Wilpons would make ‘great’ owners of 20th MLS team

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The Wilpon family’s legal troubles would not prevent them from owning the 20th Major League Soccer team, though commissioner Don Garber is open to putting the expansion squad in another market.

MLS wants a second franchise in New York, and had hoped to have something in place by 2013. The league is expanding to Portland, Ore., and Vancouver this year, and its 19th team begins play next season in Montreal. But Garber said Friday he needs more information on the owners of the relaunched Cosmos and their finances, and the Wilpons are being sued for at least $300 million by the trustee trying to recover money for the victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

“We’re bullish about the opportunities, whether it’s with the Cosmos alone or partnering them with others,” Garber said. “It’s possible that another market could jump in there, and if that happens, we’ll move our efforts and plans in New York to a later time period. There are no shortage of folks that have interest in a team.”

Atlanta, San Diego, Las Vegas and Detroit have expressed interest in having a team, as have cities in Florida.

The preference, though, is to have the new franchise in New York and create a rival for the Red Bulls, and Garber said he still thinks the Wilpons would make “great” owners.

The Wilpons have strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying they were victims of Madoff’s scheme. But the lawsuit has hurt their finances. The Wilpons acknowledged their New York Mets needed a loan from Major League Baseball in November, and said in January they were looking to sell a minority interest in the club to raise money. The Wilpons have insisted they would remain in control of the Mets.

“The success of our league is the core values of our ownership group and … I believe the Wilpons fit very well with our owners in terms of who they are and their values and their ethics,” Garber said. “I really hope they get through their issues quickly. I don’t believe the full story has been told, and I am very supportive of them.”

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