By Michael Lewis
Twenty-seven years ago today – June 15, 1994- Major League Soccer named its original seven franchises.
Long Island was named one of the teams (out of a proposed 12 teams) by then league chairman Alan I. Rothenberg, only two days prior to the kickoff of the 1994 World Cup.
New Jersey also was awarded a franchise and the team named as the MetroStars would call Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. home.
Rothenberg said he did not think MLS would be overloading a market with two franchises.
“That’s not an issue,” he said. “You have distinct markets. Queens and Brooklyn are a different market from New Jersey. There’s no problem.”
The Long Island franchise was slated to begin at 22,000-seat Hofstra Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y, which essentially was a long free kick and essentially across the street from the proposed stadium at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y.
The plan was for the new team to move to its new home in 1997, then a $42 million, 30,000-seat stadium that was scheduled to be built for the 1998 Goodwill Games. MLS had advanced the project $500,000, with the state of New York and Nassau County funding the rest of the stadium.
Several problems occurred with adjacent Reckson Associates, which owned the adjacent Omni Building, as that company made it difficult, if not impossible to Mitchel upgrade to 30K and some major financial problems by Nassau County. The stadium holds in the 12K range.
At the time, the Long Island Rough Riders called Mitchel home in their first season in the U.S. Interregional Soccer League. They went on to win the USISL title in 1995, behind the likes of Tony Meola, Chris Armas, Giovanni Savarese and Jim Rooney, among others.
The New Jersey franchise was selected on the strength of 11,000 season-tickets deposits. Giants Stadium was going to be downsized to 34,235 for soccer. Since MLS wanted to play on grass, league officials were trying to negotiate to remove the artificial turf permanently. At the time, grass was used on a temporary basis for seven World Cup contests at the stadium.
Asked if the grass negotiations failed, what would he do, Rothenberg replied, “We’ll deal with that when it happens. I’m encouraged with the discussions so far. The governor wants it, the New Jersey Sports Authority wants it and the Giants and Jets have been hospitable.”
Of course, we all knew what transpired. The MetroStars played on an artificial surface for the most part, and except for short time in the late nineties, when they played on grass.
In case you were wondering, the five other chosen ones were Boston (Foxborough, Mass.), Los Angeles, San Jose, Washington, D.C. and Columbus, Ohio.
MLS was supposed to kick off in 1995, but it was pushed back a year and it kicked off with 10 teams and not the 12 it had hoped for. Kansas City, Dallas, Denver and Tampa Bay were added later that summer.
As we all know, LI dropped out although professional soccer has been played at Mitchel through the years. That has included the New York Power (Women’s United Soccer Association), some MetroStars’ matches in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and most recently, the Cosmos the past two years. The Long Island Lady Riders, Long Island Soccer Football League also have used the stadium.
In 2015, the east side of the Hudson River finally did get a stadium, but it was miles away from the original site. New York City FC, which wants to build a stadium in the Bronx, has called Yankee Stadium home for seven years.