Chicago could add second men's professional soccer team

There is talk about a second professional soccer team coming to Chicago, and some wonder if the city can support another club.

North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson wonders if two teams would be enough for Chicago in the long run.

In Chicago for league meetings and Tuesday night's Copa America game between the United States and Costa Rica, Peterson said he wouldn't mind coming back sometime soon to see a new club launch in his league. Peter Wilt, the founding general manager of Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, is working to get another soccer club off the ground, this time in the NASL.

"Chicago's a big city," said Peterson, who was on the Fire's board of directors when AEG owned the club. "It's gotta be right before we go forward, and I think Peter Wilt's doing a great job of making sure all of the important pieces are there."

Wilt and his group are exploring stadium options, and a team name must be decided also. Those are issues Peterson will leave to the local decision-makers.

There is no time frame for Wilt and his group to submit a proposal for an expansion team in Chicago. When they do, Peterson and the NASL owners will evaluate it and decide whether to offer the group a spot in NASL. Wilt, however, is well-known in NASL and the Chicago soccer community, and his expertise carries a lot of weight with both groups.

Meanwhile, Chicago is just one city where the 13-team NASL could expand on its way to 20 clubs. The market for professional soccer throughout the country has never been bigger and continues to grow, Peterson said.

"Chicago could probably support more than two teams if it wanted to," Peterson said. "You look at some of the major cities around the world where soccer is played and you'll find most of the time more than one and sometimes more than two clubs. I think they each have to have their own distinct personalities and they have to mean something to certain communities and groups. They're going to have to work hard and develop a fan base.

"But we play great soccer as do (MLS teams) and I think the rivalry (with the Fire), if one happens, will actually create more interest and possibly a derby between the two in the (U.S.) Open Cup or maybe something else that's created would actually create more interest in the sport in general."

The Fire, in last place in the Eastern Conference of MLS, is 19th in the 20-team league in attendance. It is averaging 14,309 fans a game in 20,000-seat Toyota Park in southwest suburban Bridgeview. Chicago also is home to the Chicago Red Stars, who play their National Women's Soccer League games at Toyota Park. The Chicago Mustangs, an indoor club in the 22-team Major Arena Soccer League, play their home games at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.

A Chicago NASL team would play within the Chicago city limits, possibly Soldier Field or Wrigley Field, as one way to differentiate itself from the Fire.

Fire management has talked about owning the soccer conversation in Chicago. Now Chicago NASL wants a piece of that conversation.

"There's no shortcut to developing a fan base, and we'll have to all go out and tell the story and connect with fans and get them to come to the stadium and support them," Peterson said. "And we believe that can happen."

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@Orrin_Schwarz.

Peter Wilt, who has worked for the Chicago Fire and Chicago Red Stars, is working to bring another soccer team to Chicago through the North American Soccer League.
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