August 11, 2013
By Charles Cuttone
From Gold Cup win to Dempsey return, big two weeks in American soccer
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati is fond of saying soccerís progress in this country is evolutionary, not revolutionary, meaning there is not a single event that provides a seminal moment pointing to the sportís success.
That may be true, but the last two weeks have been an extraordinary time for the game in America. Any of the events alone is significant, but coming as they have, one right after the other, illustrates the significant strides the sport has made in the U.S. and the fact that the game is a strong fixture on the American sports scene.
The two weeks started with the U.S. capturing the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Despite a rocky start to World Cup qualifying, and questions about his coaching ability, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has assembled a roster of players that is both solid and deep, and instilled them with the confidence to achieve great things. I donít think the U.S.ís place in the next World Cup is in question. The question now is only how high into the upper echelon of the World game can the U.S. go.
Just a few days later, in conjunction with the MLS All-Star Game, which was played at Sporting Park in Kansas City, itself a significant jewel in what has happened in U.S. soccer in the recent past, Major League Soccer announced that it would be adding four more clubs beyond the already announced 20th team.
This was a move that not expected to come as soon as it did. After focusing the last two years on getting the second New York team, and successfully doing that with a partnership of Manchester City and the New York Yankees, MLS had planned to hold off on future expansion for a while.
But, with retired star David Beckham holding a chit for a new team, most likely Miami, and other cities such as Orlando, Minneapolis and Atlanta looking to get into the club, MLS decided it would grow to 24 teams by the end of the decade.
At around the same time, the second tier North American Soccer League announced it would be bringing Oklahoma City and Jacksonville into its league for 2015. More significantly for the NASL, its 2014 expansion side, Indy Eleven, has already reached 5,000 season ticket deposits for next year, and the crown jewel of its 2014 expansion, the New York Cosmos, took the field for the first time in 29 years.
While some may look at the Cosmos being in a second division league as a negative, it is in fact a positive for how far the sport has come. The owners of the team have big aspirations, and feel that where they are is a perfect launching pad. A home opening crowd of nearly 12,000 and a road opening crowd of 7,500 at sold out Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg for a Cosmos-Rowdies game bode well for the NASL.
In the same time span, two soccer-specific stadiums appear to have gotten the green light. D.C. United, after more than a decade of trying to get a new facility in the nationís capital, finally reached an agreement in principal for a downtown stadium. There are still some obstacles, but the deal is more real than anything proposed so far, and probably will happen.
MLS Expansion hopeful Orlando also got a funding green light for an $85 million stadium, with local politicians agreeing to kick in $20 million from the state tourist tax. Orlando City SC hopes to take the field in MLS as soon as 2015.
One of MLSís struggling franchises, and only one of two still under its original ownership, the Columbus Crew, was sold for a reported $68 million. Anthony Precourt, a San Francisco area hedge fund manager, purchased the team from the Hunt Family. The sale price is a record for an existing team, topping by $11 million what United sold for last year. It represents a significant return for the Hunts, who spent $5 million to join the league, and $28 million to build Crew Stadium, which is part of the deal. That leaves Anschutz Entertainment Group as the only multiple franchise investor in MLS, owning all of the LA Galaxy and half of the Houston Dynamo. Considering the league was entirely owned by Anschutz, Hunt and Robert Kraft just ten years ago, the move is a significant development for the league.
The most significant development, however, in the minds of a lot of fans, was the signing of Clint Dempsey by the Seattle Sounders. Forget about the navigation of byzantine MLS rules that landed the U.S. National Team star in Seattle, this may be MLSís most significant signing since David Beckham.
Dempsey will be paid one of the highest salaries ever in MLS, but the move is most significant because it marks the return of a U.S. player from Europe at the top of his game. Not any player, but one who was acknowledged as one of the rising stars in the English League. That MLS spent as heavily to get Dempsey shows the league is serious about not only developing talent, but also of being a destination league for top players.
All in all, a pretty revolutionary two weeks in the evolution of soccer in the U.S.