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February 3, 2017
“Bailing out” Detroit

By Brian Trusdell
Soccer News Net Contributor

Jailhouse soccer
MLS has been very vocal about wanting its teams to have stadia in downtown locales to appeal to its “hip," “urban” and “millennial” fans.

The bid by a hopeful Detroit expansion group headed by Pistons’ owner Tom Gores and his Cleveland counterpart Dan Gilbert meets that criterion – with a different flavor to it.

The Detroit proposal would buy a downtown site that has a half-completed jail on it, a project that has been stalled since 2013. Gilbert has said he offered $50 million to buy the site last year, a plot where he and Gores ostensibly would build a $1 billion complex of restaurants, offices, hotels – all the words MLS’ suits like to hear.

Gumming up those plans was Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ announcement last week that the county has started soliciting bids to finish the jail.

“We inherited [it], but we would like to get something moving,” Evans told local news radio WWJ.

The jail was stopped more than three years ago because of cost overruns but the county still spends more than $1 million a month on it in interest.

Not on the same page
Sacramento’s bid had been thought to be one of the theoretical front-runners because of all the groundwork that is already in place – stadium (the most developed of any bidder), demonstrated fan support (average crowd of 11,514 for the USL’s Sacramento Republic), political heft (Hewlett Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman even came on board as an investor), and financial backing (former pharmaceutical executive turned venture capitalist Kevin Nagle).

But one of those ducks stepped out of the row when the bid put forth by money man Nagle -- who also is a minority owner of the NBA’s Kings -- did not include any mention of the Republic.

Nagle has had a growing feud with Republic owner Warren Smith over securing control of the team – apparently over how much the club is worth and who should get credit for its popularity -- and that spat resulted in Nagle’s submission without the USL side’s inclusion.

Smith issued a statement calling the submission “disturbing” and accused Nagle of violating their agreement to include the Republic in the bid. Nagle said he doesn’t control the Republic or any of its copyright/trademark rights so had to go without when submitting on Tuesday.

MLS’ Mark Abbott downplayed the rift, saying the league is giving the principals time to sort out their differences. When asked what was the core problem, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is trying to broker a resolution, replied: “Is it ever not about money?”

Road somewhat less traveled has different obstacles
Road somewhat less traveled has different obstacles
MLS’ appeal to European first-division regulars is clearly growing, but a far stretch from fully developed.
While American prospects often jump at the sniff of playing for a lower first-division, or even second-division club, the road in the opposite direction – even when there is an attraction – has some slightly different detours. The obstacle for Americans usually is European interest. Darmstadt midfielder Florian Jungwirth also found his hurdle in Germany.

The 28-year-old German, who was acquired by San Jose on Friday, said when he signed his most recent contract with Darmstadt that he eventually wanted to go to MLS. As Germany hit its winter break, he apparently reminded the club and manager Torsten Frings of his desires – the sooner the better -- but Frings was having none of it.

Jungwirth had played the last season and a half in the Bundesliga with Darmstadt and had six months left on his contract. Frings said he needed a replacement before he’d consider a transfer. He played him for only eight minutes on Jan. 21 in a 0-0 draw against Moenchengladbach, didn’t even dress him for last week’s 6-1 drubbing by Cologne and then blasted Jungwirth for “training like he wanted to go to the United States”.

It was a curious reaction for Frings, who spent a rather unremarkable one and a half seasons with Toronto and is more famous in America for his notorious handball that wasn’t called a handball in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals against the United States. But when your club is in last place, seven points adrift in the relegation zone, maybe it’s not so curious.

Longer tale of two teams
The difference between expansion sides Atlanta and Minnesota couldn’t been more stark – from geography to approach.

Minnesota had a grassroots club in place. Atlanta didn’t. Minnesota is going with a “we will build our own 20,000-seat soccer stadium” approach (when they get it built) while Atlanta will play in a scaled-down NFL Falcons home.

Atlanta has been compiling its roster for over a year, heavily relying on its international player slots, while Minnesota has had fewer than six months and has been raiding its own previous NASL iteration for players.

And while Atlanta already has two “designated players," Minnesota player personnel director Amos Magee said this week that the club has made a conscious decision to hold off on any big-name acquisitions. The idea is to build around a core of “targeted allocation money” signings instead of DPs.

As pointed out before in this space, it isn’t about money. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, 74 – co-founder of Home Depot -- and Minnesota’s Bill McGuire, 68 – a pulmonologist and later health insurance executive – are both billionaires. But the way they look at money – or maybe soccer, MLS, the world – is noticeably different.

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