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MLS folds Mutiny

The Miami Fusion also is eliminated in a move expected for weeks. Lack of local ownership was Tampa Bay's biggest problem.

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2002

The Miami Fusion also is eliminated in a move expected for weeks. Lack of local ownership was Tampa Bay's biggest problem.

Mutiny employees showed up Tuesday morning at their office at Raymond James Stadium ready to work. By the afternoon, they were packing boxes and filling garbage bags with personal belongings, out of a job after Major League Soccer ceased operations of both the Mutiny and Miami Fusion.

Citing a lack of local ownership, MLS' 11-man Board of Governors voted unanimously to fold the Mutiny immediately. The Fusion was eliminated because owner/investor Ken Horowitz wanted out because of a lack of community and corporate support.

"We needed an owner in Tampa," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "We spent an enormous amount of time trying to find that owner."

MLS is a single-entity league that owns all teams, and investors buy the right to operate them. Teams share in profits and losses.

Tampa Bay, like most MLS teams, has been a money loser since the league's inception in 1996 -- reportedly an average of $2-million per year. Unlike every other team but Dallas, the Mutiny has been league-owned for six years. Dallas is reportedly close to securing an investor.

MLS Chief of Operations Mark Abbott, in Tampa to announce the Mutiny's demise, said MLS has talked to 6-12 possible investors in the Mutiny since 1996.

The most promising possibility was the Glazer family, owners of the Bucs. Discussions dissolved last season when the Glazers balked at the Mutiny's revenue projections.

"We were having very productive conversations (with the Glazers) but they never led to the conclusion of the deal," Abbott said. "We have talked to other people here, not just the Glazer family. There are some good people down here, no question. We just didn't find a fit. It doesn't mean we won't in the future, but we ran out of time for the 2002 season."

Abbott and Garber hinted that if the league expands in the future, and if Tampa finds a local investor and a soccer-specific stadium, it would consider a return.

"We need a soccer-specific stadium in Tampa if we are going to go back there," Garber said. "We've been in discussions with Tampa mayor (Dick) Greco, and we've been in discussions with the Sports Authority as recently as (Tuesday). We've mentioned to them that we look forward to coming back to Tampa and working with the Sports Authority and the city to construct a stadium. We have a number of people that we've been speaking to over the last couple of months, and one of them is meeting with two of our owners this week and next. If the right elements come into place we hope to be back in Tampa."

Mutiny and Fusion players will be in a dispersal draft Friday morning. Players will have 48 hours to report to their new teams for the opening of training camp Monday.

Some Mutiny players worked out at the Ed Radice training facility in Tampa Tuesday morning before finding out the team folded.

"It's like we were the last to know," said midfielder Steve Ralston, who has played with the Mutiny since 1996. "At first I thought it was going to happen, but as the days went by I figured there was no way they'd do it now. I wish they didn't wait until the last minute."

The Mutiny has a three-year lease at RJS, but according to Tampa Sports Authority executive director Henry Saavedra, the Mutiny doesn't have to honor the contract if it's not playing.

The Mutiny has to continue paying rent on its office space at RJS unless the team finds a tenant.

Mutiny general manager Bill Manning said he will stay in the office a few more weeks to refund season-ticket deposits and pay back corporate sponsors and vendors.

Manning, who joined the Mutiny in January, 2000, made finding an owner/investor his top priority.

"It's very awkward to be here talking about closing down," Manning said. "I'm not shocked because the one thing I remember during my first interview with Mark (Abbott) and Don (Garber) was that this club needed to have an investor/operator. As this offseason went on, and our inability to finalize a deal with an investor along with the league's new business plan ... it wasn't really a shock to me."

Coach Perry Van Der Beck wasn't shocked either. Van Der Beck, who has a one-year contract with MLS, thinks contraction will be good for the league's future.

"I wish it wasn't happening here," said Van Der Beck, who played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League. "But I truly believe that in the long run this is going to strengthen the league. I have no doubt about that."

This is the first time MLS has contracted. Abbott said the league did everything it could to keep the Mutiny around for 2002.

"We tried hard. It was a major effort on our part," he said.

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