EL PASO, Texas - Omar Salgado, a native of El Paso and forward for Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps, has no doubts that a team in El Paso would be successful.
"I believe an MLS team in El Paso would do very well," Salgado said in a Facebook message to ABC-7 Thursday. "Judging from the Chihuahuas game I got to see last week, it looks as if El Paso is ready to have a big league team in town and what better league to have than Major League Soccer. Like a couple years ago, Indios filled their stadium week in and week out. I believe the support an MLS team would have in El Paso would be enormous. It certainly is a team I would enjoy playing for and I hope it happens in the near future."
Salgado returned to MLS play this past May after missing 18 months due to injury. He was the first player selected overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
MountainStar Sports Group, the team that owns Triple-A baseball's El Paso Chihuahuas, announced this week that they are pursuing getting an MLS expansion franchise to play in El Paso.
A news release by the sports group described the discussions as being preliminary and positive.
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."
MLS League Commissioner Don Garber has stated Leagues' expansion plan is to increase the number of teams to 24 by 2020. Read about Garber's thoughts on stadium locations and possible expansion to Texas by clicking http://bit.ly/1juwmdl
El Paso elected officials are throwing their support behind MountainStar's efforts to get an MLS franchise in El Paso.
"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," Mayor Oscar Leeser said. "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."
County Judge Veronica Escobar also is supportive of MountainStar's pursuit of a team.
"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."
The City of El Paso had several Quality of Life Bond project meetings prior to putting projects on the ballot in November 2012 and several El Pasoans said they wanted a major league soccer stadium. The stadium was estimated to cost between $100 million and $120 million. The stadium was not put on the ballot.
Voters did approve a $180 million multipurpose arena in the November 2012 Quality of Life Bond election. There is no current timetable for when it would be built.
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."
MountainStar Sports Group said that one of the first things El Paso and the region can do is support the exhibition match between Club Deportivo Guadalajara, known as Chivas, and the Brazilian team Cruzeiro Esporte Clube scheduled for July 6 at the Sun Bowl.
"This match is being promoted by Soccer United Marketing, which is an affiliate of MLS" said Ledford. He continued, "We believe Soccer United Marketing chose El Paso for this exhibition match for a reason," said Ledford. "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."
Tickets for the game at the Sun Bowl may be purchased at http://bit.ly/1kHkowS
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, first hand, 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-A Baseball, on July 6th, 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."