Been looking into a number of stories in the last few days. Here's what I've got:
? In December I confirmed that the owner of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, was one of four parties interested in owning a new MLS expansion team in New York City. Now two sources tell me the Man City owner is the odds-on favorite to be the owner of that second New York MLS team, which would be called New York City FC.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said last week that an NYC expansion announcement was four to six weeks away, and it could take place while City is in New York for a friendly May 25. Garber hasn't been shy about saying that he wants a $100 million expansion fee for the new New York team, and I'm told that figure is in the ballpark of the league's talks with Man City ownership. That still leaves the task of getting a stadium for the team, but the league remains confident that plans for a Queens stadium will be finalized soon as well.
Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on turning Man City into last year's English Premier League champion, and a New York MLS team would be another huge investment when you combine the $100 million expansion fee, the $340 million stadium fee and costs for training facilities and players. (One could expect that NYC FC would field the maximum amount of big-name Designated Players, which are currently limited to three per MLS team.)
Some background: One of the driving forces behind this deal is Man City CEO Ferran Soriano, who used to be in a similar position at FC Barcelona during Joan Laporta's presidency. A few years ago, Soriano was involved in Barcelona's push to own an MLS expansion team in Miami with Bolivian investor Marcelo Claure. That deal died in 2009 after Soriano had left Barça, but Soriano has remained interested in MLS.
One source tells me the second New York team would probably not start play in MLS until 2016 or 2017.
? The man who landed David Beckham and Robbie Keane for Los Angeles is back in soccer with Toronto FC. Just weeks after Tim Leiweke stunningly left his post as the president of Galaxy owner AEG, he was announced on Friday as the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns TFC and several other Toronto pro sports teams. I spoke to Leiweke on Saturday, and he said his owners are 100 percent behind him in his efforts to land a big-name star on the order of Beckham or Keane for Toronto -- though it may not happen in this summer's transfer window.
Leiweke says his goal is to do what he did in Los Angeles and build Toronto into not just a championship team but the most important and high-profile team in MLS. He said he's looking forward to working again with TFC president Kevin Payne, who teamed with Leiweke for a few years with AEG.
"It's not just about winning," Leiweke told me. "That's absolutely critical for Toronto FC, but we also have to do it with a style and the personnel so that we help change the league as well. That's something I'll try to ingrain within the thinking of Kevin and the rest of the organization."
Leiweke added that he would soon get his arms around the agreement between MLSE and the city of Toronto on BMO Field, with the hopes of finding ways to expand the stadium's revenue streams. He mentioned that L.A. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena told him TFC's training facilities are already the best he has seen in the league.
Leiweke's departure from AEG came just as he was about to land Chelsea's Frank Lampard for the Galaxy. (He had actually visited Lampard in London a few days earlier.) So I figured it was worth asking him: Is L.A. going to seal the deal and sign Lampard?
"I don't know," Leiweke said. "The uniqueness of guys like Frank Lampard or David Beckham or Robbie Keane is that they go where they want to go. It has more to do with where the player wants to go than it does with which team wants him."
Leiweke also said he'd be representing Toronto at MLS' regular Board of Governors meetings, where there could be some awkward moments with AEG owner Phil Anschutz. The two men used to have a father-son-type relationship until their big split at AEG. When I asked how much they'd interact at the meetings, Leiweke laughed and said, "Probably not much."
? The World Cup is still more than a year away, but I'm told it's likely that some of the world's top national teams from Europe and elsewhere may spend up to two weeks in the U.S. as part of their preparations before they go to Brazil for the tournament. It makes sense. Those teams could get accustomed to the time change and benefit from some of the top facilities the U.S. has to offer.
That opens up the possibility for some high-profile pre-World Cup friendlies between visiting marquee teams and against the U.S. here. One of the concerns before the last two World Cups was that the U.S. wasn't playing good enough competition right before the World Cup, but that shouldn't be the case this time around. (Now all the U.S. has to do is qualify, of course.)
? U.S. national team forward Hérculez Gómez is currently playing for Santos Laguna in Mexico, but Gómez is drawing interest in a potential summer move from MLS teams, including Seattle and Toronto, I'm told. If Gómez were to be a Designated Player, Seattle would have to move one of the maximum three DPs it has on its roster, but Toronto does have space for a DP.
One other wrinkle: Kansas City retains Gómez's MLS rights since he turned down what the league considers to be a qualified offer to stay with KC in 2009. So any MLS team that wants Gómez would have to do a deal with Kansas City to acquire his rights. Gómez isn't happy about that rule and even asked Garber about it in Garber's Twitter chat last week.
? We don't often talk about the size of playing fields, but I'm told there's a push from a few MLS teams to have the league raise the minimum width of the league's fields. That's a direct challenge to the Houston Dynamo, the only team in the league that keeps its field at the current minimum 70 yards wide even though it has the space to extend it to 75 yards wide.
That's a choice by Houston coach Dominic Kinnear that fits Houston's rough-and-tumble playing style, and it's worth noting that Houston now has a league-record 36-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions. But the league could raise the minimum width, arguing that greater space would promote passing and more fluid soccer. Don't expect Houston to be happy, though, if this change ends up happening.
? Something big may be happening in Portland under new coach Caleb Porter. The Timbers won on the road at Kansas City, coming back twice for a 3-2 stunner that gave Portland its third win of the season (the other two coming against Houston and San Jose). Several Timbers have been impressing me lately, including Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri and Ryan Johnson. I'm also trying to figure out why there were doubts that Porter could transition from college success to the pros. How many examples are there of college-to-pros failures in MLS? But I do know a few success stories, including Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid, Bob Bradley and (I would argue these days) Schellas Hyndman.
? As if Los Angeles didn't already have veteran talent in Keane, Mike Magee and Landon Donovan, there's a lot to like with their young guys, too. L.A. won 2-0 at Salt Lake without Keane and Donovan. Charlie Rugg scored in his MLS debut, and also promising this season have been José Villarreal and Jack McBean. If rookie forward Gyasi Zardes gets going, look out.