MLS Expansion: Where Does the League Go Next?
via MLS Atlanta on Twitter/ @MLSAtlanta2017
Now that the next three expansion clubs have been discussed, let’s talk about the contenders for the final two spots that would bring Major League Soccer to 24 teams by 2020. There are some very strong contenders for these two spots, but a wildcard could be what happens with a re-branded Chivas USA under new ownership. Miami is still a front runner but may run out of time if they can’t get a stadium deal worked out.
The hopes of Miami being the next expansion club hinge on one thing: getting a stadium. Not even the celebrity of David Beckham has been able to win over politicians. Even though Beckham has said his group will pay for most if not all of the stadium, local residents and politicians are struggling to support him and he has had several plans shot down. Miami also suffers from lackluster fan support, though many exhibition matches have been well attended in the past. This bid is fading fast and the longer the stadium remains unresolved the harder it will be to hold off other contenders.
The owners of the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) Scorpions have also put together an impressive bid and have a stadium in place that can be expanded for MLS use similar to Stade Saputo in Montreal. San Antonio has been mentioned every time expansion is brought up and is a burgeoning market. The aggressive ownership group benefits from only having to compete with the NBA Spurs for attention, though football is also huge here. The market is also growing rapidly and would be an excellent addition to the league.
There are two bids coming from the Twin Cities. One is from the NASL’s Minnesota United and the other is from the owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are the preferred bid as they have deeper pockets and would share the Vikings’ new stadium. The NASL United are an established franchise with a loyal fan base but would need to have a stadium plan in place. Some have suggested that the Vikings are next in line to claim an expansion team but there is no clear favorite right now. A big issue would be weather unless the stadium has a retractable roof for the cold weather months.
This bid has come out of nowhere and is making news by putting out artist renderings of a $400 million stadium. The group is very ambitious and supposedly has a deal in place to make that stadium a reality but many questions and concerns would need to be addressed. The main concerns are the heat and could the city actually support the franchise. I really don’t like the idea of a team in Sin City but if they make that stadium a reality, especially ahead of other markets, the league might not have much of a choice but to let them in.
Another city quickly rising among candidates, Sacramento is also a two-bid city. First there is the suburb of Elk Grove that is pushing hard to get a team and is working on a stadium deal. This group has been mentioned before but not really sure exactly how serious the discussions are with them, though there are rumors that the league is meeting with them this week. The other bid probably has a better chance as it is the USL Pro Sacramento Republic that is doing the bidding. As an existing franchise they obviously have the club structure in place, but they are only in their first year of existence. This season has been fantastic on and off the field however and that has the owners dreaming big. This is a bid to watch.
This would be an excellent location for a team. Great weather and a good fan base would welcome an expansion team. The only problem is that there is no ownership group, at least none that anyone is aware of in the community. Until a committed ownership group is found San Diego has no chance for a team. Unless, that is, the league changes its’ mind and allows the new owner of the club formerly known as Chivas USA to move them out of Los Angeles. San Diego would be a great fit for that club.
Other cities to keep an eye on are Indianapolis, Austin, Phoenix and Charlotte or Raleigh/Durham. Of that group, Indy and Austin are making the most noise. What about St. Louis? That would be fantastic and a natural rival for Kansas City, Chicago and Columbus, but previous bids have been sunk by the lack of a committed owner with deep pockets. If St. Louis could ever find that owner they would be a lock for a team. Until then the city has no chance.
The Chivas USA Conundrum
The league has already stated the club will be sold and re-branded but will also require that the club stay in the Los Angeles market. I think that is foolish and if I had a say in the matter I’d tell the league that staying in LA should be the last option. I think San Diego or Sacramento would be great locations to move the team. San Diego would be ideal but you could also sell the club to the Sacramento Republic, hypothetically, and merge the two together, moving the team to Sacramento. This would save Chivas USA and eliminate an expansion contender, leaving one fewer city to compete for two spots.