Former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre announced as Nashville MLS Chief Executive in standout move

Nashville MLS have made a huge statement of intent ahead of their league debut in 2020 by announcing former Liverpool FC Chief Executive Ian Ayre as their first CEO. The Englishman was named Premier League Chief Executive of the Year in 2017 and will relocate to Nashville with his family this summer.

Ayre will instantly begin work on building and leading the Nashville MLS club ahead of their league debut, which is expected to arrive in the 2020 season. The 55-year-old spent 10 successful years with Liverpool and was responsible for restructuring the club at all levels. The fact they are now preparing for a UEFA Champions League final with Real Madrid speaks volumes of the foundations Ayre laid.

He left his post with Liverpool at the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season and then served briefly as managing director of 1860 Munich. However, he left his role with the German side after just a few weeks because of what he deemed “warring factions” within the ownership group. He should have no such problem with Nashville as they have further outlined their bold ambitions of making an immediate impact in Major League Soccer with the acquisition of Ian Ayre.

“We are committed to bringing world-class soccer to Nashville, as evidenced by the appointment of Ian as our CEO,” John Ingram, lead owner of Nashville MLS said. “Ian understands our vision for Nashville MLS and has the skill and experience to bring the best in soccer to our city. His passion for the sport and the business of the game, along with his progressive approach and commitment to community, will help us create Nashville’s MLS club while elevating soccer in Music City and MLS. I’m delighted to welcome him to Nashville and our club!”

As well as overseeing the successful $160 million stadium expansion of Anfield during his time with Liverpool, Ayre was directly responsible for all player transfers, including contract negotiations. He helped acquire the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Manè during his time with the Reds. While also working with top-class coaches such as Rafa Benitez, Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp.

“The opportunity to put Nashville on the national and international soccer map is a truly outstanding challenge, and I literally cannot wait to get started,” Ian Ayre said. “Becoming chief executive officer of the Nashville MLS club is a unique opportunity in the global soccer community. To take what is essentially a blank sheet of paper and build an entire club is an amazing challenge, and one I am hugely excited about.”

Nashville was awarded Major League Soccer’s 24th club in December 2017, and enthusiasm for soccer continues to grow in Music City. CONCACAF recently announced Nashville as a host city of the 2019 Gold Cup. Nashville Soccer Club, the city’s USL club, launched in spring 2018.

Advertisements

2018 Key Transfers: LAFC

With the 2018 MLS season drawing ever closer, we will be running through the main ins and outs for all 23 teams over the course of the winter transfer window. There have been a number of key signings and significant trades which should ensure the new season is as exciting as ever before. Today we take a look at the league’s newest side, Los Angeles FC and their key signings ahead of their inaugural MLS campaign in 2018…

Los Angeles FC are entering the league as the 23rd franchise competing for glory in MLS in 2018. Led by the experienced Bob Bradley, many are expecting LAFC to make their mark in the West as they try and become the first expansion franchise to life the MLS Cup since Chicago did it in 1998. Oh, and Chicago were coached by Bob Bradley then too. Realistically, the expectation will be to make the playoffs at the first time of asking and establish a play style. The club have been busy building the squad from scratch. Two Designated Players have been signed, some big trades have been made and the club got two of the first three SuperDraft picks after trading DC for the third spot. Below we have highlighted the standout signings that we expect to make the biggest impact with LAFC in 2018.

Carlos Vela: LAFC brought in Vela from Real Sociedad as their first ever Designated Player. The Mexican star had been with Sociedad since 2011, where he scored over 50 goals in seven years for the La Liga side. Before that, he was with Arsenal, where he struggled to make a proper impact. But after 12 years in Europe, Vela has now made the move to LAFC, where he will be much closer to his friends and family. Reports in Spain suggested the transfer offer for Vela was around €5 million, and he will be expected to be the expansion franchise’s star man in 2018.

Walker Zimmerman: LAFC made a strong move to sign 24-year-old centre-back Zimmerman from FC Dallas in early December. The expansion franchise sent $500,000 in allocation money and the #1 allocation ranking to Dallas for the defender. He has played 89 regular season games over the past five seasons and knows the league well. He missed time last season with a knee injury but is back and ready to help LAFC make their make in their debut campaign. Laurent Ciman: Alongside Zimmerman will be veteran Belgium international defender Ciman. He arrived from Montreal after LAFC sent Expansion Draft picks Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards to the Canadian side. Ciman was apparently left shocked at the trade as he knew nothing about it until he was already an LAFC player. But the 2015 MLS Defender of the Year is now looking forward to working with Zimmerman to become the best central defence partnership in the league.

 

Diego Rossi: Rossi was signed as LAFC’s second Designated Player and is expected to play as an inverted winger in the left side of the attack. He is a highly regarded Uruguayan youngster who was brought in for a reported $4 million from Penarol of Uruguay’s Primera Division. At just 19, Rossi has a lot of potential and is the second youngest DP in MLS history, after Fabian Castillo who joined Dallas aged 18.

Benny Feilhaber: At 33, Feilhaber is unlikely to be able to offer what he did in 2015 when he was an MVP finalist. But he should still be a valuable and vital player for LAFC following his move from Sporting KC. The midfielder played 180 times for SKC, scoring 33 goals and picking up 56 assists. Lots Angeles FC sent $400,000 in allocation money for his services. He will likely end up playing as the team’s number 10, finding gaps in behind the opposition defence for the likes of Rossi and Vela to run into.

$4 billion media rights offer laid out with MLS promotion/relegation clause

Major League Soccer has turned down a lucrative media rights offer, which would have forced MLS promotion/relegation to come into effect, according to Sports Business Daily.

League commissioner Don Garber has made it clear for a long time that he has no interest in MLS promotion/relegation. And he has once again proved that by rejecting $4 billion for a 10-year global media rights deal.

The offer was made last month by international media company MP & Silva. They made it clear to MLS that they would quadruple the league’s current media rights deal by offering $4 billion for the league’s global rights from 2023 to 2032.

But MLS were quick to dismiss the offer. The league’s current media deal with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision runs for another six years. It’s far too early for the league to be agreeing a decade-long agreement for when the current deal ends.

And it’s also out of the question that MLS would risk the league’s future for a media rights deal that wouldn’t come into effect for six years. The league has a plan for long-term growth, and this offer won’t intervene.

‘No interest’ in MLS promotion/relegation proposal

“As Commissioner Garber stated in his letter to Mr. Silva, we are not in a position, nor are we interested in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal,” MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche said.

As well as being the founding partner of MP & Silva, Riccardo Silva is also the president and co-owner of Miami FC. The NASL welcomed Miami just last year, following their formation in 2015. So it makes sense as to why Silva wants to try and essentially buy promotion/relegation for MLS.

But the league won’t budge on it’s stance on MLS promotion/relegation. Especially not for a deal so far away in the future.

Nashville MLS expansion bid receives major boost following Garber’s first visit

The Nashville MLS expansion bid received a boost this weekend following the first visit of league commissioner Don Garber. Nashville is one of 12 cities fighting for four expansion slots and it’s chances of success look to be on the up.

Garber admitted that the MLS front office was surprised when it received an expansion bid from Music City back in December. But after seeing a “committed ownership group”, who are hopeful of securing a public-private stadium financing plan later this year, Tennessee might just be getting a Major League Soccer team.

“Nashville is very much like Major League Soccer: It’s a city on the rise,” Garber said during Friday’s visit.

“When we think about expansion in North America, there’s an incredible energy here. There’s the strength of the entertainment and music business and there’s a great public-private approach to getting things done. That character of the city is very much about our league.”

USA Clearance at Classic Football Shirts

The MLS commissioner toured Nashville on Friday and will be at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, where the USA face Panama in the Gold Cup.

Nissan Stadium is the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, but Nashville’s potential MLS team would need to have its own stadium. Garber reiterated that any expansion side needs to secure a soccer-specific stadium site to enter MLS.

“If a very promising market can’t have a stadium, they’re not going to be an MLS expansion team. If Nashville’s able to achieve that, it’s going to be a very positive aspect for their bid.

“When we founded the league, soccer stadiums were not part of the original plan. The plan was to play in NFL stadiums. Now, we realise there’s no reason to go into a market until you get that locked up.”

Nashville mayor Megan Barry is well behind the push to bring soccer to the city. While MLS bidder John Ingram, who has teamed up with businessman Bill Hagerty, is doing all he can to secure an expansion slot.

They hope to have a funding package for an MLS stadium in the next few months. While Ingram recently bought controlling rights to Nashville Soccer Club. Nashville SC will enter the USL in 2018 and would become an MLS club if a franchise is awarded to the city.

Nashville SC is run by former MLS executive Court Jeske. While the team will be coached by Englishman Gary Smith, who famously won the 2010 MLS Cup with Colorado. Smith remains the only English coach to ever win MLS Cup.

Nashville, San Antonio, San Diego, Sacramento, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Charlotte, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Phoenix and Indianapolis are the 12 cities battling for four MLS expansion slots.

Garber is expected to announce the league’s 25th and 26th teams at the end of the year. Several cities are struggling with stadium deals, but Garber doesn’t expect that to delay any decisions.

“We are very confident we’ll have two that we’ll be deciding on,” he said.

Could MLS find success by following the NFL in sending teams to Wembley?

It’s no secret that Major League Soccer’s growth is continuing to turn heads. Not only is the league attracting some of Europe’s best footballing talent, but its expansion is showing no signs of slowing down, with new franchises bursting onto the scene at an alarming rate.

But what if Major League Soccer followed in the footsteps of the NFL and brought competitive fixtures to the UK, at Wembley?

The NFL’s success in England has been staggering since the International Series’ inception saw competitive fixtures start being played across the pond a decade ago. The fact it’s a different sport helps massively with the attraction, but there is an ever-growing support base of UK-based MLS fans, so there is certainly an opportunity for MLS to do something similar in the coming years.

Embed from Getty Images

Driving up interest for a fixture would arguably be easier for MLS. Instead of bringing over a regular season game, a fixture similar to those played in the International Champions Cup format each summer could work well in Britain. A side from MLS playing a top Premier League club at Wembley in front of 90,000 soccer-crazed fans would make for some spectacle.

You only have to look at the interest that the MLS All-Stars fixture garners each year – with this season’s instalment seeing Real Madrid take on the best of MLS in Chicago on August 2. Allowing English fans to watch their favourite club face off against an MLS outfit firsthand here in the UK would surely heighten the league’s growth.

A mini-league could even be an option. Let’s say, for example, the top side from both the Eastern and Western Conference come to Wembley and play against the Premier League’s first and second place teams each year. The Premier League clubs could each face the two MLS sides, with the showcase finale allowing the two MLS sides to battle it out on the same field at the end of the tournament.

There are plenty of options to be explored if the league’s expansion overseas steps up over the coming seasons and MLS would undoubtedly put on a great show. The ideas above are simply just suggestions in their rawest form. But we would love to see MLS teams showcased on UK soil in the near future.

Have your say below – Would you like to see MLS teams play in the UK? And which MLS clubs would you most like to see play at a stadium like Wembley?

Eden Hazard joins former teammates to become part-owners of San Diego NASL team

Eden Hazard has joined forces with fellow professionals Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sow to invest in a new NASL expansion side in San Diego, in what is an intriguing move for soccer fans across the globe.

The quartet of stars are funding the formation of the new team alongside local investors in San Diego, although a full team name has yet to be confirmed.

Hazard played 115 games alongside Cabaye and 70 alongside Sow while at Lille, before playing 35 times alongside Demba Ba at Chelsea following his move to the Premier League in 2012.

Embed from Getty Images

San Diego will become the 10th team in the NASL when they enter play in Spring 2018, alongside a fellow expansion team in Orange County.

San Diego is expected to welcome a professional soccer team back to the area with open arms. There are an estimated 3.3 million people in the area and more than 50,000 youth players.

Chelsea star Hazard is one of the world’s most talented and widely recognised stars. He said San Diego’s passion for soccer is one of the key reasons behind the investment.

“San Diego is a beautiful place and the love and passion the people have for soccer made this an easy choice for us. My friends and I are honored to turn this dream into a reality and we can’t wait to get started and win some games.”

Embed from Getty Images

Hazard’s former Chelsea teammate Demba Ba – who currently plays for Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua but is on loan at Besiktas – is planning for success in the NASL and beyond.

“Success is our goal – with the club, with the community, with everything that we do,” Ba said. “One of our goals is to sign players who have a strong passion for the game, who are competitive and love to win.

“I look forward to competing against our fellow California clubs and the rest of the NASL, as well as MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup. It is going to be up to us to be the best.”

Embed from Getty Images

The expansion club will play their home matches at the University of San Diego until their own soccer-specific stadium is built, with sites currently being considered in North County.

The news comes just a couple of months after Didier Drogba became football’s first player-owner with USL side Phoenix Rising and there is a sense that an increasing number of the games biggest stars may be looking to invest in US Soccer.

AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini is the co-owner of NASL side Miami FC, who are coached by Alessandro Nesta. While David Beckham’s own Miami project recently received a boost in its pursuit of an MLS Expansion Team, following the acquisition of the land needed to build a 25,000-seater stadium.

Drogba to help Phoenix Rising chase MLS dream by joining USL side on three-year contract – report

Didier Drogba looks to have found himself a new club at last. The Ivorian striker has been without a team since leaving Montreal Impact at the end of his contract in December but looks set to remain in North America with USL club Phoenix Rising.

The 39-year-old has signed a three-year contract with the Arizona-based side, according to France Football, and will have the option to become the club’s sporting director from the second season onwards.

Phoenix Rising FC – who were formerly known as Arizona United before this season and are owned by a group including American DJ Diplo – have been making headlines over the past few months as they look to prove they mean business as they grow on and off the field.

Phoenix is one of 12 cities fighting for four MLS Expansion spots as the league looks to expand to 28 teams over the next few years. If Drogba has indeed signed – and more importantly signed with a clause allowing him to become a director – then the move makes a lot more sense than it does on the surface.

The former Chelsea star had long been linked with a return to the West London club in a coaching role but it would appear his future off the pitch could now be based in the USA.

Drogba reportedly turned down an offer from Brazilian side Corinthians, instead choosing to join former Chelsea teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips and former Mexico international Omar Bravo in Phoenix.

The USL club opened their 2017 season with a 1-0 home loss to a Toronto FC II side this weekend, playing in front of a sell-out crowd in their home opener at their brand new soccer specific stadium.

The club have permission to build a climate-controlled stadium on their current plot of land, that would seat between 20,000 and 30,000 fans if they are given an MLS team in the current round of bidding.