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How I learned not to worry about MLS

“Louisville City does not submit bid for MLS expansion at deadline”.

That was the headline of a Courier-Journal article written on January 31st.

I sincerely hope that this did not surprise or disappoint anyone.

Louisville City Football Club is not getting an MLS franchise in this round of expansion. MLS won’t come calling in the next round either, and it is not because we didn’t submit a bid by the “deadline”.

MLS doesn’t want us. We’re not a big enough market. We don’t have a wealthy enough ownership group. We are too close geographically to a bunch of cities that MLS prefers over us.

12 cities recently submitted MLS expansion bids. Deep pocketed investors with shiny new stadium renderings and slick bid packages have knelt before the throne of MLS commissioner Don Garber and made their case for admittance into the royal court.

Have you ever seen the show ‘The Bachelor’? I’m ashamed to say that I’ve cringed my way through a few episodes, and I can’t help thinking about it as an unfortunate but totally accurate metaphor for the MLS expansion process.

12 cities are looking for love, but they only have eyes for Dreamy Don Garber. He is the only one for them, and they will say and do anything to get one of Don’s roses.

Like the television show, the MLS expansion process is a ridiculous charade, a humiliating pageant. Garber ogles the Expansion Bachelorettes, openly commenting about their “market size” and “demographics”. He talks about their “financial backing” and “corporate base”, as if these are attributes that make up a great soccer club.

MLS wants the courtship process to become a public spectacle, as a sort of validation of its perceived status. It has forced a dozen American cities to primp and preen, to walk the catwalk and blow kisses in the direction of Garber and his ownership harem, just for the chance at being granted permission to pay a $150 million franchise fee! How can that not inflate the ego, the sense of self worth?

Let’s all take a moment to remember that in the early-mid 2000s, MLS was in dire straits. It had contracted to 10 teams. Average attendance was stagnant. Two investors, Lamar Hunt and Phil Anschutz, owned the majority of the teams. When the league finally got around to expanding again in 2005, the price of admission was $10 million. At late as 2011 when Portland and Vancouver joined the league, the franchise fee was only around $30 million. Now, just 6 years later, MLS feels that the value of a franchise has increased five-fold. I’m as bullish on the prospects of soccer in North America as anyone, but $150 million? No thanks!

Would I be excited if Louisville City was on the verge of getting an MLS franchise? Yes, I would.

Would I wave a Don Garber Fathead (*cough* Sacramento *cough*), or greet him at the airport like a conquering hero as he disembarked from his private jet (Cincinnati)? Hell no. Have some damn pride, Expansion Bachelorettes!

Generalissimo Donaldo Garbero blesses the Cincinnati masses with his presence

 

There’s MORE THAN ONE kind of Garber FatHead?

I’ll say it again. Louisville will not be in MLS anytime soon, if ever. Louisville City’s only path to the top tier rests on the extremely remote possibility that a system of promotion and relegation will somehow gain acceptance. Sadly, it seems that pro/rel may be further away than ever now, thanks to the very willingness of the Expansion Batchelorettes to pony up insane amounts of money to join the cartel. Why would anyone who’s spent $150 million for entry into an elite private country club agree to a possibility of getting relegated to the YMCA down the street?

It’s a closed door system. Impress the brass, cough up the dough, and you are in — for good. No matter how bad your team performs, no matter how apathetic your fan base becomes, you’re still in. Conversely, once you are out, you are out for good, at least under the current system.

At present, it looks like we are out for good. We didn’t submit a bid to join the club, and the door will be closing soon, if Garber is to be believed. The manufactured scarcity is exactly what has the 12 contestants scrambling to get in the door before it closed. MLS is coyly threatening a sort of permanent relegation, a Division II purgatory for the unfortunate losers.

But we don’t need to be in their club. We have the chance to build something special here without them. We’ve already found love, and we didn’t need to make fools of ourselves on Don Garber’s reality show to find it. We will not shell out $150 million to buy promotion. Think of all the nice things we can buy with all the money we didn’t waste: A stadium? A robust developmental academy? A 10-year contract for James O’Connor? A roster capable of becoming a perennial USL powerhouse (oh wait, we already have that!)?

Hell, for $150 million we could probably buy Lionel Messi in a few years! Think Don Garber wouldn’t find that attractive? Would he give us a rose then?

I’d like to congratulate the Louisville City ownership for not submitting a bid. Let Charlotte and Indy and Phoenix chase the MLS unicorn over the rainbow. Let Tampa and Miami fall all over themselves trying to convince Garber it’s time for another fling. Let Detroit and Nashville steamroll their nascent independent local clubs for a shot at the big leagues. Let St. Louis and San Diego explain how losing their NFL teams means they’re ready for MLS. Let Cincinnati throw a tickertape parade, and let Sacramento print up the fattest FatHead of all time.

American soccer history is littered with leagues and clubs that grew too fast, who thought the soccer revolution had finally come. They charged the battlefield, led by reckless generals full of swagger, but were doomed by poor strategy and market forces that suggested otherwise.

Let’s be the club that grows at our own pace. We’ve got the best record of any team in USL over the last two years. Let’s keep winning. We’ve got a passionate and growing fanbase that was third in USL in attendance last year. Let’s keep growing. We’ve got a thriving, inclusive, eclectic, and fun supporters culture. Let’s get more delightful. We’ve got an increasingly engaged and responsive front office and ownership group. Let’s keep working together. We’ve got momentum on the construction of a stadium of our own. Let’s make it happen.

If we do all these things, the club, the city, and the fans all win. The club can make money and even thrive without MLS. The fans can have fun and enjoy high-quality professional soccer without MLS. The team can win championships without MLS. We can play in a beautiful, modern, soccer-specific stadium without MLS. We can even beat MLS teams without MLS (hello US Open Cup!).

One of these days Dapper Don may just glance over in our direction and notice a mighty attractive club on the banks on the Ohio River. He may wonder why he never noticed the purple beauty (probably because Cincinnati was blocking his view). He might wonder why we didn’t apply to be an Expansion Bachelorette in his show. He might even try to hand us a rose.

If that happens, we might choose to accept his rose. But then at least we could accept it with dignity, knowing that our promotion (or what passes for it in the US) was earned, through passion, sweat and endurance, sprung from grassroots. Built for MLS? Not quite. Built for us? Absolutely.