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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 24, 2006

Wizards, FC Dallas to play exhibition game in OK City

OKLAHOMA CITY -- First a hurricane brought the NBA to Oklahoma on a temporary basis. Now the efforts of one high-school soccer coach are bringing Major League Soccer here for a visit.

The Kansas City Wizards and FC Dallas will play a preseason game Saturday at Moore High School, the third MLS exhibition in the Oklahoma City area in the past four years.

Randall Robison started the process by e-mailing FC Dallas to find out why -- after playing games in Edmond in 2003 and 2004 -- there wasn't a game in Oklahoma last year.

"It truly was as simple as I said, 'I want you to play here,' and they said OK," said Robison, a soccer coach at Westmoore High School.

Robison got a positive response from the FC Dallas front office and started building toward the exhibition game.

Unlike the previous two MLS games, this contest is not part of a larger effort to draw an expansion franchise to the state.

Oklahoma had two cities -- Tulsa and Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City -- in the running for an MLS team when the league expanded in 2004, but the new franchises instead went to Salt Lake City and the Mexican club Chivas, which put its base in Los Angeles.

The league has since announced plans to put one franchise in Toronto next year and another across the state line from Philadelphia in the New Jersey suburbs in 2009. In December, the San Jose Earthquakes relocated to Houston, but the league has said it wants to return a team to the greater San Francisco area.

Although there haven't been regular talks between MLS and Oklahoma officials since the 2004 expansion, league President Mark Abbott said he'll be watching the turnout Saturday. Abbott visited the Oklahoma City area six times before the 2004 expansion.

"I think it was in the end we didn't have an ownership group and you can't move forward without an ownership group," Abbott said by telephone Friday.

That large obstacle is the main issue keeping MLS from locating in Oklahoma. Abbott listed the league's main concerns for expansion teams as a support base, a stadium and ownership.

The Oklahoma Soccer Association has about 40,000 children ages 5 to 19 who are signed up to play the sport and the number of high school teams in the state has gone from fewer than 100 in 1985 to more than 200 now, said Dale Watts, the association's director of publications.

As for a site, the University of Central Oklahoma upgraded its stadium so it could house a pro soccer team.

"We're ready for a team. We built the stadium for a team," said Steve Kreidler, the university's executive vice president of administration.

"We built the stadium for our needs and the high school's needs, but we actually hired a firm to help design it that has done Major League Soccer stadiums so that we incorporated everything into our stadium design that they needed for Major League Soccer."

Wantland Stadium now seats about 12,000 fans and can accommodate about 4,000 more on a grass berm, Kreidler said. It also is designed so it can be expanded to seat up to 25,000 people, and Kreidler said the university already has drawings prepared if someone were to step forward to finance the expansion.

"About two or three times a year I get a call," Kreidler said. "They say, 'What's the status?' And I say, 'We're ready.'"

Abbott said MLS would like to expand from its current 12 teams to 16 by 2010. Beyond Toronto and Philadelphia, he said the league is looking at Milwaukee, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Diego and Seattle.

If Robison has his way, what started with a single e-mail and a desire to have professional teams play in his own backyard will result in Oklahoma City being back on the MLS map.

"If a high-school coach can pull this off, think about what one of these teams could do with one of their staffs," Robison said. "I have no doubts that MLS can survive in Oklahoma City. There's a huge soccer base here.

"The Hornets have proved that there's a corporate base here and that there's fan support. NBA, MLS, regardless of the league, Oklahoma City can support the highest level of professional sports. That's ultimately the dream or the goal."