Remember when Paul Gardner said Columbus wasn’t a soccer town?

Weird Paul Gardner column

With the Columbus Crew set to host MLS Cup 2015 this Sunday against the Portland Timbers, it’s worth looking back to early 2002, when soccer’s resident curmudgeon Paul Gardner of Soccer America 1Who is almost surely the one MLS Commissioner Don Garber referred to here as “…somebody from Soccer America – I had no idea who this guy was, he was an old man then and he’s an older man today.” lamented the fact┬áthat Major League Soccer had just contracted its Miami and Tampa Bay clubs in favor of Midwestern outposts like Kansas City and Columbus.

“Starkly put, MLS has abandoned largely Hispanic Florida in favor of largely Anglo Midwest. I was in Columbus recently for the (NCAA) College Cup. The country’s only custom-built pro-soccer stadium was virtually deserted and the community interest non-existent.

Nothing more needs to be said. Columbus is not a soccer town. But MLS prefers to have a franchise there than among the Hispanics in Florida.

The gentlemen who make that sort of decision are Anglo businessmen. Short-sighted Anglo-businessmen whose myopia will not allow them to see that a soccer league might occasionally need decisions to be made for soccer, rather than financial, reasons.”

This probably isn’t the earliest written example of this Englishman’s odd, enduring obsession with Hispanics in soccer (especially in American soccer), which continues to this day. Were you so inclined, you could likely find even earlier examples of his insistence that “Latino flair” is the cure for what ails us.

But the point of the 2002 article – that MLS was being short-sighted for folding its Florida teams while keeping whitebread Columbus and Kansas City around – looks even sillier than it did at the time. (Some folks called him on it then, to their credit.) Kansas City has a jewel of a stadium that it fills most of the time now, while Columbus is a traditional and tradition-filled site for big soccer matches. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay area has a middling NASL franchise playing in a baseball stadium on the wrong side of the Bay and the would-be owner of MLS’ new Miami(ish) club can’t exactly come up with a place to play.

If “largely Hispanic Florida” 2The US Census says the state is 24% “Hispanic or Latino,” Hillsborough County is 26% and Pinellas just 9%, though that figure rises to 66% in Miami-Dade County. was key to MLS’ success, wouldn’t we have seen more support from that state in the first place?

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch