MountainStar Sports Is Knocking, But Will MLS Answer?
Triple-A baseball team? Check.
Downtown ballpark? Check.
Changing hearts and minds in El Paso? Check.
A Major League Soccer franchise? Weeellll...
When you think about the mountains that MountainStar Sports Group has climbed in just two years, you want to believe Alan Ledford. Writing about this very subject of soccer in our city for years and years, I want to believe Alan Ledford.
And what's not to believe?
Haters cried foul that the process of creating Southwest University Ballpark was collusion with councilors, welfare for the well-off. Ironically, the issue imploded more than one career at City Hall.
There was the team name controversy, cost overruns, the construction delay...
A first-class stadium, a summer of fun, affiliated ball and nachos in a dog bowl later, and who needs plastic structures?
Hey, the bottom line is these MountainStar guys are pretty good. They are thorough and connected and they have bank.
But do they have a shot at bringing MLS to downtown El Paso?
Sadly, I say no.
Believe me, they have my support. I'm liking and tweeting and hashtagging the "Bring It MLS" campaign. Read the website and check out the "Why El Paso/Juárez?" section. The stats are incredibly compelling.
The reality isn't, though, because there is perhaps just one more expansion franchise to hand out before MLS reaches its self-imposed limit of 24 teams.
With 19 teams now, NYCFC and Orlando City join next season. Atlanta follows them. David Beckham's Miami-Bound Machine will have the 23rd team the moment he gets the city to say yes. Think Becks has ever had a problem getting people to say yes? Me neither.
That leaves one franchise to give.
So, who's the competition?
Minneapolis has its other pro franchises behind its bid, San Antonio already has a stadium, Sacramento may be late to the game but they're ready to build, Austin brings its money and a considerable population of Anglophile hipsters to the fray and St. Louis is one of the greatest American soccer cities in a history of the game here that stretches back longer than you think.
Other than that, we're great!
Don't get me wrong -- I would LOVE for this to happen. For the hundreds of thousands of very serious fans of the game within an hour's drive of downtown El Paso, for the thousands of talented youth players who never get looked at by college teams because they can't afford to play with the right clubs, for an area that is proving that it will pay to support things that are done well.
But let's not forget Mexico, because Cd. Juárez is a key component in MountainStar Sports' worthy quest. Look at those stats from the website again and you realize that, rightly, the demographics are about a community of nearly three million people, not a city of 800,000.
Would Mexican soccer fans travel north of the border the way El Pasoans did when Indios fever gripped the Borderland? Frankly, that's a tough ask.
Not that MountainStar couldn't do a great job of getting cynical Liga MX fans to pay attention, but MLS is still the kid with no rep trying to get in the game. There is some serious PR work ahead, though MLS isn't shying away from that and would do well to consider El Paso as an entry point to a country full of soccer fanatics.
As for El Paso, I still have hope for the sport here. Why it's taken this long for civic leaders even to pay attention to what soccer could do in this region is beyond me. If nothing else, the fact that MountainStar Sports takes this seriously will finally get some of those leaders to do the same.
These MountainStar guys, they're good. They've scaled plenty of steep odds, but this could be Everest.
Got your oxygen tanks ready?