In the first question in his first interview, Jerome de Bontin took a shot at Don Garber's all-consuming quest to put an expansion team in his home borough. Garber fired back at his "state of the league" address.
Plenty were wondering exactly how Don Garber would answer Jerome de Bontin's assertion that, contrary to the line of thinking Garber keeps pushing, New York isn't ready for a second team.
Yesterday, during his State of the League address, we got Garber's answer.
According to live tweeting on the part of Empire of Soccer's Dave Martinez and The Gothamist's Dan Dickinson, de Bontin will appreciate Garber's brilliance when he understands "the project" and that his comments are just a result of him "being new."
Well, that's great and all, Don, but the immediate dismissal of de Bontin's comments as naivety shows just how big Garber's head has gotten thanks to the success of Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland and Montreal and how all-encompassing his quest for NY2 has become.
Bluntly, all these franchises have been successful because they proved themselves before they even got into the league. Bring up soccer rivalries in front of a Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers fan and you'll hear pretty quickly about the history of soccer in those cities. The Impact existed for 19 years before earning an MLS call-up. Philadelphia practically forced the league to give it a team.
In New York, there's the Red Bulls, which detractors are quick to point out play in New Jersey and can't fill their stadium despite a 22 million person metropolitan area. The last pro team to play in New York was FC New York, who drew as little as 338 fans and as many as 2,011, where attendance figures are available during the 2011 USL-Pro season. The only other pro soccer outfit is the NASL's New York Cosmos, set to start play next season, but, really, they've spent more time selling shirts (even virtual ones) and shortchanging youth programs than playing actual soccer. Oh, and they have a supporters group, too. But unlike the Sons of Ben, they've really done more sitting around and talking than anything.
And that's the issue. In Portland, Seattle, Montreal and Philadelphia, the market made it known the city was ready for soccer. In Garber's mad dash -- they're "at the finish line" guys -- he's completely ignored that his beloved Queens (or, should I say, Long Island, since the Cosmos will play at Hofstra) will actually have the chance to prove themselves starting next spring. Instead of a careful approach, as the last few expansions seemed, it's a head-long rush down the 7 line to Flushing.
Of course, if the NASL iteration of the team falls flat, it'll be a case of "lack of public transportation" and that "the team isn't in New York proper" or that "the Queens and Long Island market will be more receptive to MLS than NASL." Not that, maybe, just maybe, the league has to do more to convince New Yorkers MLS, or any sort of American pro soccer, is worth it. But it can't be the high levels of Eurosnobbery or the Red Bulls' futility. That'd be too easy.
As for the near-universal support for the New York expansion team, it's hard to fathom how teams like the New England Revolution or D.C. United who have untenable stadium situations are a-okay with the league scouting stadium locations, then doing everything except, apparently, ponying up the money to pay for it. Chivas USA, too, is reportedly looking to build their own stadium, which could, possibly, go a long way toward making that team more stable and less a quasi-xenophobic trainwreck. The Columbus Crew are looking for new owners and the Revs could sure use some.
Those four teams could sure use a little help from the league, but screw it, there's some land in Queens and everyone there just can't wait for some soccer! Despite not knowing anything about it.
So, yes, the league should totally and completely disregard de Bontin's questions about the city's "maturity" and that the league might be rushing things -- let's be honest, by all indications, they are -- because he's "new." Not that de Bontin wasn't on the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors or anything.
At some point, someone is going to have to answer questions. Especially if the NASL Cosmos fail to live up to the grandiose goals Chairman Seamus O'Brien set for his team, or even fail to do half as well.
But for the time being, make sure you repeat the party mantra about an expansion team in New York being good and necessary and that pulling out all the stops to make it happen is the best thing for the league right now or you'll be brought back in line during the league's most covered press event. Ignore that the project does have some very legitimate and serious questions that need to be answered.
And Don, don't bother yourself with petty concerns like "are there better candidates?" or "is the market ready?" or the fact that the market you so lust after (which happens to be where you're from) will have the chance to prove itself starting next year. You're the Soccer Don. You don't have to answer to anybody.