David Dworkin (right), pictured with his wife, Wendy, several years ago: This is a different dynamic than they’re accustomed to. But fortunately, as much as they are a very big league, they can pivot, and they listen.” (Photo courtesy of the Rhinos)
By Michael Lewis
Major League Soccer has always been about control.
The 26-year-old league has a single-entity business structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned by the league.
So, Rochester New York FC made history as being the first independent soccer club to be associated with the league in MLS NEXT Pro.
It was a big leap for both the team and the league and could make for some unusual bedfellows in the coming months and years.
But so far, so good.
“As far as telling us or dictating things, we obviously haven’t played a match yet, but thus far everything has been very collaborative,” RNYFC co-owner David Dworkin told co-host Andrew Battisti on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show on Monday night. “So that whenever we speak about anything … we’re different. There are 20 MLS teams, and we are the one independent team. So, there’s a great deal of respect for both our club and the league as a whole.
“There’s a lot of learning because they’re not accustomed to having someone in their league who hasn’t paid a fee to be an MLS team … It’s really been fascinating sitting where I am sort of watching things evolve. This is a different dynamic than they’re accustomed to. But fortunately, as much as they are a very big league, they can pivot, and they listen. If it’s anything like our discussions to date, I think it will continue to be very collaborative. I think they will continue to take suggestions from us and many things we suggested there they were implementing. Just simple things, you know, just simple things about an independent club and how things are different. But it’s been a wonderful, start so far.”
Dworkin was proud of the fact that his club was the first independent franchise to join MLS NEXT Pro. All the other squads are connected to the Major League Soccer clubs.
“It is a huge deal,” he said. And I’m not sure from a lot of the articles that I’ve started to read that everyone has really grasped it the same way that you just articulated. It would be like the G League going and finding some random team that wasn’t part of their system. We’re first and it will always be first and you know the irony is not lost on me and I’m sure it’s not lost on anyone that’s listening.”
When the team was called the Rhinos, it was the only non-MLS club that won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Dworkin said. That was in 1999.
“To come full circle and to be here as that first independent team coming in, it is a huge deal,” he said. “Everyone that comes after us will be following the trailblazing if you will, that we’ve done, and we will be that first team and they can ever take that away from us.”
The league will kick off its inaugural season this March.