Canales Daily: Eager MLS Bidder

Sure, it sounds great to have Barcelona as any part of Major League Soccer, but the league has had big-name foreigners before, and they've had to learn a hard lesson about the both the simplicity and difficulty of making it in MLS.
By Andrea Canales

Barcelona president Joan Laporta may never have played soccer at a high level, but that doesn't mean the lawyer doesn't know how to go on the offensive. He is a tough competitor, and he is willing to say what is needed to get something done.

Back when he was running for the presidency of Barcelona, he promised to bring David Beckham to the club. That helped get him to the post, though he ultimately failed in that specific promise. Barcelona fans had to content themselves with Ronaldinho instead.

That ended up working out for Laporta, who is now spearheading a new effort to bring land a Major League Soccer franchise in Miami. In this enterprise, Laporta and Barcelona are teaming up with Miami businessman Marcelo Claure.

Again, Laporta is ready to say whatever will get him ahead. When Montreal, which seemed like an early front-runner in the bidding status, balked at the 40 million dollar expansion price, Laporta took quick advantage of the situation. According to Sports Business Journal, Laporta affirmed that the Miami ownership group had no issues with the price - as long as no other bidding group was allowed to join MLS at a discount.

In essence, Laporta's stance put heavy pressure on the other ownership groups, especially Vancouver and St. Louis, whose bidding plans depend partly on an improvement in the credit crunch or stadium plan approval. They may not have the full $40 million so readily at hand. With Laporta's ultimatum, the league might more easily cross them off the list.

But Laporta wasn't content with merely putting the screws to other bidding groups. He moved to exert pressure on MLS by vowing that the Barcelona Miami bid was a one-time offer and that if passed over, the group would not wait for another year. Not only that, but he has also insisted that the team be allowed to start in 2010, a year before MLS had planned for the next bidding cycle winner to enter.

It's nothing new for foreigners to bluster into MLS full of confidence and flush with capital and success elsewhere. That doesn't translate into making it in MLS, as David Beckham is now well aware.

After all, it was in 2005 that Jorge Vegara famously said that his new MLS squad would teach the league how to play the game. Even the opening season motto, "El futbol esta aqui" seemed to imply that true soccer had arrived only with Vergara's entry, Club Deportivo Chivas USA, to the league. MLS accommodated Vergara's wish to place his franchise in the Los Angeles area, breaking the previously-held stance that teams should spread out.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter how much energy or ideas someone brings to MLS, they've got to perform where it counts, on the field. Vergara's 2005 team didn't do that, setting an MLS record for losses. Though the team has played much better since then, it is in some ways still struggling to regain fans turned off by that debut year.

For that matter the Galaxy have lost season ticket holders since Beckham's opening year. Like Laporte, now-departed Dutch coach Ruud Guillit talked a good game, but he really had no idea how to work within the MLS system to build a good team.

The thing is, in Europe, the shortcut to becoming a good team is fueled by a lot of money. With the salary cap that rules MLS, foreigners are deprived of a favorite tactic to success, the willingness to spend for it.

Basically, it doesn't matter how tough and shrewd Laporta seems or how well-known Barcelona is  - an MLS squad in Miami won't suceed without victories. No one cares to hear outsiders complain about how hard it is to work under the salary cap when all the other teams in MLS have had to do it for years, either.

When all is said and done, the ball is round and the game is 90 minutes long. And no matter a team's pedigree, there's only one mantra that really matters - just win, baby.

Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of USA