May 6, 2024 - News

What happens when MLS comes to town

Illustration of a dirty and deflated soccer ball

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Indianapolis' quest for a Major League Soccer franchise cleared its first hurdle last week, raising questions about what will become of the city's current professional soccer team.

Why it matters: The Indy Eleven kicked off their 11th season last month looking toward a new home at Eleven Park's planned 20,000-seat soccer stadium, but it looks increasingly likely that the project and its club are in trouble.

State of play: The Indy Eleven are part of the United Soccer League, sanctioned by the sports' governing body as a Division II league in U.S. soccer, under MLS.

  • For years, the hope of Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir (and many fans) was that the team would transition to MLS.
  • A 2017 bid failed, but Ozdemir told FOX59 he kept working to prove his model to MLS and the city.
  • The city was seemingly on board with that plan — until it wasn't.

The latest: The city says that Ozdemir's plan to build the $1 billion mixed-use Eleven Park (anchored by the stadium) and transition his team to MLS isn't financially viable, so they're looking to go another route.

The other side: Ozdemir says he's still ready to build.

  • Indy Eleven did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Caught in the middle: The fans who are left wondering what will happen to the Indy Eleven.

Threat level: In four other cities that had USL squads before securing MLS expansion teams in recent years, none of the USL teams are still playing.

  • In Cincinnati and Nashville, the USL teams transitioned to MLS.
  • In St. Louis and San Diego, the USL team folded.

What they're saying: David Ziemba, president of the Indy Eleven supporter group the Brickyard Battalion, said he's afraid that Indianapolis will go the way of St. Louis and San Diego.

  • While the USL team could, theoretically, continue while a separate MLS team operates, Ziemba said it's unlikely the region could support two professional soccer teams.
  • "The little guy, in the David versus Goliath situation, can't survive," he said.

The best case scenario, he said, is one in which the Eleven transitions to MLS and keeps the colors, crest and traditions that supporters have invested in and helped build for the last decade.

  • "We have colors and a crest and we're known as the team that has checkers in their uniforms and supporters' scarves," he said. "We started that in 2011. A lot of what we have built is a connection to the identity and branding."

The bottom line: "We can have either one of these situations here," he said to whether the team transitions to MLS or folds. "We get to choose if we all come together."

What's next: The Eleven are hosting San Antonio FC at the Butler Bowl, 7pm Wednesday, for Round of 32 play in the U.S. Open Cup.

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