Don Garber, MLS pass Flushing stadium torch to New York City F.C.

(Image, Empire of Soccer)

(Image, Empire of Soccer)

(Image, Empire of Soccer)

For over a year now, Major League Soccer and their Commissioner Don Garber have stayed true to a singular, focused agenda; the league will pour their full resources and political capital into landing a stadium in Flushing Meadows Park.

This weeks award of the long sought after 20th franchise to the Yankee/Manchester City owned New York City F.C. turns that initiative on it’s head.

What was once a “Flushing or bust” stance led by the league has now been laid on the lap of the new club ownership. It is a startling about-face following a year that has been wrought with community upheaval and political backlash over the league’s attempts to secure park land for their ambitious project.

“The league has been very public on this the last 24-36 hours,” Garber noted. “The league spent over a year working with the City of New York to have an MLS team, our 20th team, play in Flushing Meadow Corona Park.”

While those conversations continued to drag, Major League Soccer began to examine the effectiveness of taking a lead role in the project.

“Recently, as we were on a parallel path negotiating with Manchester city, we realized that an owner should take over those negations,” Garber continued. “It would not have been right for the team and frankly it might not have been the right thing for the community, for the league to finalize an agreement before they had the opportunity to meet the ownership group.”

Is it an admission of failure? Garber doesn’t think so. Instead, he believes handing the reigns to New York City F.C. will only strengthen the cause.

“We needed to hand over these discussions from the league to an owner who ultimately will be the community partner,” Garber told reporters. “I think that the community doesn’t understand the team. They don’t understand the management. They never met and they were never able to go out and tell their story.”

Once reports leaked that Manchester City was in the lead to run the proposed 20th franchise, local opposition turned ugly. A damning narrative was laid out. Political activists and local community leaders painted a takeover by billionaire oil-mogul Sheik Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family (who’s ruling family controls a country that persecutes homosexuals and suppresses women’s rights) that would see him and his awarded land at a $1-a-year lease in the middle of Queens boroughs most iconic public park.

By telling “their story,” it is Garber’s hope that New York City F.C. management can combat that narrative and put a softer face to their plans.

“Now that the ownership group owns the team., they can go out and tell their story, they can listen, as well as talk about all the great things they have done and what they plan on doing, talk about the contributions they were going to make to the park,” he said. “They couldn’t talk about that because they didn’t own the team. This to us is a perfect scenario for them to continue their discussions.

“Some of the issues that existed do not surprise us. Now they will have the opportunity to meet then and I am absolutely convinced when the meet (Chief Commnications Officer) Vicky (Kloss), (CEO) Ferran Soriano, members of the Manchester city board, when they meet he players, the management, Claudio Reyna, they will not only be comfortable, but they will embrace them as the owners in our league.”

Of course, Major League Soccer has invested heavily in this initiative, paying lobbyist and local politicians upwards of $2 million to earn wedge themselves into Flushing Meadows. Outgoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who Garber labeled the most “focused and passionate” politician he had ever worked with, played a big part in that.

“The mayor who is not necessarily a big soccer fan, he will tell you that he understands what a 20th MLS team will do in the City,” he said. “I would hope any Mayor would see the value of that economic activity.”

Regardless of that investment, Garber claims the onus now falls on New York City F.C. – and they have the freedom to pursue whatever initiative they wish.

“If they don’t secure itself a stadium location that makes sense, they will have to find another location and the league is comfortable with that.”