Commissioner Doug Garber says the league is evaluating all teams amid reports Tampa Bay and Miami will fold.
By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2001
Major League Soccer denied reports Friday that the Mutiny and Miami Fusion would cease operations before the 2002 season. Several South Florida newspapers reported the clubs would be victims of contraction and that a decision would be made Friday.
There was no decision, only a denial by MLS commissioner Don Garber.
"Contrary to published media reports, Major League Soccer has not finalized any decisions regarding how many teams will compete in the league during the 2002 season," Garber said in a statement. "At the present time, there are no announcements planned. MLS is continuing the ongoing process of evaluating all team markets, and as previously stated, will announce any changes prior to the end of the year."
The league's Board of Governors, 11 investors responsible for making league policy, have the final say. If contraction of the 12-team league occurs, the Mutiny and the Fusion are candidates because of ownership and attendance problems.
The Mutiny is a league-owned team, and Fusion owner Ken Horowitz wants out of Miami after reportedly losing $40-million. Both teams also are near the bottom in average attendance: the Mutiny was 11th last season (10,479 average); the Fusion was ninth (11,177).
MLS announced this week that it would decide by the end of the year whether to contract. Colorado and Dallas have been discussed as candidates.
Garber has had talks with the Glazers, owners of the Buccaneers, about investing in the Mutiny, but those talks broke off this year.
MLS has lost nearly $250-million since it started in 1996. The Mutiny has been especially draining because it is a league-owned team that has consistently ranked near the bottom in attendance and doesn't have an investor.
MLS is a single-entity league, which means it owns all teams and awards operation rights to individual investors. Those individual investors are responsible for the daily operation of the team, and they also share in any profits by the league.
Garber reportedly has been in discussions with Tampa Mayor Dick Greco about keeping the Mutiny, but nothing has been decided.
"I really can't comment on anything right now," Mutiny general manager Bill Manning said. "This is something that is being done on the league level. For us, it's business as usual."
The possibility of contraction also has the Mutiny players in a holding pattern.
"I don't know what's going on," veteran defender Steve Trittschuh said. "I haven't heard anything yet. You would hope they'd tell the players before they told anyone else, but you never know."
Trittschuh, 36, said he would retire if the Mutiny folds. Other players would likely be part of a dispersal draft among the remaining teams.
The league would also have to negotiate a buyout of the three-year lease extension at Raymond James Stadium it signed this summer. Under the agreement, the Mutiny would pay the Tampa Sports Authority $30,000 a game to use the stadium.
Mutiny coach Perry Van Der Beck was in Columbus, Ohio, for the NCAA men's soccer Final Four. The Mutiny has the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. Van Der Beck did not return phone calls Friday.