SCENE: A dimly lit room in Columbus Crew Stadium, January 2002
- Don Garber, Major League Soccer commissioner and former National Football League executive
- Lamar Hunt, owner of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, founding owner in the American Football League and North American Soccer League, owner of two MLS teams: Columbus Crew and Kansas City Wizards, soon to be three (Dallas Burn)
- Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, owner of MLS’ New England Revolution, recent owner of the San Jose Earthquakes
- (participating via hologram) Philip Anschutz, owner of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, MetroStars, D.C. United and part of the San Jose Earthquakes
GARBER: Gentlemen, thank you for meeting here. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the supremacy of the greatest sport in the world, gridiron football.
GARBER: Thank you. Now, as you know, we have the perfect opportunity to kill off soccer once and for all. The Sept. 11 attacks have really rattled the economy, and we project the Dow Jones will be in the 7,500 range by March 2003.
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Gooood … gooood …
KRAFT: Wow! Remember when it was over 10,000?
GARBER: Yes, thank you for continuing the exposition. So now is the time we strike.
HUNT: Yeah, well, what are you going to do this time? You already absorbed my football league and killed off the USFL.
KRAFT (laughing): Yeah, the USFL. Ha! That Trump guy will never amount to anything.
HUNT: And the NASL … (tears up) … we had Pele! And Beckenbauer! And George Best!
HUNT: Really good player, though he didn’t play for the Cosmos. The NASL had a few of those.
GARBER: Yes, Lamar. I know. The NFL really came after you, and the NASL and NFL wound up in court. You don’t want to go down that road again, do you? Or do you no longer enjoy owning the Kansas City Chiefs?
HUNT: OK, OK. What do you have in mind?
GARBER: Well, we could just close MLS. We’ve made it look like a good effort, and no one would blame us if we simply gave up now. No one else is lining up to invest, and the A-League is just limping along.
KRAFT: I don’t know. I like the Montreal team. And Seattle, Portland and Vancouver look OK.
GARBER: Yeah, whatever. Anyway, if we folded MLS right now, it would probably be another decade or more before someone else tried again. I mean, the 2002 World Cup is in Japan and South Korea, and no one’s really trying to market it right now.
HUNT: The U.S. team stinks right now, anyway. Reyna and O’Brien are always hurt, and they’re actually trying out Tony Sanneh! Can you believe that? They may actually give some playing time to those kids Donovan and Beasley! (chortles)
GARBER: All true.
KRAFT: So, fold the league. Then sit back quietly and sabotage any effort down the road to start again, right?
GARBER: No. I have something far more complicated in mind …
GARBER: Because this is far more … genius. (HA HA HA HA HA …)
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Gooood … gooood …
GARBER: Let’s form a marketing company, Soccer United Marketing. We’ll bundle MLS rights with the World Cup rights nobody wants right now. And I hear IMG wants out of the U.S. Soccer deal, so we’ll take that over, too.
HUNT: By golly, we’ll own everything!
HUNT: So THEN we shut everything down?
GARBER: No, no. That’ll be too suspicious. We’ll invest more. We need to grow U.S. Soccer until it has a nine-figure reserve.
KRAFT (spits out prototype of new energy drink): Sorry about that. This energy drink is supposed to have the capacity to make quarterbacks play forever. We’re trying it out on that Brady kid. Anyway … U.S. Soccer? Are you kidding me? They barely have enough money to field national teams! They had a hiring freeze last year just so they could break even.
GARBER: I know. So we need to get that guy who used to work for us and now works for you.
KRAFT: Sunil Gulati?
GARBER: Exactly. He’s finally vice president. In 2006, let’s have him replace Dr. Bob as president.
KRAFT: I follow you now. So U.S. Soccer will be making a ton of money and MLS will be making a ton of money, even though we all know no one cares about this sport in this country.
GARBER: Now you get it.
HUNT: So then we can sell all our stuff?
GARBER: Well, you can sell two of your teams, Lamar. Make sure you sell the Columbus team to some guy who really wants to play in Texas.
HUNT: Ha! Good luck to THAT guy!
GARBER: Right. But we’re going to take that money and invest … even more.
KRAFT: In what?
GARBER: More stadiums, for one thing.
GARBER: OK, you don’t have to build one. But I see soccer stadiums popping up in Los Angeles …
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Gooood … gooood …
GARBER: And San Jose, and Dallas, and New Jersey, and Colorado, and Toronto …
GARBER: Yeah, we’ll get to that. And Chicago, and Kansas City, and Salt Lake City, and Philadelphia, and Houston, and Orlando …
HUNT: Whoa, whoa. How many teams are we talking about here?
GARBER: Oh, let’s say 20. Nah, 24. Maybe 28. Certainly no more than 32.
KRAFT: Well … I mean … I guess we can come up with all that. As long as you’re not asking us to make any more investments in anything else.
GARBER: Actually, I want every MLS club to have a youth academy program.
HUNT: Oh, so we could sell players for a profit?
GARBER: No, our lawyers and the people who will eventually form the MLS players union think solidarity pay and training compensation are illegal, so we’ll lose players to Germany without compensation.
(Suddenly, Miami Fusion owner Ken Horowitz bursts through the door …)
HOROWITZ: Guys! Guys! Are you serious? I heard what you’re saying. This is far too much money to spend! How are we supposed to do this?!
(GARBER scowls, then presses a button that summons his minions)
GARBER: Terminate the Miami franchise.
HOROWITZ: What? Noooooooooo!
HUNT: Oh my. You fellas aren’t playin’ around. So we’re at least going to kill off the lower divisions, right?
GARBER: Not exactly. They’re going to fall apart in 2009.
HUNT: Oh good.
GARBER: And then we’ll bail them out and operate a second-division league for a season while they figure out how to proceed in two rival leagues.
HUNT: OK, I’m lost.
GARBER: No worries, Lamar. We’ll name the U.S. Open Cup trophy after you.
KRAFT: Now I’m hearing women are also playing soccer. How will we stop that?
GARBER: Glad you asked. We’re going to argue incessantly with this new WUSA league until it falls apart.
KRAFT: Sounds good.
GARBER: Five years will pass before they start another league. We’ll be friendly with that league but won’t do much to help, and it’ll eventually fall apart as well.
HUNT: I like it! So we don’t look like the bad guys, but we’ll really keep it from growing.
GARBER: And then Gulati will form a new league with U.S. Soccer funding.
GARBER: Oh,, and after big success in one location, we’ll urge more MLS clubs to operate women’s teams as well.
GARBER: Does anyone here want to end up like Horowitz?
HUNT: No, no … we’re in … right?
KRAFT: Yeah, I should make enough money from the Patriots winning several Super Bowls to …
KRAFT: Just you wait, Lamar. We have an engineering program in place to make Tom Brady and Bill Belichick cyborgs. And when that fails, we’ll underinflate the footballs.
GARBER: Guys, let’s stay on track here.
KRAFT: OK, sorry. So how long does Gulati stay in charge of U.S. Soccer?
GARBER: Twelve years ought to do it. In that time, they’ll hire Jurgen Klinsmann to run the men’s team and offer up a bunch of incoherent thoughts on the youth game.
HUNT: I like it! That’ll confuse everyone.
GARBER: Exactly. And he’ll leave the program in such a shambles that not even Bruce Arena can salvage their 2018 qualifying campaign.
KRAFT: I wouldn’t think Bruce Arena would be able to …
GARBER: Whatever — that’s not important right now. So then, we’ll have a contested election in U.S. Soccer.
(Laughter all the way around)
GARBER: No, really.
HUNT: But we’ll basically just install the next president, right?
GARBER: Here’s how it’ll work. We’ll take this young executive working for Soccer United Marketing, Kathy Carter. She’ll jump into the election right when Sunil Gulati drops out.
KRAFT: Great! So she’ll win?
GARBER: No. Because the plan all along will be to get Carlos Cordeiro elected.
KRAFT: Oh, I just found him by searching at Yahoo, the world’s dominant search engine. He works at Goldman Sachs or something.
HUNT: So let’s recap. By February 2018, MLS will have 20-something teams …
GARBER: … averaging more than 20,000 fans per game. Sure, some of that will be tickets sold, and you’ll have a lot of no-shows, just as we have in every other league, but we’ll have massive crowds in Seattle and Atlanta, along with second clubs in New York and Los Angeles …
HUNT: OK. And U.S. Soccer will finally be poised to make the reforms in youth soccer that we’ve needed for decades.
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Goood … goo …
GARBER: Can we switch that thing off yet?
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Who owns half the league?
GARBER: You’re right — I’m sorry, sir.
HUNT: And we’ll keep every other soccer league off the airwaves.
GARBER: Oh, no — forgot to mention that. Spanish-language channels will continue to broadcast Mexican league games that regularly get three to four times the ratings our broadcasts get. And NBC will take Premier League rights away from the Fox Sports World folks and put most games on the air for free, all with impeccable production values. Fox will have the Champions League and the Bundesliga.
HUNT: So it’ll be easier to watch the Premier League here than it is in England. But we get a cut of all that?
GARBER: Well, no. We’ll be competing with it.
HUNT: OK. So we’ll have a healthy domestic league spending a ton of money of facilities and youth soccer, we’ll have better leagues beating us in the ratings …
HUNT: … and people will still hate us because the Soccer United Marketing deal just smells funny.
GARBER: You’ve got it.
KRAFT: But people will appreciate our work in youth soccer, right?
GARBER: No, we’re actually going to make a mess of that. You see, most MLS clubs will have free academies. Then other youth clubs will try to maintain their stature even as the travel and facility requirements get more costly. By that time, the economy will have recovered …
HUNT: Under Republican leadership?
GARBER: No, actually, an African-American Democrat named Barack Hussein Obama.
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: But I’ll have built a conservative media empire around the Examiner brand!
GARBER: Yeah, let’s not go there. Anyway, the economy will be better, and tons of rich families will pay good money for their kids to get their butts kicked in our Development Academy.
HUNT: Yikes. But at least recreational soccer will be OK.
GARBER: Nope. After decades of indifference, we’re going to tell people to reorganize every soccer league in the country … or else …
HUNT: Seems like the rec organizations would just quit U.S. Soccer.
GARBER: Ummmmm … OK, we haven’t projected that yet. Let me get back to you on that.
KRAFT: So, in short, soccer itself will be in great shape. We’ll have people wearing jerseys, making Nike, adidas and whoever else happy, and people can watch soccer all weekend if they want. MLS and U.S. Soccer will be in great shape financially, but everyone will hate us.
GARBER: That’s right.
KRAFT: And then, finally, we’ll have investors who turn up around … let’s say, 2016 and 2017 … who think they know everything about soccer and want to tell us what to do, and they’ll actually have support from big-name soccer people, even though none of these folks have even read anything on U.S. soccer history, much less lived it as Lamar has.
KRAFT: And they’ll sue us when they don’t get their way?
HUNT: And all this will kill off soccer in the USA?
GARBER: Yes. What little remains will be controlled by us, the people with NFL ties.
KRAFT: Looks like you’ve thought of everything.
GARBER: Not yet. We’ll be threatened in the 2020s by Ultimate.
KRAFT: Yeah, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.
GARBER: Thanks. Meeting adjourned.
ANSCHUTZ HOLOGRAM: Gooooood … goo- … hey, is this thing still on?
Disclaimer: This is obviously fiction. Aside from the formation of SUM and a couple of other things that actually happened. And Tom Brady’s probably a cyborg.