Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We're getting closer...

It looks like we may be getting closer to getting an MLS club in Houston.

MLS targets city for move of franchise

Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that it has cleared the way for the San Jose Earthquakes to relocate to one of a number of potential cities, with Houston the likely destination.

League commissioner Don Garber said in a prepared statement that the MLS Board of Governors granted approval to the Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of the Earthquakes, to relocate the franchise. The decision came at a meeting Saturday in Frisco, site of the MLS Cup. Houston is the only city specifically mentioned by Garber as a possible new home.

"In order to ensure the team will have the appropriate time to prepare for the 2006 season, a final decision on the location of the team will be reached within the next 30 days," Garber said.

AEG president Tim Leiweke said Tuesday that the company is in the process of finalizing a move to Houston following months of evaluation and negotiations.

"We're really overwhelmed by the support and excitement we've gotten from our various options on facilities and of potential partners on an ownership group. In particular, (Houston)'s a great soccer market," said Leiweke.

He cited the success of events such as InterLiga, the Gold Cup and Mexican national team appearances at Reliant Stadium among reasons for AEG's favoring of Houston.

The news is encouraging to Harris County-Houston Sports Authority head Oliver Luck, who has been involved in efforts to land a soccer franchise for more than a year.

"It's clearly an important step," Luck said. "From our perspective, it's validation for what a great sports town Houston has become."

The Earthquakes have considered playing in at least five venues short term. Leiweke described them only as "high school or collegiate facilities."

Aside from UH's Robertson Stadium and the Cy-Fair ISD complex in northwest Houston, Rice Stadium and the Galena Park ISD complex could be in the mix, said Luck.

He wouldn't rule out the Astrodome or Reliant Stadium.

Leiweke said a decision must be made quickly.

He acknowledged that there have been negotiations with a San Jose-based group, and he suggested that if the Earthquakes don't move to Houston, the city would be first in line for an expansion team in 2007.

"We wouldn't have made this announcement at this point if we didn't think it was more than likely that Houston was the right place to go," Leiweke said.

League sets deadline for San Jose

Houston has long been rumored to be a possible new home of the Earthquakes, with the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium mentioned as a temporary home for the club until a soccer-specific stadium is built. Many of the Houston rumors in the past have included Mexico's Club America as a potential buyer, but Garber said Saturday that the league has not had any recent discussions with Club America.

In addition, five cities with investors interested in playing host to an MLS club had representatives in attendance at MLS Cup this weekend: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Atlanta and Tulsa, Okla.

Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope this comes through. This would be great for Houston, and great for MLS. Oh, and it might be good for me too.

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