Major League Soccer officials have become increasingly discouraged about being able to hold this year's league championship game in Tampa and are preparing to offer the Oct. 15 match to RFK Stadium, sources said yesterday.
Barring a last-minute resolution to negotiations involving the use of Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, the league is expected to turn to Washington to host the final for the second time in MLS's five-year history. The league and the D.C. Sports Commission, which oversees and manages RFK Stadium, would have to agree to a contract before an announcement could be made.
MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said the league still is "in discussions with both groups" and hopes to make an announcement in seven to 14 days. However, he did say that D.C. organizers have "come back with a very nice and attractive offer."
Neville Waters, marketing director for the sports commission, said: "It looked like it was a done deal in Tampa, but I'm confident we've done a good job, and we've got a good chance of getting the game."
Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Buccaneers and MLS's Mutiny, has been MLS's first choice for the final since this past summer. Several dates have been proposed to accommodate the stadium's schedule, but the current, and presumably final, choice--Oct. 15--is one day after a University of South Florida football game.
MLS would prefer to have at least a week to prepare the field and stadium facilities. Last season, six days after a New England Patriots home game, Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium's field was in poor shape for the MLS title game between D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy and had an adverse effect on the quality of play.
South Florida so far has been unable to reschedule its football game to accommodate MLS. Tampa's efforts were dealt another blow yesterday, when Mutiny General Manager Nick Sakiewicz, who has led the campaign to bring the game in Tampa, resigned to take the same position with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
RFK Stadium was the site of the 1997 MLS final between United and Colorado, drawing a sellout crowd of 57,431--an MLS postseason record.
MLS's lease for United to play its regular season games at RFK expired after last season, and a new deal has yet to be finalized. However, that unsettled matter is not expected to impact negotiations for the championship game.
Foxboro Stadium has hosted the final twice (in 1996 and '99) and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., staged it in 1998.
D.C. Sports Commission Chairman John Richardson is out of the country and couldn't be reached to comment.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.