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.

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David Beckham’s Miami franchise finally set for official launch before the end of January

David Beckham’s long-awaited Miami soccer franchise is seemingly just days away from its official launch. The club’s official launch is expected to take place by the end of January, according to one of the new members of Beckham’s ownership group.

Jorge and Jose Mas joined the Beckham United group in December, along with Japanese businessman Masayoshi Son. The Mas brothers met with Beckham and fellow investor Marcelo Claure in Kansas City last week, with official confirmation of the franchise’s launch now apparently very close.

“We had super, super productive meetings in KC,” Jorge Mas told the Miami Herald on Saturday. “I’m very excited for what we can bring the Miami soccer fan, and we’ll have some big news to announce in Miami in the near future.

“Being a native, I’m a Miami guy 1,000 percent, and I want to make this a really special team with a really special fan experience.”

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If the official unveiling does indeed take place before the end of the month, the team’s official name and preliminary kit designs should be revealed for the first time. MLS Commissioner Don Garber would be expected to host the event, along with Beckham and his business partners.

Worth the wait?

It’s been just short of four years since this process began for Beckham. MLS announced that Beckham had exercised an option to launch his own expansion team for the discounted fee of $25 million back in February 2014, less than a year after his retirement from football.

The agreement to launch his own franchise for a reduced cost was written into his LA Galaxy contract that he penned ten years ago. But Beckham has suffered countless setbacks in the hunt for a stadium site for any potential team over the past few years.

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However, it now seems his dream is set to become a reality. The ownership group are preparing to begin building a 25,000-square-foot stadium in Overtown, just west of downtown Miami. Although the team would potentially have to play their first season at a temporary site if the stadium is not built in time.

The club are expected to enter MLS for the beginning of the 2020 season, although this will be confirmed at the official launch event. An event that finally appears to be imminent.

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.

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.

MLS Musings: August 2015 – Big name arrivals and is the MVP race over?

By Drew Farmer – Twitter: @CalcioFarmer

Major League Soccer MVP race over already?

Sebastian Giovinco, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara are currently the numbers one through three in the MLS MVP race. Right now, Giovinco is hands down the player most valuable to his team. 16 goals and nine assists in 21 games shows that signing the attacking Italian was a brilliant investment for the club. Giovinco has scored 44% of Toronto FC’s goals in 2015.

Though Feilhaber and Kamara are also having career seasons, Toronto have never qualified for the MLS playoffs. If Giovinco can drag them over the line, currently third in the Eastern Conference, he is most deserving of the MVP trophy.

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Seattle shouldn’t be this bad

Seattle Sounders are currently the worst team, in terms of form, in MLS. The Sounders have lost seven of their last eight matches and were destroyed by Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 last weekend at home. A lot of their problems have coincided with Obafemi Martins’ injury and Clint Dempsey being away on international duty. However, Dempsey’s return didn’t help in that loss to the Whitecaps on Saturday.

Seattle always seems to have potential, but whether it’s needing another midfielder or defender, the side never looks complete. This week, the Sounders announced the signing of 31-year-old Andreas Ivanschitz on a free transfer. Ivanschitz last played for Spanish side Levante, scoring four times in 49 matches and will look to improve the Sounders’ fortunes.

Trades and Transfers 

Speaking at the MLS All-Star Game, commissioner Don Garber stated that the league is losing money. Of course, there have been big names joining MLS this year. This summer alone, Didier Drogba, Giovani Dos Santos and Gonzalo Veron were added to the league on DP deals. In the case of Dos Santos and Veron, transfer fees were also paid.

With the transfer window about to end (August 6th), depending on when you’re reading this, several teams have made one or two signings to improve and others have stood still. Looking at the moves made already, New York Red Bulls may have done the best business. The MLS’s most in-form team added to the great chemistry already at coach Jesse Marsch’s disposal. Shaun Wright-Phillips joined his brother, Bradley at Red Bull Arena and days later the club unveiled Gonzalo Veron as their newest DP.

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DC United holding on to squad for stretch run

While their I-95 rivals, the Red Bulls, added two attacking players, DC United have kept their roster mostly unchanged. The Black and Red did trade for Alvaro Saborio in the middle of July, however.

DC are currently relying on 32-year-old Chris Rolfe and 31-year-old Jairo Arrieta to lead the way in scoring, with Fabian Espindola battling ongoing injuries. So far it is a recipe that has worked at RFK Stadium. However, away from the nation’s capital, DC have suffered four of their five losses. DC goes to Red Bull Arena at the end of August so be ready for a close run-in at the end of the season in the East.

Expansion, Expansion, Expansion!!!

During the All-Star Game festivities, Garber spoke about the expansion plans for MLS in the coming years. Atlanta and Minnesota have already received expansion teams and the league is adamant a new, second Los Angeles team would be unveiled. Garber also stressed that Miami is still an option and a city the league wants to play in.

MLS is already at its strongest with 20 teams and has fans that are hungry to see North American soccer on a regular basis. But does MLS need 24 teams, or any more than that?

Some have speculated that MLS could have 28 to 30 clubs in another 10 to 15 years, more similar to other American sports leagues. The North American Soccer League died due to over expansion and found the appeal of soccer wore off after a hot start. Although MLS has been building for 20 seasons now and soccer is very strong in the US, it’s still no more than the fourth most popular sport in the country.

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Rather than see more expansion after Minnesota and Atlanta – does LA need another try at a second team and does Miami really need to be in MLS? – the league should improve the product even more. Increasing the salary cap, to say $10 million and eliminate most of the financial mechanisms that allow teams to gain more salary space would be massively beneficial. Basically be more European. If MLS wants to grow outside of North America, being more European would help. From my experience, MLS turns off too many fans with its various financial methods and spending.

Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that writes for World Soccer Talk. Drew has contributed to Radio Yorkshire MLS Monday, Forza Italian Football, Bleacher Report, MLSGB and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, British football and the USA’s Major League Soccer.

Don Garber gives fresh encouragement to MLS expansion hopefuls

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has given fresh encouragement to prospective MLS franchise St. Louis by branding it as having a “great soccer market”.

Garber has met with public officials and business leaders in St. Louis to discuss the possibility of a new franchise being based in the city. Although he made it abundantly clear that any franchise would not happen before 2020.

“This is a city that just loves the sport and has so many people committed to it,” Garber told the St.Louis Post Dispatch on Tuesday. He went on to say: “We really hope to work with them.

“This is a soccer town. We’ve never been able to even think hard about a real opportunity to be here. We’ve got a lot of work to do before we get here. But we think that there is a possibility. And that is really what today’s all about. It’s our first fact-finding mission.

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“Right now, we know there are three things that matter: A strong, passionate soccer city – this certainly is. A great stadium plan – there’s an interesting one being developed. And I think there will be no shortage of people who will be interested in owning a team.”

St. Louis looks increasingly likely to join MLS at some point and it seems that Commissioner Garber is very much open to having an expansion franchise based there.

Would you like to see an MLS expansion franchise in St. Louis? 

Don Garber: MLS has ‘total belief’ in latest expansion franchise Minnesota United FC

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber strongly believes that the latest expansion franchise to be revealed, Minnesota United FC, will succeed as they represent everything that is spurring the growth of MLS.

Minnesota United FC were officially announced as the league’s 23rd expansion franchise on Wednesday afternoon and will enter the league by 2018 at the latest.

It’s a fascinating turnaround of fortunes for Minnesota United, who currently play in the NASL, as the club almost ceased from existence two years ago.

Uncertainty had surrounded soccer in Minnesota for years and after changing team names, league’s and ownership several times, Dr. Bill McGuire came in to save the club in November 2012.

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“[The owners] are totally committed,” Garber said at Wednesday’s expansion announcement from Target Field. “They love this game, they love this city and they’ve got a great plan for a building.

“They represent exactly what we want and what we need to continue this momentum that we have, that’s really stimulating the growth of our league.”

Don’t Miss: EXCLUSIVE: Minnesota United’s ‘Dark Clouds’ on MLS dream

Garber and the people at the top of the MLS pyramid chose Minnesota as the 23rd expansion franchise despite solid bids from Sacramento Republic, Las Vegas and a second one from Minnesota headed by the NFL’s Vikings ownership.

And the decision to award the latest MLS expansion slot to Minnesota United FC is something the MLS Commissioner thinks will go down as a great one.

“We have total belief in the Twin Cities. This is a market that is young, that is diverse, that has more people riding their bicycles around than they do in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is a pretty hip place.

“It has an incredible international flair too. It is a city that represents all of the things that we have been able to capitalize on that are allowing our league to be a sport for a new America. It’s diverse, it’s young and it is empowered by people who are the next generation of great sports fans.”

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United are set to enter MLS in time for the start of the 2018 season but could come in a year earlier, depending on developments with LAFC and their stadium plans, though Garber admitted that the date of entry had nothing to do with David Beckham’s proposed Miami franchise.

“It could be as early as 2017. We have a number of moving pieces. That’s part of the dynamic with a young sports league. The target is no later than ‘18 and it could be as early as 2017.

“Los Angeles is coming into our league and they are either ’17 or ’18 and Minnesota will be either ’17 or ’18. It’s not related to Miami.”

Will Minnesota United FC take MLS by storm when they enter the league in the next three years?

EXCLUSIVE: Minnesota United’s ‘Dark Clouds’ on MLS dream

Minnesota United FC are set to become the latest Major League Soccer expansion franchise when MLS Commissioner Don Garber and United owner Dr. Bill McGuire make the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, and that means another set of passionate supporters are set to enter the league too.

Minnesota United’s largest and oldest supporters group is the Dark Clouds and they have followed the team through thick and thin since they were formed in 2004. They are delighted that the club is finally on its way into MLS and cannot wait for the next era.

“It’s hard not to see the place in MLS as vital,” the Dark Clouds’ President Jim Oliver told MLSGB’s Louis East. “Minnesota’s had second division soccer for going on 26 years now, so we’ve had a team to support for a long time and have managed to survive through lean economic times and fraudsters for owners.
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“Despite that long history though, the competition for getting the rights to the MLS franchise in Minnesota might have put another club in United’s geographic area, which would have spelled doom for our club. That’s why it was so important for United to go for the MLS spot, and why we’re so pleased that our owner Dr. McGuire and his partners were willing to make the commitment.”

Some members of the Dark Clouds have been waiting for as long as two decades for their MLS dream to come true so the fact that United are set to become the league’s 23rd club is certainly something they’ve earned.

“MLS has been around for 20 years, so there’s definitely some among us who’ve been waiting that long,” Oliver added.

“Honestly we’ve been happy to support a lower-division club since the founding of the Dark Clouds 12 years ago, but nobody can say that you don’t dream of the quality players, stadiums and competition that the top flight provides.

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“For the Dark Clouds, we’re excited about all the attention MLS will bring and how it’ll help us to expand the charitable work that our group does. We’ve supported local soccer-related causes for years, and it’ll be great to hopefully turn that trickle of volunteerism and cash donation into a flood.”

Minnesota United’s official website claims: “We are industrious and built around the idea that hard work yields the greatest rewards. We are strong and getting stronger. We are United.”

More of those rewards are just around the corner now. An MLS franchise could enter the league within the next three years and United fans will hope to dominate in the top flight the same way they have done in the NASL over the past four years.

The NASL started it’s second chapter in 2011, and Minnesota United won the championship at the end of that first season. United then won the NASL Spring Championship last season and will look to enter MLS in style by continuing to dominate the second-tier of US Soccer until then.

Minnesota United celebrate winning the 2014 NASL Spring Championship (Photo: NASL.com)

Minnesota United celebrate winning the 2014 NASL Spring Championship (Photo: NASL.com)

“We’re expecting big things from United,” Oliver continued. “The ownership group has show a commitment to really raise the level even in the second division, bringing in great players and staff and systems that kept us firmly on top of the table last year.”

“There’s no other second division club in this country that commits resources to things like preseason tours (England last year and Brazil this year) and signings on the level we’ve seen from United in recent years. Dr. McGuire wants a dominant side and he’s done what it takes to build one. We can’t wait to see that in MLS.”

Are you looking forward to seeing Minnesota United enter MLS as the latest expansion franchise?

Minnesota United FC to seal next MLS expansion spot on Wednesday

Major League Soccer is set to announce Minnesota United FC as the league’s next expansion franchise on Wednesday afternoon as MLS will “make an important announcement on the future of soccer in Minnesota” at Target Field.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Minnesota United owner Dr. Bill McGuire will make the announcement at noon ET (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday as the Twin Cities are set to host the league’s 23rd team. The event will be streamed live on MLSSoccer.com.

The league confirmed that it was in discussion with Minnesota United about a possible expansion franchise last week and it is thought that the city’s plans for a downtown, open-air, soccer-specific stadium were key in their successful bid.

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“MLS leadership is well aware that the passionate soccer fans in Minnesota combined with a world-class, soccer-specific stadium make the Twin Cities and our state a perfect home for the next MLS expansion team,” the club said in a statement on their website last week.

United currently play in the North American Soccer League and play in front of around 8,500 fans at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

They took on Swansea City in Blaine last summer and beat the Premier League side 2-0 on their preseason tour.

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USMNT midfielder Miguel Ibarra and Northern Ireland international Jonny Steele both play for United and are two names that many will recognise.

It is unclear as to when they will enter the league at this point, though that should be confirmed in Wednesday’s announcement.

Atlanta FC are set to enter MLS in 2017, while Los Angeles FC are also expected to join the same year though that depends on their progress towards a new stadium.

David Beckham’s Miami franchise is still fighting for a slot, along with Sacramento Republic and those two look set to battle for the 24th slot, though the league is getting prepared to expand beyond 24 teams in the coming years.

What do you make of Minnesota United FC being announced as Major League Soccer’s next expansion franchise?

Las Vegas out of the running for next MLS Expansion Franchise

Las Vegas will not be the home of a Major League Soccer expansion franchise until after 2018 as it now appears Minneapolis, Sacramento, San Antonio and Miami will battle for the next two spots in the league.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber notified Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman about the decision in a letter on Thursday as he confirmed: “We are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018.”

MLS letter to Las Vegas Mayor Goodman

 

Mayor Goodman was obviously disappointed with the decision but remains focused on trying to bring a major sports franchise to the city in the next few years.

“Of course I am disappointed that the MLS did not select Las Vegas for an expansion team in the 2017 or 2018 seasons,” Goodman said.

“I still believe our city would be the perfect location for a major league team, and I am saddened that we miss out on the opportunity to gain $450 million in downtown investment and job creation.

Photo: An artist's portrayal of what a Las Vegas MLS stadium could look like

Photo: An artist’s portrayal of what a Las Vegas MLS stadium could look like

“A team coming here would have been the catalyst for other developments in the downtown. I hope the MLS will still consider Las Vegas for a team beyond 2018, and that the league’s decision will not be a negative influence on other major league franchises coming to our city.”

Atlanta and Los Angeles will enter the league in 2017, becoming the 21st and 22nd teams but Don Garber’s vision for 24 MLS teams by the end of the decade means two more are expected to join by 2019.

Miami are expected to be one of those teams so long as David Beckham can find a stadium for the team and that would mean Minneapolis, Sacramento and San Antonio would then battle for the final remaining spot.

Who would you like to see announced as the 23rd and 24th teams to join MLS?