The commissioner's nose is growing
Peter Apanel -- a Portlander who likes the Paulson stadium deal even less than we do -- has been complaining by e-mail to whoever will listen that the commissioner of "major league" (by U.S. standards) soccer knowingly misled the city late last year in his sales pitch for a soccer-centric stadium. Apanel has noted that the commissioner was saying that his league would not expand beyond 18 teams in the foreseeable future, and so that if Portland didn't agree to the PGE Park renovation right away, its chances of having a franchise here were slim to none. But in fact, Apanel notes, the league is planning to expand to at least 20, and possibly 21, teams within three years. And Garber reportedly knew that when he spoke in Portland.
Yesterday I found an interesting bit of video on the city's website. It's from the first soccer task force meeting, held on December 9, 2008.Apanel also sends along a couple of links from Canadian bloggers who howled back in December that Garber was not being candid. They are here and here. Be advised: Some of the language there is a little salty.
At 26:30, Merritt Paulson states, "If we miss the opportunity this round, it's unlikely Major League Soccer will ever come to Portland, given the league's goal of capping expansion."
Then, beginning at 37:30, and ending at 39:00, there's a discussion in which one member of the task force asks MLS Commissioner Don Garber why MLS has a cap set at 18 teams.
Garber replies that FIFA, MLS's governing body, has a "mandate" throughout the world which limits leagues to 18 teams. Garber goes on to suggest that an 18-team cap is really just focused on European leagues, implying that MLS might someday expand beyond 18 teams.
But then Garber adds, "We believe our success has been driven by a slow, strategic, careful plan." He then refers to the dangers of over-expansion, and says that MLS owners are focused on finding the right size. Garber says, "We believe that size is 18. Who knows what it will be 10 or 20 years from now? But for the next round it will be 18 -- limited to that for awhile."
Well, here it is, just seven months later, and look at where things now stand.
It turns out that the New York Times, on November 18, 2008 (three weeks before that first soccer task force meeting), quoted Garber as saying, "We'll have two new teams in 2011, and we'd like to add two more sometime thereafter, but there's no timetable."
Then on March 18 (two days before Garber announced that Portland had been selected as the 18th MLS franchise), Garber announced that MLS will be expanding to 20 teams in 2012.
But then on May 7, Garber announced that negotiations were being held with Montreal for that city to get an MLS franchise by as early as 2011.
So, what's going on here? It looks like everything that Garber said on that video in December was part of a bait-and-switch strategy aimed at pressuring the city into approving a deal.
The city council needs to start asking some hard questions about the credibility of Garber, and stability of Major League Soccer.