By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007
MLS Commissioner Don Garber devoted much of his state-of-the-league address yesterday to potential expansion sites, but also took time to express his disappointment that the league's most decorated club, D.C. United, has been unable to reach a deal to build a stadium in the District.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Garber said United's investment group is "back to stage one after years of negotiating with the city and, for us as a league with one of our premier franchises, it is very frustrating."
Negotiations between the city and D.C. United Holdings, a group led by San Francisco developer Victor B. MacFarlane, over a stadium project at Poplar Point in Southeast ended this fall, prompting United officials to explore opportunities in the suburbs.
Since its inception in 1996, United has leased RFK Stadium, a 46,000-seat facility too large and outdated for the club's purposes. According to team officials, United's inability to control a greater share of game-day revenue has prevented it from turning a profit.
MacFarlane has proposed to build a 27,000-seat stadium, along with a mix of housing, offices and shops, at Poplar Point, a 110-acre parcel along the Anacostia River.
Citing infrastructure cost to the city, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty pulled out of talks with the team and launched a competitive bid process. MacFarlane was unhappy with the parameters for developing the land and did not submit a bid. The club is awaiting proposals from the city for alternative stadium sites.
Meantime, some Maryland government officials have shown interest in partnering with United on a stadium plan in the Washington area.
"It's just a shame that they don't have a situation resolved after this much time," Garber said in an interview. "They've got to find a solution. If that solution is outside the District, we will be supportive of it. If it's inside the District, we will be supportive as well, but we want them to get their own facility."
Since 1999, seven MLS teams have moved into medium-size soccer stadiums and two more are planning to do so in the next two years.
Garber was more optimistic about the league's expansion plans. With San Jose set to join MLS in 2008 and Seattle the following year, Garber indicated yesterday that St. Louis and Philadelphia are the top candidates for another team as early as 2009.
The decision would have to be made within two months, Garber said, but that the league is also prepared to wait until 2010 to add a 16th team.
"Philadelphia is very close, they are at the finish line," said Garber, noting that the Pennsylvania state legislature must authorize funds for a stadium project in suburban Chester for the expansion plan to go forward.
The league is planning to have 18 teams in place by 2011, Garber said.
Other expansion candidates are Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Montreal, Portland, Ore., Vancouver and New York, which would play in a proposed multi-use facility next to Shea Stadium in Queens and be operated by New York Mets ownership. The New York Red Bulls, MLS founding members, are based in New Jersey.
"We don't want to expand for expansion sake; we are not in any rush to expand," Garber said. "We are going to wait for the right plan, the right market, the right owner and the right facility."
MLS Notes: Brian Ching, Houston's star forward, remains doubtful for the final against New England because of a calf injury.
"If he's involved, great; if he's not involved, we just have to go on with our business," Dynamo Coach Dominic Kinnear said after a 90-minute practice session at the RFK training grounds.
"If we keep looking over to the sidelines hoping for Brian to get ready, it's going to be a distraction. We have to concentrate on the game." . . .
The finalists to host next year's championship game are MLS stadiums in Carson, Calif., Frisco, Tex., and Bridgeview, Ill. The match will be played Nov. 23, 2008.
Home Depot Center in Carson and Pizza Hut Park in Frisco have each hosted the final twice. Toyota Park, outside Chicago, opened last year. An announcement is expected within a few weeks. . . .
Chicago midfielder Cuauht¿moc Blanco's 25-yard shot of a bouncing ball against Real Salt Lake was voted MLS goal of the year. . . . The 2008 regular season will begin March 29, a week earlier than this year.