Orlando is set to secure Major League Soccer’s (MLS) latest expansion franchise after a key vote on funding for a new stadium went in its favour on Tuesday.
The Florida city’s county commission has approved US$20 million in tourism taxes to be used toward the funding of an $84 million downtown MLS stadium. The commission’s decision came after a unanimous vote earlier this month by city officials on the same funding plan to help the United Soccer Leagues’ (USL) Orlando City club build the 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium. The team will contribute the rest of the funding for construction, with Orlando City owner Phil Rawlins stating an agreement with MLS could be completed within weeks.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s vote, MLS president Mark Abbott said the League would add a franchise in Orlando if the stadium funding was approved. “We’d like Orlando to be the next expansion team,” Abbott told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. “We have in place a number of the factors that we think are needed to be successful, a strong leadership group and a strong fan base, but in order for a team to come here we need a stadium.”
English Premier League club Manchester City teamed up with MLB baseball franchise New York Yankees to land the League’s 20th club, New York City FC, in May. The team expects to begin play in 2015 and MLS officials are now focused on expanding the League to 24 franchises by 2020. Abbott said the League is already convinced a team will be successful in the Orlando market due to its young, diverse community, and previous MLS failures in Florida – the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny – aren’t a concern. “Right now our focus is on Orlando,” he added. “What their average attendance has been over the last couple of years and with what they did at that magnificent championship game, I think they’re a model team and we’re looking forward to having them in Major League Soccer.”