MLS folds teams in Miami and Tampa Bay

Tuesday, January 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Major League Soccer, looking to reduce rising financial losses, folded both Florida franchises Tuesday. The elimination of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny leaves the 6-year-old league with 10 teams.

MLS cited poor attendance for the Fusion and the lack of an owner for the Mutiny as reasons for dropping the franchises. The Mutiny have been operated and financed by the league since their inception in 1996.

A dispersal draft will be held this month to assign Tampa and Miami players to other teams.

``The decision to leave both cities for the 2002 MLS season was extremely difficult,'' commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. ``I can assure all of our fans that we worked tirelessly to find a plan that would have allowed us to remain in both markets. We simply could not find a solution that was economically feasible at this time, and we hope to return to the state of Florida when the league expands in future years.''

The decision was unanimous by the board of governors for MLS, which has spent more than $250 million and has yet to turn an annual profit.

MLS also named Anschutz Entertainment Group as the investor-operator of D.C. United. Negotiations continue regarding acquisition of operating rights of the Dallas Burn and San Jose Earthquakes, with an announcement expected before the season.

When those transactions are completed, the league will for the first time achieve its goal of having an investor-operator for every team.

``Our investors have made a number of strategic decisions that will better position MLS in the short and long term,'' Garber said.

The Fusion joined the league as an expansion team in 1998. Their attendance improved by 33 percent to 11,177 per game in 2001, when they had the league's best record and reached the semifinals. But that was still below the league average of 14,961.

Miami owner Ken Horowitz, a West Palm Beach cellular phone magnate who paid $20 million for the Fusion, will remain a league investor. MLS announced last month that investors are committed to funding and operating the league through 2006.