Update: Philadelphia Expansion Plans

With Philadelphia locked in a dogfight with St. Louis over who will be awarded the 16th team in Major League Soccer, the Pennsylvania legislature is currently taking up a plan that would call for $45 million in state funding to help build a stadium in the city of Chester.The effort to bring professional soccer back to the City of Brotherly Love is being led by an investment group that includes iStar Financial CEO Jay Sugarman, Wilmington developers Christopher and Robert Buccini, and chairman of the Swarthmore Group financial advisors James Nevels.

Some reasons why Philadelphia may have the inside track on St. Louis:

1.) The non-existant team already has a fervent supporters group - Sons of Ben - going strong, with over 1,000 members and nearly 2,000 pledges to buy season tickets.

2.) Delaware County officials are on-board, having already pledged $30 million toward construction. Add to that the support of Governor Ed Rendell, who believes the project could help transform the Chester area.

3.) The Mexican population in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey, a key demographic for any pro soccer franchise, grew 74% between 2000-2006.

4.) Recent exhibitions featuring international clubs like Manchester United and FC Barcelona have easily sold-out Lincoln Financial Field, proving there is a solid, educated market for the sport in the area.

"It isn't brain surgery. The numbers are there," said Nevels. "We've got the market." He went on to say that he was "incredibly optimistic" that state funding would be approved and an MLS expansion club awarded. He predicted "an announcement very soon."

Garber, on the other hand, didn't sound quite as positive.

"Philadelphia is very close," said Garber recently. "It's at the finish line. We have no doubt that we want and hope to have a team in the country's fourth-largest market. If [the funding] happens, then Philadelphia has the inside track. If it doesn't happen, Philadelphia could go way down the list. If that deal falls apart, we have no sense as to when it could come back together; whether the county's package will stay in place."

If Philly's plan falters this time around, the city may still be in line for one of two projected expansion spots in 2010; Garber has stated that the league is planning to have 16 teams by '09 and 18 by 2010, and will take a break after that to ensure that all markets are successful.

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