When MLS contracted Miami and Tampa Bay after the 2001 season, few pundits could have predicted the expansion boom that started in 2005 and will continue into the next decade.
The numbers are staggering. Five teams have joined MLS since 2005 with a further three sides slated to arrive in 2010 (Philadelphia) and 2011 (Portland and Vancouver). With Montreal looming and other markets interested, MLS is expected to add another couple of teams to that number in the not-so-distant future.
Penning Monday's column on Seattle's first-season success turned my thought process towards the other teams that have arrived in MLS over the past few years. The verdict, on the whole, is a good one in four of the five cases.
Seattle (2009) and Toronto FC (2007) have separated themselves from the other three expansion franchises. Though Seattle's first-year attendance numbers are staggering, there isn't terribly much to discern the two clubs and that disparity is mitigated because Toronto FC could likely draw similar numbers with a higher capacity at BMO Field. Both franchises have ample resources, rabid fans and decent squads. Seattle would probably get the nod in a head-to-head battle given its superior infrastructure on the soccer side; few could quibble with technical director Chris Henderson and coach Sigi Schmid in Seattle, while Toronto FC has the oft-questioned Mo Johnston and interim boss Chris Cummins at the helm. That being said, both franchises serve as models for other clubs around the league to emulate.
Chivas USA (2005) probably comes next based on its recent off-the-field improvements and its on-the-field success, though the difference between the Goats and Real Salt Lake is essentially down to preference. The Red-and-White improved considerably when current CEO Shawn Hunter took over in September 2007. Hunter has done a nice job of growing its once-minuscule following in the crowded southern California market and improving the business side. On the field, Preki has continued the success started by Bob Bradley during his one year at the helm back in 2006. Postseason glory has proven elusive, but the Goats have made three consecutive playoff appearances and look like a decent bet to make a fourth in 2009. Playing at the Home Depot Center isn't ideal in terms of clarifying a still murky club identity and establishing a distinctive brand, but it serves the need well enough.
If playoff success provided the determining measure, Real Salt Lake (2005) would take the gong based on its Western Conference final appearance last season. That one playoff run, however, can't erase the prior futility and the frustrating year that has followed it.
Rio Tinto Stadium | Real Salt Lake's Sandy stadium is the best facility among the five new teams
Though consistent on-field success has eluded RSL, it has excelled for the most part in developing a following in its community and constructing a first-class stadium. The palace known as Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the finest soccer-specific facilities in the country, but it has exacted a significant financial toll on the resources available in other areas. Any small-market franchise entering MLS would do well to look at RSL for some pointers on the business side.
San Jose (2008) has experienced little success since rejoining MLS and lags well behind its brethren. Considering most MLS teams operate on the three-year plan and the Earthquakes are finishing up their second season, the on-field issues probably deserve a mulligan. The real problem comes from the dire stadium situation. Between the barely acceptable temporary home at Buck Shaw Stadium and the current struggles to build the long discussed stadium near Mineta International Airport, the Earthquakes have laid a significant egg where other expansion teams have experienced considerable success. One wonders whether MLS would have granted San Jose a clear path back into the league had it known the stadium situation would develop in this manner.
San Jose's struggles could represent a rare hiccup considering the early signs in Philadelphia (2010) are encouraging. With a soccer-specific stadium in suburban Chester, a strong season-ticket base, a blossoming supporters' group in the Sons of Ben and a proven MLS management tandem in CEO Nick Sakiewicz and coach Peter Nowak, Philadelphia has laid a strong foundation prior to its debut next season.
Around The League
- There's only one midweek MLS game this week, but it's a big one for the Western Conference playoff picture as Chivas USA visits Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.
- Chivas USA enters the match on a two-match winning streak after dispatching Toronto FC 2-0 on Saturday night courtesy of two Sacha Kljestan goals. Preki is expected to name a similar lineup to the one that beat Toronto FC, though Paulo Nagamura (hamstring) and Zach Thornton (calf) could push for recalls assuming they have reached full fitness.
- Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales is expected to miss the match after suffering a right adductor strain in Sunday's 3-1 loss in New England. Andy Williams deputized as a substitute against the Revolution, but Clint Mathis could come into that spot after a one-match ban if RSL coach Jason Kreis prefers to stick with Rachid El Khalifi on the right side of his forward three.
- Jamison Olave should also return to the back line after his suspension with right fullback Chris Wingert likely to make way after the Revs scored on plays started by two longballs down his side of the field. If Wingert is dropped, Robbie Russell would slide to right back to accommodate Olave's restoration.
- Yura Movsisyan missed practice for unspecified reasons on Tuesday and isn't expected to play for the second consecutive match, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
- The jarring stat that should worry RSL despite its formidable home record (6-1-4 with the only loss coming to Kansas City on May 16) this season: Chivas USA has won six of the past seven league meetings
- The three MLS teams involved in the CONCACAF Champions League all take the field on Wednesday night: Houston will take on Arabe Unido in Panama (Fox Soccer Channel, delayed to 8:00p.m. on Thursday), Columbus travels to Mexico to face Cruz Azul (Fox Soccer Channel, 10:00p.m.) and D.C. United hosts Mexican side Toluca at R.F.K. Stadium (Fox Soccer Channel, 8:00p.m.).
- United placed Thabiso Khumalo (infected wrist) on the Disabled List and signed Tiyi Shipalane on loan from Harrisburg (USL Second Division) on Tuesday. After watching Shipalane play against New England in the U.S. Open Cup, it looks like this move is simply one speedy substitute for another. Shipalane spent a brief period on trial with Columbus prior to the season, but didn't win a deal.
- Two other tidbits out of United camp: former Earthquake Adam Smarte is on trial and current Designated Player Luciano Emilio has acquired his green card and will no longer count as an international player.
- One further situation to watch in D.C. over the next few weeks. Academy goalkeeper Bill Hamid “is moving closer to a professional contract,” according to the Washington Examiner. The problem for Hamid: there's no room for him on the roster at this point.
- Chivas USA defender Yamith Cuesta has acquired his P1 work visa and was expected to arrive in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday night, according to 100 Percent Soccer.
- New England midfielder Jeff Larentowicz suffered a fractured right wrist in Sunday's 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake. There is a question of whether Larentowicz will need surgery to correct the break, but that hasn't been determined yet.
- Houston defender Eddie Robinson is approximately two weeks away from a return to the Dynamo, according to the Houston Chronicle. Robinson had microfracture surgery on his left knee during the offseason and has yet to play for Houston this season.
- Highly touted U.S. youth internationals Joseph-Claude Gyau and Charles Renken have signed with upstart German Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. Given the buzz surrounding the duo and the considerable European interest, it was always unlikely that MLS would have a legitimate shot to sign either of them.
- Los Angeles standout Landon Donovan issued a no comment to local scribe Paul Oberjuerge when asked whether there was any truth to the rumors surrounding a possible move to PSG in the close season. The sleeping French giants might be a nice fit for Donovan, but, as per usual, MLS holds all of the cards for either a loan or a permanent deal. Donovan's future is firmly under MLS control with two option years that tie him to MLS until 2011.
- MLS apparently won't make a deal with Nike to acquire the USL. MLS sniffed around making a bid, but decided not to act upon its interest, according to the New York Times.
- The plan to install a new roof on B.C. Place in Vancouver in time for the 2011 MLS season may get pushed to the back burner due to budgetary constraints, according to reports out of British Columbia.
- Lots of international callups this week: Arturo Alvarez (San Jose), Alfredo Pacheco (New York) and Ramon Sanchez (San Jose) for El Salvador; Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago) for Mexico; Carlos Johnson (New York) for Costa Rica; Andrew Boyens (New York) for New Zealand.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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