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OKC Energy playing the long game with regards to MLS

OKC’s USL club is bullish on MLS aspirations in the long term, but pragmatic about the work yet to be done.

Oklahoma City Energy owners Bob Funk Jr. and Tim McLaughlin have announced that they will not put their club forward as a potential Major League Soccer expansion side, likely to the dismay of many OKC faithful. As reported by James Poling at The Oklahoman, Funk and McLaughlin only want to put forth a bid once they have the infrastructure in place, also known as not pulling a Beckham FC. Prodigal also wants Oklahoma City to focus on other issues in the immediacy.

For those unaware, MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated that the top flight of American soccer will not expand past 28 teams. Because of this, there is some cause for concern that the Energy is missing their last opportunity to be among the upper echelon of soccer in the United States. The deadline for placing an expansion bid is Jan. 31.

So is it a little risky to not put forth an expansion bid? Much like job interviews, I believe you can never take enough of them, if for no other reason than to get the experience. However, in this particular instance, I think Prodigal is wise to stay their hand.

First off, OKC is still as far away from not playing in a high school football stadium as they were when they began play at Pribil Stadium at Bishop McGuiness High School in 2014. They still play at “historic” Taft Stadium, and the 37-acre Producers Co-op the ownership group purchased in August used to be part of the original OKC oil field and needs to be decontaminated. Let’s not also forget needing to tear down the existing infrastructure at the proposed site. The first phase of all of this isn’t even supposed to be completed until 2018 at the earliest.

Additionally, this also gives the City the time it needs to complete a new boardwalk and put in the street car system that is part of OKC’s latest efforts to revamp the capital city’s downtown area.

Secondly, it is an incredibly socially conscious and politically savvy move by OKC’s ownership group. The Oklahoma state government is in a bit of a pickle (Oklahoma’s about to enjoy a roughly $900 million state budget shortfall). The city government will need to focus on shoring up their own budget shortcomings based on a reduced allocation from the state for education, criminal reform, etc., before they can start to ask taxpayers to put up for even part of a new stadium project.

By holding off on asking for the public part of the public-private funding for the new, MLS-ready stadium, Funk and McLaughlin are buying priceless goodwill. That should pay dividends when the time finally does come to ask for taxpayers to, at the very least, partially fund a new stadium project.

Finally, I’ve always held the belief that a 32-team league is the final destination for MLS. Every major professional sports league in the US has at least 30 teams, and with Garber being a former NFL employee, why not make it 32 like his old employer. I have no articles or supporting documents for this belief, it’s just what I feel in my bones is going to happen.

Major League Soccer has a history of slow and controlled growth. If anything, Oklahoma City’s group is showing their maturity in replicating that on a smaller scale. The Energy is learning from their cross-town rivals in Yukon that, from the ownership group on down to the turf on the field, nothing can be rushed when you’re shooting for greatness.