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Major League Soccer expansion to Orlando on fast track

October 23, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • The Orlando City Soccer Club says it's ready for a shot at MLS.
The Orlando City Soccer Club says it's ready for a shot at MLS. ( )

Orlando took a big step toward joining Major League Soccer on Tuesday when the Orange County, Fla., board of supervisors approved a funding plan for construction of a downtown soccer-specific stadium.

Orlando City SC, the USL Pro champion, will begin expedited negotiations toward becoming an MLS expansion franchise in time for the 2015 season. An expansion franchise has already been approved in New York for the 2015 season.

"We'd like Orlando to be the next expansion franchise," MLS President Mark Abbott told the Orlando Sentinel. "We have in place a number of  the factors that we think are needed to be successful, a strong leadership and a strong fan base. Once we finalize [a stadium plan], we will have a Major League Soccer team here."

The price tag for the stadium is estimated at $85 million, of which Orlando City FC will contribute $30 million. County commissioners followed city officials in approving the use of funds generated by a local tourist development tax to pay for various venue projects, including the soccer stadium.

When New York's expansion plan was approved earlier this year the expansion fee was an MLS-record $100 million. The league is expected to ask Orlando for $70 million.

Adding a franchise in Florida will help MLS expand its reach into the Southeast, where the league has no presence. But there is some fear the league might be expanding too far, too fast. When New York and Orlando join the league in 2015, MLS will have 21 teams, more than any major European league. Eight years ago MLS consisted of just 12 teams.

The league has several struggling franchises, including Chivas USA. There is also concern that the talent level of top-flight soccer in the U.S. might  not be deep enough for continued expansion, with the two new teams creating positions for about 60 more players.


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