After Cincinnati, Ohio was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise on Tuesday, FC Cincinnati will become the 26th MLS team.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber is fast approaching his stated target of having 28 teams in the league, which means the mad scramble for the final two spots is well and truly on.
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Speaking to the local newspaper in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Garber specifically mentioned to the Enquirer that cities such as Sacramento, Detroit, San Antonio, San Diego and Las Vegas are in the mix but didn’t set out a specific date for further expansion.
“Very productive discussions with Sacramento, as well as in Detroit where we’re working with that ownership group on possible modifications of Ford Field that could, perhaps, make that city more MLS ready than it is today,” Garber said. “There’s a lot of engagement going on in San Diego. Recent news out of Las Vegas, who has a thriving USL team and their mayor reached out to us very recently. San Antonio remains on our list and we have great respect for what the NBA ownership team has done there.”
With two of the 12 cities, Nashville and Cincinnati, who applied for MLS franchises back at the start of 2017 now awarded franchises, plus David Beckham’s Miami franchise unveiled (again) in a glitzy ceremony, now seems like a good time to take a look at the remaining cities.
Detroit and Sacramento were finalists alongside Nashville and Cincinnati to get a franchise last time out, so, naturally, they have a very good chance of arriving in MLS next time around.
Of course, all of this is made a little more complicated by Columbus Crew potentially being moved to Austin, Texas by owner Anthony Precourt in the coming months, but let’s take a look at things as they stand.
Here is how we rank the current race for MLS expansion for teams 27 and 28.
- Detroit – The bid did appear to be hurt substantially when a deal for a stadium downtown collapsed. Yet Garber has mentioned the possibility of Ford Field being redeveloped and look how successful Atlanta United have been in an NFL stadium. If it’s done properly, it can work well. The Ford family have no problem coming up with the reported $150 million franchise fee, plus lower-tier Detroit City FC get big crowds and so too do international friendlies played at nearby Michigan Stadium. Something seems to be brewing in Motor City…
- Sacramento – Okay, so they should have really arrived in MLS a few years ago but Sacramento Republic continue to have problems with their ownership group and are still searching for a lead investor. They said on Tuesday that they remain in talks with MLS. USL success and big crowds are all well and good but they need a new investor to take them to the next level. If they get that then they’re in.
- Las Vegas – Well, Vegas weren’t one of the 12 cities to submit a formal bid for an MLS franchise but it appears they could well be moving to the top of the list after failed plans for a team in the past. The Las Vegas Lights drawing big crowds (close to a 8,300 average) in their debut season in USL is promising. Given the success of Vegas’ first-ever Major League Sports franchise, the Golden Knights of the NHL, it appears MLS want a slice of the pie in Sin City.
- San Diego – Again, another city mentioned specifically by Garber on Tuesday which is always a good sign that they’re heading in the right direction. Plenty of big names are involved in the MLS bid (hello, Landon Donovan with plenty of his friends getting involved to promote Soccer City too) but it all hinges on the Mission Valley stadium site. With LAFC arriving, SoCal may be a little congested but creating another local rivalry for MLS would be very special.
- San Antonio – Garber mentioning San Antonio could push them up the list but with Columbus potentially moving to Austin, that impacts this bid. Toyota Field is ready and big crowds for international games are impressive but it’s all about the Crew and what happens to them.
- Phoenix – Financial backing is there, Didier Drogba remains on board (and scoring goals) and stadium plans are in place. Phoenix remain an outsider but are an intriguing possibility.
- Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg – Expensive redevelopment of Al Lang Stadium key to this bid. The Rowdies have a strong, loyal fanbase and the move from NASL to USL has solidified that. An outside chance, especially given MLS heading to Miami soon. Can Florida sustain three MLS franchises?
- Raleigh/Durham – NASL’s problems mean NCFC moved to USL and although Garber didn’t mention them in his comments, they remain hopeful of a franchise. On Tuesday they released a statement in which they said “MLS has indicated that North Carolina Football Club continues to be in consideration for one of the two remaining expansion spots.”
- St. Louis – If they can get a stadium deal one day, you feel like MLS beckons but nothing has really changed in STL.
- Charlotte – No public financing or funding for a stadium deal has seen this bid stall. Competing with Raleigh/Durham was ill-advised.
- Indianapolis – Indy Eleven have moved to the USL too and despite a loyal following, they lack the funds to support an MLS expansion franchise. Bit of a pipe dream, as things stand, especially with Cincy and Nashville getting teams not too far away in the Midwest.