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Butler: MLS continues to punch above its world weight class

Noel Butler
7/25/2014 9:12:50 PM
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Exactly this time last year, the USMNT captain was spotted at San Francisco airport. Soon after ESPN reported Clint Dempsey was coming home to a league that in 2007 set him on his way to a successful six- year stint in the BPL.

Tottenham's loss would be Seattle and MLS' gain. 

Over the intervening 12 months, we have witnessed unprecedented growth for a league which next year will celebrate its 20th season.

It was following the 2013 All Star Game Board of Governor's meeting Don Garber informed that having added the 20th franchise New York City FC for a fee of $100m only a few months previously, the league was now on an accelerated expansion path. The stated target was to add four more clubs by 2020.

In the midst of last season's playoffs, to the surprise of many it was announced the 21st franchise had been awarded to the City of Orlando. Like NYCFC, they will join the league next season.

A Cinderella story if ever there was one, only four years ago Orlando didn't even have a professional soccer club until third division club Austin Aztex was relocated to the sunshine state in fall 2010.
 
The man with the MLS plan and extraordinary vision is Phil Rawlins.  Who moved the club from Austin to Orlando with the singular purpose of securing MLS football to a city that is more famous for Quidditch than the Beautiful Game.

No word yet on if Harry Potter is amongst the 7,500 season ticket holders the club sold during the four-weeks of Brazil 2014.

Contingent on stadium approvals in February, Florida was awarded a second franchise. David Beckham, who had previously been linked with New York and Montreal as locations where he would exercise his ownership option, chose Miami.

Beckham and his ownership group have spent the intervening six months surrounded by opposition to their stadium plans. The latest rejection occurred last month when they were denied the right to buy land where they proposed to build a 25,000 capacity stadium which would have been privately funded.  

Scheduled to begin play in 2017, earlier in the week MLS knocked back suggestions Beckham's group were in discussions to purchase Chivas.

2017 is also when Atlanta, the league's 22nd franchise will begin play in a $1 billion multi-purpose stadium which will also be the home for the NFL's Falcons. The ground breaking ceremony occurred in mid-May a little over a month after the announcement Arthur Black had finally secured a franchise.

Black was widely speculated to bring an MLS franchise to Atlanta back in 2009 when eventually Portland and Vancouver were selected.

MLS' new additions for 2015 have wasted little time in announcing DP's of a stardust variety who wouldn't look out of turn playing in any of the top sides from the list of elite domestic leagues in world football that MLS has targeted to be mentioned in the same breath as by 2022.

With a Brazilian in Flavio Augusto da Silva as Orlando's majority owner, it was one of MLS's worst kept secrets when finally early this month, the former world player of the year and Seleção legend KaKa was named as the club's first DP.

Thursday's announcement that Chelsea legend Frank Lampard had joined David Villa at New York City leaves no one in doubt of the intentions for the Sheik Mansour funded club. The hiring of head coach Jason Kreis may well go on to be recognized as one of the greatest managerial coups in league history. 

Lampard disclosed yesterday opportunity existed to extend his Chelsea career but he chose to call it a day as he recognized the club was moving in a different direction.

Renowned as Chelsea's all-time scoring leader, what will not have been missed by Kreis is the fact only Ryan Giggs has more assists than Lampard in the history of the Premier League.

Yesterday he credited Gianfranco Zola for turning him into the player he is. Zola, who was a teammate of Lampard's at Stamford Bridge for two seasons, personified what it was to be the model professional.

Being like Franco certainly allowed Lampard to extend his time at the very top end of world football's most demanding leagues. I have no doubts come the 2015 All Star Game, Lampard will make his third appearance, having done so previously in 2006 and 2012 when Chelsea were the opponents.

As vital as it is for the Kakas, Villas and Lampards of the world to play in MLS – this to me is trumped by the recent news the MLS Cup Champs had signed two of the stand out members of the USMNT Brazil 2014 team.

Securing Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to long term DP deals sends a significant warning shot over the bows of European football.

As Dempsey proved last year, and Michael Bradley this spring, no longer are America's elite players solely focused on carving out a distinguished career in Europe.

DaMarcus Beasley returning after a decade abroad is another watershed moment for our league. No other player in the 100-year history of the USSSF has appeared in four World Cup Finals. Houston has instantly purchased playoff credibility. 

All exciting plots require a villain. This week MLS secured theirs. We could not have asked for a finer rogue than Ashley Cole.

The ex-Chelsea player was arrogant and downright rude in his appraisal for a league which continues, as Lampard stated yesterday, 'to tick all the right boxes.'

"I had offers from the USA, but I'm not ready to relax on a beach yet," Cole stated to reporters earlier this week at Rome's International Airport.

A frequent visitor to Los Angeles, Cole was recently reported to throw a glass of champagne over a UK TV Presenter in an LA nightclub. Which according to one witness allegedly resulted in a 'bar room brawl' that got the attention of the LAPD.

Not sure we want or need his type.

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
(@TheSoccerNoel)

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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