The worst kept secret in the history of Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion was revealed on Tuesday when officials announced that Premier League club Manchester City had acquired the rights to the league's 20th franchise, New York City Football Club (NYCFC).
While #NYCFC and #MLS trended worldwide on Twitter for several hours, it was business as usual at the headquarters of Orlando City Soccer Club (OCSC). You see, this Tuesday was like every other Tuesday in the three year history of the club; another day crossed off the calendar as the team moves towards joining MLS.
OCSC President Phil Rawlins sent out a coy message of congratulations to NYCFC and MLS this afternoon:
@orlandocitysc congrats to NYCFC on becoming 20th MLS team. We look forward to joining you very soon! #OrlandoBelievesinMLS
— philip rawlins (@OCPres) May 21, 2013
The league and even OCSC itself have been saying for over a year that a second team in New York would likely happen before Orlando joined MLS, but that the efforts in the two cities were independent of one another. NYCFC has been a pet project of the league since it's inception. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, during today's teleconference, stated that even back in 1996 the original design of the league had two teams in New York. Today represented not just a milestone for MLS and NYCFC, but it was a milestone for Orlando City as well.
No longer will the questions focus on when a second team will be awarded to New York, it's happened. Instead the discussions will shift to the final frontier for the league, the Southeast. MLS will award two franchise to cities in the Southeast, giving the league a total of 22 teams and a possible balanced schedule of 42 matches per season. Orlando City is the front-runner for one of those franchises.
I asked MLS Vice President of Communications, Dan Courtemanche, to specifically rule out any further expansion franchise announcements in 2013. Although he did not rule out the possibility he did respond with the following:
"Regarding future expansion clubs, it is too premature to discuss our future expansion plans. MLS could expand beyond 20 teams at some point as the league serves as the top league two large nations, with teams in four different time zones. We have had positive discussions with Orlando City FC about a possible team in that market at some point."Even with funding setbacks, the stadium financing plan is still expected before the end of June along with new renderings of the proposed downtown stadium. Orlando City officials know this, MLS officials know this, and political officials know this. While supporters took to social media expressing concern and doubt about the MLS effort in Orlando, all the parties "in the know" continued on with business as usual. After all, this Tuesday was like any other Tuesday for Orlando City.