|MLS Commissioner Don Garber with|
the "State of the League"
The annual "State of the League" teleconference with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber took an unexpected turn when the discussion shifted away from David Beckham's departure and onto Orlando City's efforts to gain an MLS franchise.
A number of my follow reporters and bloggers reached out to me immediately with texts and emails asking for a comment on Garber's statement and a lot of them seem to think Orlando was moving to the back burner. Well let's look at what exactly was said during the teleconference with regards to Orlando. You can listen it the entire conference at the MLS provided link here.
Around the 58 minute mark of the teleconference, Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel asked the following question, "Can you (Don Garber) tell me your thoughts on Orlando City SC, the research they've done into a possible soccer specific stadium and the possibilities of MLS returning to Florida and what the time frame on that might be?"
Garber responded with the following, "I've said many times that we need to be south of Washington DC, it isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when. And it's probably a matter of where. We continue to believe that Florida needs and MLS team. Before I get to Orlando, at some point I think it would make sense for a team in Miami, certainly not now. But that market continues to change, continues to evolve demographically, and gets closer and closer to countries in South and Central America and continues to be an intriguing market for us. We've spent a lot of time with Phil Rawlins, I would call him a friend of the league, we are very impressed with what he is doing down in Orlando. I have spent time down there with Phil and his ownership group and met with county mayors and city mayors and others who are looking at what might happen with their large football stadium (i.e. the Citrus Bowl) and their plans for a soccer specific stadium. We will continue to monitor what's happening down there. I think at some point that if they are able to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense we'd be very interested in working with them on an MLS team."
Paul Tenorio followed up with, "does it make it an easier process because of the success Orlando City has had at the lower professional level?"
Garber's response was, "Absolutely. We've seen four or five clubs come in from the second division and be successful, not just successful but exponentially build on the success they were able to achieve in the lower divisions. Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal are all examples of that. We think their doing a great job and they're good guys too. And they really love the game."
The related item came nearly 90 minutes into the teleconference with our friend Ives Galarcep over at Soccer by Ives asking his final follow-up question of, "there's been so much talk about New York becoming team 20. If the time comes where the New York expansion team is viable and is going to happen but you also have another expansion city with a stadium and a great plan in place. Would you consider adding two teams or is it pretty much add team 20 then wait?"
To that Garber responded, "It's team 20 and then to wait because we don't know when that team will take the field. If we aren't able to get something finalized we would have to start looking at other markets until we were able to execute a second team in New York. We've talked about Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami, we haven't talked about Minneapolis as they have also expressed interest in an MLS team. I think you will continue to see interest in the sport and in the league with potential investors in new markets. The goal remains to try and get something done here (New York), if not we will look elsewhere."
So what does this mean for the nervous Orlando City supporter sitting on their couch or in their cubical reading these excerpts? In a word, nothing.
While some might see the mention of Atlanta and Miami in the same sentence as Orlando when the talk shifted to expansion in the Southeast, this is no different than any previous statement from Garber on potential cities in that area. For the commissioner to single out Phil (Rawlins) and the rest of the group at Orlando City shows reflects the position of the franchise in MLS' expansion considerations. Furthermore, shortly after the teleconference was over, MLS posted this article on "Future Expansion in the South" on their site with a picture of Phil Rawlins and Don Garber from the Supporters Summit back in March.
Perhaps the only concern for Orlando City fans might be the vague reference to WHEN that came out of the final question from Ives Galarcep. If MLS' intention is to hold off on expansion until NY2 is settled, and NY2 is still on track for a 2016 kick-off, does that mean the earliest Orlando could join the league would be 2017? Not in my book. As Garber has said on countless occasions the efforts in New York and Orlando are independent, and while NY2 remains the main focus of the league, regular monthly discussions on the stadium and franchise efforts in Orlando continue.
No one with Orlando City seems to be worried and I doubt that any of the supporters should be either.