team we passed long ago. But a lot of our fans might not realize that Sacramento has sold every ticket they can. Their stadium, Bonney Field/Papa Murphy’s Park, holds roughly 11,000 people. The crazy part is, Sacramento Republic has roughly 11,000 season ticket holders. In fact, they have a waiting list for their season tickets!
FC Cincinnati has been blessed with having Nippert as their first home, and the biggest advantage there has been the size of the attendance. If Nippert were a 15,000 person stadium, I would suspect we would look very similar to Sacramento Republic. They have what FC Cincinnati has been doing, just for a longer period of time. Their fans are supportive of the team, the team is competitive (having won one league title in their three full seasons), and they have the support of their city. The Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati are very similar and represent what is good and possible in lower division soccer in the United States. They’re weird but in a good way.
So when it comes time for MLS to add two more teams to their ranks and add a few clubs to the allocation order, assign discovery rights, and doll out GAM, TAM, and international roster spots, it would be best for everyone if they rewarded lower division excellence and added Cincinnati and Sacramento.
Rewarding engaged owners, fan support, and competitive teams means MLS brass values these qualities. It signals to other prospective MLS clubs/owners that if they want in, they need to start building something great right now. It tells “team” “owners” in Detroit and San Diego that if they want in MLS, they need to put their money where their mouth is and start building clubs in these communities right now.
Start winning NASL and USL titles, or make deep US Open Cup runs now. Start getting sponsorships and stadium arrangements in place now. Start building soccer in this country now. Nothing is more insulting to a fan of an existing team than the fact that these cities and billionaires who have done nothing for soccer should be anointed the new “Princes of American Soccer” without having to have put in an ounce of groundwork.
We can see this happening with Miami. Miami FC is owned by Riccardo Silva, a man who has already played a role in keeping NASL (D2) alive, selling MLS TV rights overseas, and cultivating a successful team in Miami. While I think there are valid criticisms of Miami FC and Silva himself, everyone can see what he is building in Miami, and it is paying off with their own Open Cup run this season.
While Silva has marketed his team, worked in the community, employed players & staff, and kept the NASL afloat, David Beckham is just going to waltz in and be handed an MLS team in the same city. No, Beckham doesn’t need to build a team in the PDL first, then move them to the USL, then to MLS. And no, he won’t be buying Miami FC and bringing them into the league. And this should be discouraging to soccer fans all over the country!
Now, let’s just say that Sacramento Republic does not make it into MLS. Then you could expect the soccer landscape to become very different. If Sacramento does not make it in, I would not expect Cincinnati to make it either. And once these teams that have built themselves up, made themselves the best they can be in the second division, are told “sorry, your media market isn’t quite what we’re looking for”, then “the game” changes.
You could see a number of teams that have MLS aspirations in smaller markets either have their owners lose interest, or be tempted by the potential of the NASL. And we all know the NASL has had its problems, but a lot of those problems could be fixed by an influx of independent USL teams that are disillusioned with the MLS process.
For example, there is a very real possibility of MLS deciding to take Phoenix and Nashville in this coming round of expansion, then adding San Diego and Detroit in the next round. That leaves USL teams in Cincinnati, Sacramento, Tampa Bay, Saint Louis, Louisville, Charlotte and San Antonio in a league that is full of MLS2 teams and happy to play second fiddle to MLS. While at the same time the NASL is trying to create an open pyramid with the NISL and NPSL, allows investors to put as much money as they want into their teams, and is hoping to create a soccer system that exists on its own.
Then in this scenario, imagine the NASL waiving expansion fees for these USL teams. All of a sudden you could be looking at a 2020 NASL that looks like this:
New York Cosmos
North Carolina FC
Puerto Rico FC
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Detroit City FC*
Saint Louis FC
San Antonio FC
New Orleans Jesters*
San Francisco Deltas
Sacramento Republic FC
Orange County FC
*rumored and public NASL expansion teams
Admit it, this league would be a lot of fun. This would be a league that would include a good number of large media markets, strong ownership groups, and loads of fan support. There would be enough teams to work as local rivals, and I think a lot of these teams would be up for playing each other. The excitement this league could draw would be impressive. And with other potential NASL expansion teams and USL independents, a second division (NISL) could be formidable as well. Throw in promotion and relegation, and boom, we start to have an open pyramid (at least part of the pyramid) that rewards excellence and punishes failure.
The problem with this setup is, well, it’s pie-in-the-sky. The NASL could very well not make it to 2020. USL teams looking for MLS may not have an option but to languish in the second division that is a functional reserve league. And a number of these teams may not be able to survive.
Again, all of this would be a reaction to an MLS that tells the soccer community that no matter what you do, they really only want to see a good media market and wealthy owners. And that is a bad message. We should be encouraging more and more investment in the game at the lower levels. Inviting the creation of more academies, hiring more coaches and trainers, and giving more opportunities to Americans to become professional soccer players. Which is why FC Cincinnati fans need to be rooting for Sacramento’s MLS bid, in addition to our own.
Now I can already hear the moans and complaints from Tampa Bay Rowdies fans and North Carolina FC fans. The reason I am not pulling for you is frankly, we are competitors. I would expect MLS to take two teams from the east and two teams from the west. And with that, I would like FC Cincinnati to win the bid instead of other teams in the east. In the west, Sacramento is the objectively best option. They have been doing the best for the longest of any other team. And that is exactly why they need to be supported in their bid for MLS by FC Cincinnati fans.
As a fan of soccer in the United States, I want to see the sport do as well as it can. And right now, in the weird system, we have at the moment, that means adding Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati to MLS. Passionate fans and cities that have bought into their teams do not happen overnight, these teams have put in work, and we need to be rewarding that. It tells future MLS expansion bids that you need to put in work to build this sport. You need to help create the thing you want to be a part of. Sacramento Republic and FC Cincinnati in MLS would immediately be some of the most interesting teams, bringing great fans that rival the rest of the league. So what do you
So what do you say, Don? Let’s make this thing as good as it should be.
Kevin Edward Wallace – @BearcatZoo