MLS plans to place its 20th franchise in the country's biggest market, which makes a lot of sense.
If you were to build a soccer stadium in a soccer-mad city with the goal of making it reasonably accessible to anyone and everyone in the New York Metropolitan area, there is no better place than Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
It is a prime piece of real estate where the New York Mets call home and where the U.S. Open is held every year. And sooner rather than later Major League Soccer will place a team, perhaps the Cosmos, in the borough of working-class immigrants who have been waiting for years to support their very own futbol club.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen to finalize our agreement with New York City,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said this week. “I do believe that we will resolve that shortly. I can’t put any timetable on that, but we are at the finish line.”
The plan is to have an expansion club, the league’s 20th team, playing in Queens by 2016. MLS is using a conservative time table because building anything in New York City can get very complicated. It’s been more than 11 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and only in the last two years has real progress been made on the Freedom Tower.
A soccer stadium in Queens needs assistance from the Mets, who own thousands of parking spots at Citi Field. And there are certain to be protests from citizens not pleased that a section of their beautiful park is being allotted for a professional sports team.
Ultimately, the deal will go through, the soccer-specific stadium will be erected and Garber will have something that MLS as well as New York needed: a legitimate local rivalry. No one is saying that a Red Bulls-Cosmos derby will rival Man U vs. Man City but in the league’s biggest market this is an important step in MLS’ growth.
I can’t believe that the Red Bulls, a dysfunctional club in many ways, are thrilled with the news. For the record, Garber made it clear that the Red Bulls do not have the right to block a second team in the market. They will be competing for fans, television rights and players. If nothing else, maybe the fear of a New York team will light a fire under the Red Bulls. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, right?
Assuming the club adopts the name Cosmos it can’t adopt the philosophy of the original Cosmos. In the late '70s, the Cosmos handed out lucrative contracts to legendary players in the twilight of their respective careers: Pele, Franz Beckenbaur and Carlos Alberto. The new New York team will have to abide by league rules as it relates to Designated Players.
But there will be no shortage of international stars who wouldn’t mind living in Manhattan and working in Queens. It was good enough for Pele, it is good enough for Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Mario Balotelli and Ronaldo. Lionel Messi would be the crowing jewel, but first things first.
This is a good time for Garber and the league. The commissioner will be in Los Angeles this week to hand the MLS Cup to either Houston or the Galaxy, who will be playing their final match with David Beckham. It will be an historic afternoon on Saturday for the most important player in the league’s brief history.
There is already talk of Beckham becoming at least part owner of the New York team. Garber has dismissed such talk, but Beckham’s involvement would have made perfect sense on so many levels. In a star-driven town, he would give an expansion team instant credibility.
Plus, he already has one son named Brooklyn. Queens could have been his baby.