Saturday, March 01, 2008

Expansion and tradition meet

Well, that only took about 28 years.

After the Philadelphia Fury of the North American Soccer League took their final goalkick back in 1980, men's professional outdoor soccer has returned to Philly, with a 2010 slated kickoff for soccer in the city of brotherly love. The question is: what the heck took so long?

Funny thing, professional soccer in the States is. Generally, when a major pro sports league expands, it seeps into new, generally untested markets that had never been tapped into (see Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays of the MLB). In fact, it was only recently in which major sports leagues expanded into ready-made markets of cities that had lost franchises, leaving a gaping hole to which the replacement is an expansion franchise (see Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA and Houston Texans of the NFL). But MLS never had a club in Philadelphia, which is amazing considering the amount of soccer history Pennsylvania contains. Bethlehem Steel, Philadephia FC and the Philadelphia Atoms were all prominent soccer clubs during the ASL then NASL days.

I suppose that if history were a determining factor in awarding franchises, then St. Louis and Cleveland would have franchises by now. Obviously, you have to have investors convinced to put forward the money necessary to secure a franchise. MLS is moving very cautiously in order to avoid the same demise as the NASL, especially in a weakening economy like the one the country's currently mired in.

Philadelphia will be the 16th franchise in MLS, after Seattle was named as numero quince. One has to wonder when some investors in the St. Louis and Cleveland areas will finally get their acts together to bring back top-flight soccer back to their respective regions.

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