Philadelphians may have another team to cheer for within the next two years.
Major League Soccer is enlarging its field from 14 to 16 teams and Philadelphia is MLS' top choice to join Seattle in hosting the expansion teams, which would begin playing in 2009. There is plenty of support from local organizations and fans, but monetary issues involving the state government are threatening to derail any plans for a Philadelphia soccer team.
The MLS has identified Chester, Pa. as a possible location for a soccer stadium, but since the stadium is a joint public-private enterprise, the state legislature must approve funding, which it still has not done.
But for the MLS, the stadium is a key factor in deciding which city gets the expansion team. League spokesman Dan Courtemanche said that the organization wants a stadium made expressly for and owned by an MLS team.
Ownership of the stadium gives the team control of the dates on which the facility can be used and the revenue that it earns from parking and renting out space.
Without these two factors, "it would be next to impossible to be successful off the field," Courtemanche said, also noting that, "Right now the stadium is a crucial factor."
In order to garner support for bringing the MLS to Philadelphia, soccer fans have founded the Sons of Ben, a group supporting a professional soccer team in the area.
Bryan James, one of the founders of the organization, sees Philadelphia as a great location for an MLS team because the city is a top media market and Philadelphians are known for strongly supporting their sports teams.
Courtemanche added that the geographic location of the city lends itself to rivalries with DC United, the New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution.
Soccer teams have come and gone from Philadelphia in the past, but supporters are confident that the MLS will be more successful than past professional soccer organizations.
"Now that the league is over 10 years old, we have gotten over concerns of its viability," said Larry Needles of the Philadelphia Sports Congress.
James agreed, saying that the MLS has proven itself to be an economically sound enterprise, emphasizing the league's ownership of its own stadiums, among other business practices.
"I think it has a clearly defined business model," he said.
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