Posted: Thursday December 15, 2011 3:23PM ; Updated: Thursday December 15, 2011 3:23PM
Grant Wahl

MLS team ambition rankings (cont.)

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Ben Olsen
D.C. is rebuilding under coach Ben Olsen but uncertain stadium issues continue to cloud the franchise.
Tony Quinn/Icon SMI

The Fire has made some big plays in recent years, building a new stadium and signing DPs like Cuauhtémoc Blanco. But the stadium site in Bridgeview has not been a good one -- there's little buzz around the Fire -- and owner Andrew Hauptman keeps a low profile. The team does appear to be rebounding from the depth of the Carlos de los Cobos era and finished last season well under new coach Frank Klopas. Better days are on the way?


It's hard to know where the Impact will fit in the Ambition Rankings until the team starts playing in MLS in 2012. But we do know that Stade Saputo (built in 2008) is being expanded to slightly more than 20,000 seats, and owner Joey Saputo isn't shy about attracting attention. The Impact also made a run at signing Nicolas Anelka as a DP, an effort that bodes well for building buzz in Quebec.


First, the good: the Hunt Sports Group built one of the first soccer-specific stadiums in Pizza Hut Park. FC Dallas has also improved on the field in recent years, and its youth development program has been one of the league's most successful. The team has also dipped its toe into the DP waters for David Ferreira and Fabián Castillo. Now the bad: The stadium was built way too far outside the city of Dallas, causing the team to have no major league buzz, and the Hunt family is clearly on the conservative side of MLS owners.


The most successful franchise in the early years of MLS has struggled mightily to find a better stadium situation than it currently has at RFK, and the ongoing frustrations in the nation's capital have caused United to consider perhaps moving to Baltimore. Out-of-town owner Will Chang may or may not be committed for the long haul, and the club is trying to start over from scratch on the field under coach Ben Olsen. In other words, there's still a lot of uncertainty in D.C.; one bright spot from an ambition perspective is that Kevin Payne remains one of the league's more entertainingly public executives.


Crew Stadium will always deserve props for being MLS's first soccer stadium, but let's be honest: It looks downright cheap compared to Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park and Red Bull Arena. Columbus's owner, the Hunt Sports Group, doesn't want to spend much money on its coaching staff, and the Crew hasn't created much buzz since the departure of Guillermo Barros Schelotto.


Give owner Stan Kroenke some credit for building a soccer stadium and for a surprise run to win the MLS Cup final in 2010. But that's about it. Kroenke is the definition of "absentee owner," and the Rapids are well known for being cheapskates, whether it's for paying their coach a pittance or refusing for years to get a massage therapist for the team. The Rapids create little buzz in Denver, and the players wonder if Kroenke is far more smitten with his other teams (including the St. Louis Rams and Arsenal) to care. Nor does it help that the team seems adrift after the departures of coach Gary Smith (just one year after winning MLS Cup) and managing director Jeff Plush.


The Earthquakes got some good news on Wednesday with the approval of a permit needed to start construction of a proposed $60 million, 18,000-seat stadium near the San Jose airport. Once that gets more serious, San Jose could rise in the Ambition Rankings, but the fact remains that this is a small-market team that (despite having prolific scorer Chris Wondolowski) doesn't feel major league.


Owner Jorge Vergara talked a lot of smack when his team started playing in MLS in 2005, but where has he been the last few years? And what does Chivas USA want to be these days? Robin Fraser appears to have been a smart hire as coach, but the club itself has done little to change the idea that it's "the other team" in L.A., one that's simply renting the Galaxy's stadium. Keep an eye, however, on the team's youth development efforts, which could prove fruitful down the road.


No fan base sends me more complaints about its own team ownership than New England's. The Revs play in an NFL stadium far from any city, and any hopes for an urban soccer stadium in Boston remain talk and little more. Spending some money to make Shalrie Joseph a DP has been the exception to the rule in New England. Winning seems terribly important to the Kraft family when it comes to the New England Patriots, but how much do the Krafts care about the Revolution?

So there you have it: the first edition of the MLS Ambition Rankings. Let's plan on making it an annual event.

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