Last Saturday night, Orlando City Soccer Club beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-2 in front of a crowd of 6,877 at the Florida Citrus Bowl as part of a pre-season friendly.
Last Sunday afternoon, Chivas USA defeated FC Dallas 3-1 at the Home Depot Center in front of an announced crowd of 6,801 in a regular season match.
No folks, I did not forget a "1" in front of that number, there were less people at a regular season Major League Soccer (MLS) match in Los Angeles than a pre-season friendly in Orlando. In fact that number of 6,801 was what MLS actually reported, but the crowd was far less and that number included close to 2,000 tickets that were given away.
Several of you took to Twitter and Facebook and asked what the chances are that Chivas USA would be relocated by the league, potentially to Orlando. I've wondered that myself; would MLS acknowledge the failure of the Chivas experiment force the team to relocate. It happened in 2006 when San Jose was relocated to Houston, but could it happen again?
If you followed the blog last May I wrote an article about MLS Relocation and listed the four teams most likely to relocate in the next ten years. I highly recommend you check out that piece, but here's the spoiler alert, Chivas USA was on the top of the list.
The point that was true then and is true still today is that two teams cannot succeed while sharing a single stadium. When the "Chivas" concept was conceived back in 2003 and announced with the launching of the club in late 2004, MLS figured the large Hispanic population of Southern California would come out by the thousands to support a Mexican spin-off club. The Home Depot Center was the crown jewel of soccer-specific stadiums at the time and even though it was located in Carson, some 15 miles outside of downtown LA the location never seemed to be a concern.
Almost 10 years since joining the league and the entire franchise model for MLS has changed. Teams are more fan and supporter oriented, stadiums are not just soccer-specific, but in prime downtown locations. While the LA Galaxy have managed to fill the seats by spending big money on names like Beckham, Donovan, and Keane, Chivas has struggled to establish a presence in the crowded entertainment market of Los Angeles.
It almost seems like a no-brainer that Chivas should relocate, but it's not that simple.
First off, they already play in a top-notch soccer-specific facility with the Home Depot Center. For the team to relocate they would have to go to another soccer-specific stadium; there's no way MLS will allow the team to backtrack and move to a football stadium. Right now there are zero professional grade soccer-specific stadiums in America that aren't already occupied by an MLS team. You could argue that Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego or Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas would be good short-term homes, but they are not soccer-specific. Assuming you agree that MLS will only move a team to a soccer specific stadium that puts Orlando at the top of the list as they will likely have their stadium open sometime in 2015.
Next, if the team relocated they would have to stay in the west most likely. Currently there are 19 teams in MLS, 9 in the western conference and 10 in the eastern conference. With the 20th team likely coming from New York or Orlando, that means Houston would likely move to the west to have 10 teams in each conference. Let's say Chivas relocated to Orlando and New York was awarded the 20th team as an expansion franchise, that would put 11 teams in the east and 9 in the west. So now Houston and another team, most likely Sporting KC, would both have to move out west. Now what was once a well represented part of the country, Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada are only represented by the Galaxy and that's not going to happen. There are too many people living in the southwest for just one team to exist alone, the league is about building rivalries. If Chivas was to move it would likely be to somewhere else in the southwest (i.e. San Diego, Las Vegas, or Phoenix) so as to maintain the fan base while moving to a potentially more profitable market.
Will Chivas relocate? Probably, but not for several more years. MLS would rather allow them to exist in a reduced capacity at the Home Depot Center than focus new energy into relocating the team. With the New York effort still not set in stone and Orlando knocking on the doors of the league offices with a forthcoming stadium plan it's not the right time for Chivas to move. MLS will have to move Chivas in the next 5-10 years to expand their footprint with an established, albeit weak, brand in the southwest. When that happens perhaps "The Goats" will finally find the greener pastures they deserve.
Photograph Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons