We have another potential player for an MLS expansion franchise, as MountainStar Sports Group — the local group that brought Triple-A baseball to a new downtown ballpark this season — says it has had preliminary discussions with Major League Soccer regarding the possibility of adding an El Paso MLS team.
“The ownership group has had several very good meetings with MLS, including meeting on two occasions with Don Garber, the League’s commissioner,” said MountainStar Sports Group President Alan Ledford. “This is the first step in a very long process, and we will continue to pursue all avenues available to urge MLS to consider the El Paso region as a viable expansion market.
“The ownership group is committed to furthering its pursuit and purchase of a Major League Soccer team for El Paso and the region, but strong and consistent support from the community as well as from El Paso’s public officials and the business leadership is critical to this endeavor.”
It’s no secret MLS’s plan is to expand to 24 teams by 2020. That’s led to several cities, including Miami, Minneapolis and Las Vegas to begin efforts to land a team. Orlando and New York City FC will enter the league as expansion teams in 2015. This gives MountainStar plenty of time to organize an El Paso MLS team.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said he supports MountainStar’s efforts to get MLS to consider the City for an expansion team. “I have had several meetings with members of the ownership group and made it clear that they have my support, as long as the process is transparent and inclusive.” he said. “As a city, we can show Major League Soccer that we will bring unique attributes to the League and can compete very effectively, both geographically and economically, with anybody. In my view, we would be a great market for MLS. I think our community will get engaged in this process and MLS will know that we mean business.”
“MountainStar Sports Group and I have had positive discussions regarding El Paso’s opportunity to get an MLS expansion team,” County Judge Veronica Escobar said. “This is a great chance for us to take the next step as a vibrant, growing city and county. We’ve seen what has happened recently with Minor League Baseball and the great support of this community, and now we have an opportunity to take advantage of that success. It’s rare that any city has a chance to seriously be considered as an MLS market, and I think this region will get behind an effort to bring an MLS team here. I will strongly support that effort.”
Ledford said that MLS has strict criteria that a region, or market, must meet to be considered as a viable expansion candidate. “One of the key components that MLS looks for when considering an expansion city is the community support the prospective team would have in that area and what the city or region does to demonstrate that support,” Ledford said. “This is a highly competitive process. El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces would have to collectively put its best foot forward in demonstrating that it truly wants a Major League Soccer team, as well as show how the region would support it.”
MountainStar Sports Group feels that one of the first things El Paso and the region can do is support the exhibition match between Club Deportivo Guadalajara, known as Chivas, and the Brazilian team Cruzeiro Esporte Clube scheduled for July 6 in the Sun Bowl. “This match is being promoted by Soccer United Marketing, which is an affiliate of MLS,” said Ledford. “We believe Soccer United Marketing chose El Paso for this exhibition match for a reason. They’ll be looking carefully at attendance, the game experience, and crowd behavior; they want to see if El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces fans are passionate about the game of soccer played at the highest level.”
Ledford said that MountainStar Sports Group is not affiliated with the exhibition game, but they will be lending as much support as possible. “This is our second chance to shine in the eyes of MLS,” said Ledford. “We need to let Major League Soccer see, first hand, that the El Paso/Juarez area will support a professional sports team at the level of MLS.”
Ledford said the first chance MLS had to see El Paso was at the El Paso Chihuahuas Opening Night game at Southwest University Park. “MLS had two representatives here that day,” said Ledford. “I can tell you that the full ballpark, the sponsorships and business support, and the fan’s amazing enthusiasm — all of it impressed MLS. They saw that the region will support a professional team of this caliber and that the City stepped up and built a beautiful, first-class ballpark. All of this is critically important in the selection process for MLS.
“From my perspective, Triple-A Baseball was the first step for the El Paso/Juarez region. Now we can begin the work to capitalize on that success.”
The potential location for a new stadium: a 2012 city study identified a publicly owned site south of Paisano, near the Union Depot, as being well-suited for a soccer stadium.