MLS: Orlando is in Miami and Tampa Bay next?

Joining the MLS would be a wonderful thing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.One of the iconic names in North American soccer.
Joining the MLS would be a wonderful thing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.One of the iconic names in North American soccer.

This past week Orlando took a big leap toward getting their own Major League Soccer franchise, by getting the new soccer only stadium financing plan in place. The MLS  is eager start its southern expansion now that both Orlando and Atlanta are clear on their stadium deals. The MLS  knows that the state of Florida could support teams in both Miami and Tampa Bay. So they are now targets of future expansion plans once they have their stadium plans in place.

Let’s not forget that on Jan. 8, 2002, the official word came down from MLS headquarters that, in a unanimous decision by the MLS Board of Governors, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion were being folded. At the time the league was not on very strong financial ground and felt they needed to be a smaller league.

Times change and now they want a much bigger presence in the Sunshine State and one has to wonder what might have happened if only the MLS had been able to allow the Miami and Tampa Bay franchises to grow?

Meanwhile, that brings us to Tampa Bay where in the old North American Soccer League the Rowdies drew crowds in excess of 50,000 people and where one of the leagues most successful teams.  Many in the soccer community would love to see Tampa Bay in the MLS.

At present the Tampa Bay Rowdies are one of the best teams in the new NASL winning the title in 2012. The team play’s at one of the most beautiful little stadiums in sports Al Lang Field on the waterfront in St. Petersburg. The park seats 7,000 fans but the cost of building a soccer only stadium on the scenic site would be about $85 to $95 million dollars. There would no doubt have to be a deal like Orlando where they majority of the money would come from team ownership and the city would kick in a minor share.

Dollar for dollar the MLS is a good investment and St. Petersburg would be wise to follow the lead of Orlando. The Al Lang is one of the best location’s on the Sun Coast to build a soccer stadium that can also be used for outdoor concerts.

The question remains is local ownership ready to take the Rowdies back to big time soccer? At present there is no clear answer. What about Miami?They seem to have a leg up on the Bay Area in following Orlando into the MLS.

World soccer icon DavidBeckham and his partner Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure have toured potential stadium locations and meeting with city officials about the potential for a MLS expansion team in the southern Florida metropolis.

Claure and Beckham met with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose Diaz and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who gave Beckham a key to the city. They toured Sun Life stadium, currently home of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, and met with chief executive Mike Dee about the potential for a soccer club in Miami playing at the venue. Even though Sun Life has played host to several international friendlies in the past, it would likely be too large a home for a MLS team.

The most likely place for a Miami based MLS  team to play is Florida International University, on whose board of trustees Claure currently sits.Their stadium holds 20,000, which would be right in line with many of the soccer specific stadiums currently in use by MLS. Renovations to that stadium rather than building a new stadium makes far more sense and after the Miami Marlins Stadium disaster there is little hope for any public money to build a soccer stadium. For the moment a Miami bid to join the MLS is on hold till they can figure out a plan to make the FIU stadium fit the MLS model.