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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Wilpons send up MLS trial balloon with Greece, Ecuador friendly

By Matthew Artus

Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning for an exhibition match between Ecuador and Greece at Citi Field. While the friendly represents the first non-baseball professional sporting event in Citi Field’s short lifetime, the implications of its success could impact the future of Major League Soccer in New York.

Or, more importantly, MLS’s next expansion team. Next season, MLS will welcome the NASL’s Montreal Impact as the league’s 19th team. In order to keep an even number of teams in each conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber has indicated his intentions on several occasions to expand the league to 20 teams starting in 2013. Garber frequently couples those sentiments with his preference to award the next expansion club to New York.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated prior to MLS First Kick last March, Garber has said publicly that he has held several conversations with New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon regarding that 20th team.

“We remain in discussions with them,” Garber said to SI.com’s Grant Wahl in March. “They continue to have interest in MLS, and they also have a pretty darn good stadium site.”

Now, the home of the Mets -- which is privately owned by the Wilpons -- will host a friendly this summer. What a coincidence.

While the Wilpons’ entanglement in the Madoff trustees lawsuit may limit their financial plans indefinitely, MLS may need to move soon to give a new ownership group time to bring a soccer franchise up to league speed.

However, Garber may wait until the last minute to award the franchise in hopes of a prominent and long-standing MLB ownership group sorting out its troubles and signing on to join the MLS fray.

“I have a lot of respect for Fred and Jeff Wilpon,” said Garber last March. “And I think there’s more to that story that’s still to be told. I hope they’re able to solve whatever their short-term issues are.

“I’m sure they’ll get through their issues, and our decision here is going to be one for a generation. We’ve got to be sure we’ve got the right owner for the long term.”

The last two expansion teams, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, received their league invitations two years prior to each team’s MLS debut last March. Both of those franchises had the benefit of a pre-existing organizational structure from its prior involvement with the NASL. The Impact possess the same luxury ahead of their 2012 MLS debut.

And the Wilpons? Their journey to bring an MLS franchise to Queens may need to begin with a first kick between Ecuador and Greece in June.

Adam Rubin has the press release regarding the Ecuador-Greece friendly here.