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UPDATE: El Paso Contender for Major League Soccer team

By: Genevieve Curtis

EL PASO, Texas - 
Adding Major League Soccer in El Paso is a possibility, according to an announcement from the owners of the El Paso Chihuahuas.

The announcement was made Monday morning.

MountainStar Sports Group announced it has had preliminary and positive discussions with Major League Soccer regarding the possibility of adding El Paso as an expansion market for the league.

Alan Ledford, president of MountainStar Sports Group, said, "The ownership group has had several very good meetings with MLS, including meeting on two occasions with Don Garber, the league's commissioner. This is the first step in a very long process, and we will continue to pursue all avenues available to urge MLS to consider the El Paso region as a viable expansion market." Ledford added, "The ownership group is committed to furthering its pursuit, and purchase of a Major League Soccer team for El Paso and the region, but strong and consistent support from the community, as well as from El Paso's public officials and the business leadership, is critical to this endeavor."

In 2013 Garber announced the leagues' expansion plan is to increase the number of teams to 24 by 2020.
El Paso is a contender to become home to one of those teams. 


Ledford said two MLS representatives attended the El Paso Chihuahuas Opening Day at Southwest University Park.
 
They were very impressed, said Ledford. The fact that the region has been so supportive of Triple-A baseball, the Chihuahuas and its new venue. The fact that that experience has been such a positive one, said Ledford.
 
The borderland could be an ideal location for an MLS team; soccer is an intrinsic part of the community and culture, as well as home to radical soccer fans on both sides of the border.
 
Ciudad Juarez is just blocks away where soccer is the undisputed No. 1 sport throughout the country, said Ledford.


The booming borderland region has also peaked the interest of MLS.
 
I think its also caught the attention of Major League Soccer that El Paso is a community, is a region that is on the rise, said Ledford.
 
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said he supports MountainStar's efforts to get MLS to consider the city for an expansion team. "I have had several meetings with members of the ownership group and made it clear that they have my support, as long as the process is transparent and inclusive."
 
When it comes to where an a soccer stadium could possibly be located, thats seems to be one ball thats still in the air.
 
Its early on in the process, said Leeser.
 
But a 2012 study by the city of El Paso determined the best location for an MLS stadium is south of Paisano near the bus depot and railroad yard.
 
Ledford also said it was too early in the process to talk about locations for the stadium. But he said it was clear what MLS is looking for when it comes to new stadiums. 
 
According to Ledford, MLS prefers stadiums that are soccer specific, and have the capacity to hold between 18,000 and 20,000 fans.
 
It certainly make sense that generally... the stadium is located near the border, near the bridges as it possibly can be, those are all discussions that have not been had in any level of detail, said Ledford.
 
Downtown would be the optimal location to be within walking distance of the international bridges. The 2012 city study said the Paisano location was ideal because of its proximity to the border and market potentials.
 
At a press conference Leeser said if the stadium required a serious financial investment from the city he would want to take that to the voters. 
 
In 2012 voters approved the quality of life bonds, which included $180 million that could be designated for a soccer stadium or multipurpose arena.
 
Leeser added that he believes El Paso is ideally suited for MLS. 

"As a city, we can show Major League Soccer that we will bring unique attributes to the league and can compete very effectively, both geographically and economically, with anybody. In my view, we would be a great market for MLS. I think our community will get engaged in this process and MLS will know that we mean business." 

Ledford said that MLS has strict criteria that a region, or market, must meet to be considered as a viable expansion candidate. 

"One of the key components that MLS looks for when considering an expansion city is the community support the prospective team would have in that area and what the city or region does to demonstrate that support," Ledford said. "This is a highly competitive process. El Paso, Juarez and Las Cruces would have to collectively put its best foot forward in demonstrating that it truly wants a Major League Soccer team, as well as show how the region would support it." 
 
El Paso will face stiff competition from cities like San Antonio, Austin, Miami, San Diego and Atlanta, which are all looking to score their own MLS team. It will take enthusiasm and commitment from the community to help attract MLS to the region.

MountainStar Sports Group feels that one of the first things El Paso and the region can do is support the exhibition match between Club Deportivo Guadalajara, known as the Chivas, and the Brazilian team Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, scheduled for July 6 in the Sun Bowl. "They'll be looking carefully at attendance, the game experience and crowd behavior; they want to see if El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces fans are passionate about the game of soccer played at the highest level," said Ledford.

Ledford said that MountainStar Sports Group is not affiliated with the exhibition game, but they will be lending as much support as possible. "This is our second chance to shine in the eyes of MLS," said Ledford. "We need to let Major League Soccer see, firsthand, that the El Paso/Juarez area will support a professional sports team at the level of MLS." Ledford also said, "There are many cities aggressively vying for an MLS team and this will be another opportunity for the region to show its true character. And, based on its amazing support for the Chihuahuas and Triple-baseball, on July 6 I think MLS will be very pleased."

Ledford said the first chance MLS had to see El Paso was at the El Paso Chihuahuas Opening Night game at Southwest University Park. "MLS had two representatives here that day," said Ledford. "I can tell you that the full ballpark, the sponsorships and business support, and the fan's amazing enthusiasm -- all of it impressed MLS. They saw that the region will support a professional team of this caliber, and that the city stepped up and built a beautiful, first-class ballpark. All of this is critically important in the selection process for MLS." Ledford added, "From my perspective, Triple-A baseball was the first step for the El Paso/Juarez region. Now we can begin the work to capitalize on that success."
 
County Judge Veronica Escobar also voiced her support. In a statement release by MountainStar Sports group Escobar said, "MountainStar Sports Group and I have had positive discussions regarding El Paso's opportunity to get an MLS expansion team," said Escobar. "This is a great chance for us to take the next step as a vibrant, growing city and county. We've seen what has happened recently with Minor League Baseball and the great support of this community, and now we have an opportunity to take advantage of that success. It's rare that any city has a chance to seriously be considered as an MLS market, and I think this region will get behind an effort to bring an MLS team here. I will strongly support that effort."
 

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