By RYAN TOLMICH
When Major League Soccer held a ceremony in Miami more than a year ago to announce plans to expand into the Florida city, few could have imagined that MLS wouldn’t be the first pro soccer league to jump back into the difficult market.
The North American Soccer League has done just that, swooping into Miami at a time when David Beckham’s plans for MLS expansion in the city has hit a series of roadblocks. Now, with Miami FC set to play in NASL next year, the league that had grown accustomed to losing markets to MLS suddenly looks ready to take one of its own.
NASL commissioner Bill Peterson insists the timing of the league’s move into Miami wasn’t about trying to beat MLS to the punch. Citing his belief that Miami is big enough to support more than one club if necessary, Peterson says that he believes a potential MLS expansion could be beneficial to both parties.
“It did not have an effect on the timing of any decision,” Peterson told SBI regarding the MLS plans. “Of course, we evaluated it with potential owners. Will this venture be successful if there’s another team in town? We absolutely believe that not only will it be successful, it might be more successful. We do believe that rivalries are good for the fans. It generates more interest in the different communities.
“The market place is massive, so it stands up with other major metropolitan areas that have more than one team and in the rest of the world, you might find four or five teams here. That actually could be a positive if they put a team here, and if not, we’re very happy with the Fort Lauderdale and Miami rivalry. The more the merrier.”
According to Peterson, expanding into Miami wasn’t about the league targeting the market, but rather the product of a viable ownership group emerging in a market the NASL believed has potential.
“Six months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you Miami would be the next team in the league, but a few weeks ago it became obvious that we were going to be in a position to admit this new group because everything was in order,” Peterson said. “It’s more of a natural development process than any sort of target or selection.”
The NASL is targeting a group of 18 to 20 teams as the league continues to expand. There are currently conversations taking place with groups from Hartford, Connecticut; Hamilton, Ontario; and throughout the Midwest, while guaranteeing locations in the Midwest and West coast in the coming years.
Peterson says that those conversations are “very serious”, but admits that it’s hard to predict what will happen with expansion in the coming months.
With Miami FC set to begin playing in 2016, the commissioner did admit there is a chance that more teams could be added to meet a 2016 start date. However, Peterson will not rush a team into a less-than-ideal situation, as the league looks to continue expansion towards an end goal.
“I would say there is a chance that we can add more teams to play next year, but that window’s closing quickly,” Peterson said. “What we’re not going to do is rush into something that we can’t get started properly. With everybody we’re in conversations with, they’re well aware of that and once we reach a certain point, it would make more sense to start in 2017 than 2015. We handle it as needed and when the time arrives, we’ll make the right decision.
“This is team number 12,” Peterson added. “We’ve stated that we’re going to go to either 18 or 20 teams. We’ve got another six to eight teams to add. I guarantee you that we’re going to be on the west coast. I guarantee that we’re going to be in the midwest. When we finish and we’re at 20, we’re going to have a great footprint with very strong clubs.”