Look, I like new stadiums. I go to them so I hope D.C. United can ruin the parties of those they may help open, I go to them to meet new folks and enjoy new experiences. I participated in our wishlist of what we want a new stadium to have in, out and around Buzzard Point. I'm going to subject my skin to needles and ink (again) to finally get the new tattoo I've always wanted but feared would become obsolete the moment I got it. Nevertheless, I think there are some things that we have to consider.
Stop me if you have run into this during the offseason: rumors of Jozy Altidore, Mix Diskerud, Sacha Kljestan, Emmanuel Adebayor, Steve Gerrard, Didier Drogba, Edingson, Castolo and Turimodag coming to Major League Soccer. At some point, they have been attached to one of the following clubs: New York City FC, the Portland Timbers, the New York Red Bulls, the Los Angeles Galaxy or the Philadelphia Union. And when casual D.C. soccer person sees this, they become crestfallen. "Why doesn't D.C. United spend money to get these players? They have a stadium now, why don't they do this?" The response to them is:
- D.C. United does not have the resources to do so, and may not have them until we get closer to the reality of Buzzard Point.
Say you own something that's losing $1,000 (or whatever figure you can think of that you can't grasp) per year. A 401k fund, Bodog losses, whatever. Would you consider doing something potentially doubling this debt immediately? Keep in mind, you may have something down the road which will reduce this dramatically, but this may not happen for another 2-4 years, and may not happen off the jump. Would you still do it? Almost all of the teams I've listed above have stadia that are paid for, and have infrastructure in place to consider paying for expensive out of contract players, or in contract ones where they could afford paying a transfer fee to an in-contract one. D.C. United can basically afford out of contract players where a fee does not have to be paid, and explores Leagues that are second or third tier in the hopes of gaining value. As shovels take out dirt and beams are placed, then you will start to see the potential of more 'attractive' players. The Houston Dynamo had the luxury of Brad Davis and Bobby Boswell as they moved into BBVA, Jason Kreis brought in Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola on the cusp of the opening of Rio Tinto.More on both of those in a second. Before that:
- The new stadium will NOT be a panacea on the day in which ground is broken. It may not even be a panacea whenever the first game is played. This is a fancy way of saying "Stop complaining about not getting top shelf Designated Players. We're not there yet."
Lots of folks tend to make comparisons abound to places like Philadelphia, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Portland or Seattle. But to quote Nice Guy Eddie, first things last. While there is the money in Portland and Seattle, to say nothing of the downtown stadia, I would exercise some caution to using them as comparisons. Whether it is Seattle's attendance out of the chute or Portland's long-devoted one that only increased as Major League Soccer came a-calling, the two clubs certainly did not have to make money back on their investment, or if they did at least the ramp was not as steep, largely because of the existing infrastructure (read: the downtown stadia), a word I'll beat into the ground by the end of this.
Which brings us to Philadelphia and Toronto. Two teams who caught the expansion bug, one team with a downtown-ish stadium, the other...less so, and both riding a wave of buzz and money when they came into the Lig. Since then, they've spent on guys like Kleberson and Julian de Guzman, supporter's groups have been vocal in their displeasure, without realizing that maybe just perhaps there would be some regression to a mean. That they don't like where they are is one thing, but they are where they are in part because of some of the things they've done.
Then you have New York/New Jersey and well, any time you can sign a temperamental dude/American villain to blow up the chemistry inside your club and almost sulk every time he's on the field, you got to do it. I mean, that and Frank Rost, right? But with Red Bull's endless supply of cash + New York, Designated Players will go wherever Designated Players go, so if New York isn't preferred, you know what the other is, don't you?
And for all the griping about putting the L.A. Galaxy and Calvinball in sentences (especially now that with Gerrard entering the fold, as a tangent, nice to see MLS will have aging English midfielders on both shores as some bizarro tribute to 1996), the simple fact of the matter is that with the people they have in place that make the decisions, said people they know how to spend and what to spend on. Take the salaries of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez out of the equation. You've got a post-DP total of $2,720,911. By comparison, D.C.'s salary sans Eddie Johnson is $3,484,717. Would you rather want Gyasi Zardes at $200k (and an exemption from an expansion draft) or Chris Rolfe at $225k? Would you want A.J. DeLaGarza at $157k or Jeff Parke at $225k? Stuff like that adds up when you're building a team.
If there is a model that D.C. United’s growth and eventual acclimation to a new stadium might follow in the short term, it may be the likes of one of two smaller clubs, both of whom in the bottom third of total team payroll, both of whom I briefly alluded to earlier: either the Houston Dynamo or Real Salt Lake. Both teams were playing in stadia they looked forward to moving out of, one (RSL) just found their footing in new home sooner because it went up quicker. Kreis introduced Morales and Espindola to the land of Romney and, with the help of Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, all became key players in the team, to say nothing of their recognition in Utah.
But for that foundation, I feel like it may be worth examining Garth Lagerwey’s recent comments to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Chris Kamrani a little deeper. The desire for something more and a new challenge are there, but I think the underlying subtext of his remarks hints that while RSL may yet turn into a Seattle, Los Angeles or Sporting Kansas City, that it would likely not happen if he still had the watch seems to have played a part in his decision to leave.
Where Lagerwey (and perhaps to a lesser extent, Kreis) seem to have found out what RSL’s identity is and determined he cannot do more to strengthen it, Houston still appears to be in the process of discovering their own character. But of note, Houston occupied their downtown home for two full years before splashing the pot twice in the last six months with the Designated Player additions of Damarcus Beasley and Cubo Torres. MLS information on financial health remains a murky stone to view, but if one examines how the Dynamo slowly has grown into its orange skin, one would presume that D.C. United’s growth in the short-term may follow a similar pattern. Both will have new roots in the city, both have a couple of trophies to their name. Of additional note, Dynamo President Chris Canetti took over the club once the tape was essentially cut on BBVA, so there presumably was some sort of ramp-up period before deciding to take on endeavors like getting the infrastructure needed in personnel decisions (like Matt Jordan), which is giving them new opportunities to take advantage of landing Torres, Leonel Miranda and Raul Rodriguez.
On a related note, this may also beg the question of whether or not Jason Levien is Oliver Luck. The periodic attachment of Levien’s name to potential ownership groups for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks makes us wonder if he’s the guy before the guy. Which is why we say:
- Keep an eye on the smaller stuff. Not because missing out on the bigger stuff is frustrating, but because it bears watching.
Lots of things are going to become new to folks, including what and how Levien and Tom Hunt manage this club because for all the history and tradition, the one thing is does not have is a stamp from ownership on how they are going to do things. Are they going to fire a coach ten days before a draft and have supporters' groups start campaigns for billboards? Are they going to seek out the best and brightest as some meat is put on the current skeleton of administrative staff? Over at Inter Milan, Erick Thohir brought in someone from Manchester United as CEO and someone else from Apple as Marketing Director. By no means are we there, but what (and more importantly how) are they looking to put together the pieces?
In the meantime, there is something that may be able to impact the timeframe of some of these events:
- Support your friggin' local.