Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CONCACAF Gold Cup Venues in the Southeast: Possible Reason for MLS Expansion?

The venues for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup we're announced on December 17th. The tournament will be hosted by the United States and will bring in teams from all over North America and the Carribean. The winner will get an automatic bid to the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013. How does this affect the growth of soccer in South Carolina?

Simply put, the venues are close to home as opposed to the 2009 tournament that was also hosted in the U.S. The closest venue for the last edition of the Gold Cup was in Washington D.C. for the soccer fans here in South Carolina. This time around one of the venues of the tourny is Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The stadium, home of the professional American football team the Carolina Panthers, holds 73,778 spectators and is one of the larger stadiums hosting the tournament. The game that will be played is on June 9th in the summer of 2011.

This is a chance for the soccer fans not only in South Carolina, but the whole of the southeast United States to show that we deserve an MLS expansion. Though it seems the future is dim for an expansion team in the south. The MLS has a goal to reach twenty teams by 2012. With the 19th team in Montreal being added in the 2012 season only one potential spot is left. With Detroit and a revival of the former NASL team the New York Cosmos making strong bids for the 20th franchise, will a grassroots effort be enough to get a team in the southeast?

Don Garber, the Major League Soccer Commisioner, was quoted as saying, "You can’t be a national league unless you have teams in the South." Being a valid point and coming from the head man himself you would hope we could get the whole of the powers at be in on the idea of a southeastern team. And it raises the question: With teams in all corners of the United States, why does the southeast not have a team?

Well, originally there were teams in the southeast. When the MLS was created in 1996 it had ten teams with one in the south; the Tampa Bay Mutiny. The Miami Fusion was added in 1998 along with Chicago Fire S.C. This seemed like a hopeful effort to grow soccer in the south, but it was shortlived. Both teams folded in 2002 and left the south without an MLS franchise. So it seems that the MLS would have problems granting a franchise to any city in Florida. So what is the number one choice?

I think if we did get a team in the southeastern U.S. the number one choice would be Atlanta, Georgia. Owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, has shown interest in bringing an MLS franchise to Atlanta. Sadly, it seems his number one priority right now is getting a new stadium for the Falcons. If he doesn't show serious interest in bringing the beautiful game to Atlanta in the next year, we'll have to wait for an MLS franchise for a couple more years.

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