Last week, 12 ownership groups submitted expansion proposals to Major League Soccer on Monday and Tuesday, with the rewarding of expansion clubs to be announced later this year.
As MLS continues to grow, adding two teams to play this season, we look at future candidates who could join MLS and fulfill league commissioner Don Garber’s push for a 28 team league. This piece will take a look at possible locations for expansion clubs 25–28 and will be based on:
- Current fan support
- Market size (DMA)
- Stadium situation
So without further ado, here are my picks for MLS teams 25-28.
What we know (Teams 23-24):
We already know that the twenty-third team will be the Los Angeles Football Club, expected to begin play in 2018, and the twenty-fourth team is still expected to be a team in Miami headed up by the Miami Beckham United ownership group, despite the fact that there have been delays in land purchasing, and no stadium construction has begun, they are still expected to be the 24th team to enter the fold.
Team 25 pick: Sacramento
Sacramento just cleared one major hurdle in their pursuit for an MLS team, as the group that filed for expansion has acquired USL side Sacramento Republic FC. With that issue avoided, Sacramento is a prime candidate for expansion. The city of Sacramento has already approved a proposal for a developmental project that includes plans for a 20,000 seat stadium in the downtown Railyard district. Sacramento also has great fan support, as they were second in the USL in attendance in 2016.
The product and the field looks good as well, as Sacramento Republic FC finished first in the Western Conference last season. Also, Sacramento is 20th in the country in Media DMA rankings, ranking it ahead of several current MLS franchises in terms of media market size. I would expect that in the next wave of MLS expansion, Sacramento will receive a team by 2020.
Team 26 pick: Phoenix
Phoenix is another ripe fruit ready for picking on the tree of MLS expansion possibilities. Arizona FC just underwent a major re-brand to become Phoenix Rising FC, and Phoenix submitted a bid for an MLS expansion team. According to Phoenix Rising FC, the Phoenix market has the largest population of any of the cities that submitted expansion bids, as well as the highest Hispanic population, so there is a large population waiting to be tapped into by soccer.
Phoenix also has a stadium deal currently in the works as well, something that helps them immensely in a push to bring MLS to Phoenix. They are currently planning to privately fund and build a new, climate-controlled, soccer-specific stadium on a 45 acre site, which includes an academy to grow local talent for the club. Phoenix has made a late push, and with a stadium in the works, I believe this puts them over Cincinnati in the pecking order for MLS expansion.
Team 27 pick: Cincinnati
Cincinnati is a prime spot for expansion, and they are a favorite for future expansion. While Cincinnati is relatively new to the soccer scene, the support for USL side FC Cincinnati, which just completed their first season, is outstanding for a second-tier American soccer club. They led the USL in attendance; drawing nearly 17,300 per match, outdrawing five MLS clubs’ including MLS Supporter’s Shield winner FC Dallas. They set the USL attendance record of 24,376 in a match against Orlando City B and drew 35,061 to a friendly against English Premier League side Crystal Palace, a record for a soccer match in the state of Ohio. In other words, support will never be an issue.
While there are no plans for a stadium in place for a possible expansion club in Cincinnati, the current home of FC Cincinnati, Nippert Stadium, just underwent $2 million in renovations, and the ownership group said they would be willing to upgrade even more. The ownership group is also looking into the possibility of building their own soccer-specific stadium, if MLS were to require it, according to the River City News. And while Cincinnati only ranks 36th in Media DMA ratings, they already have a local television contract with Sinclair Broadcast Group to televise all home games, which is helping expand their local popularity. If not in the first wave of expansion, expect Cincinnati to gain entrance into the league during the second round of expanding to 28 teams.
Team 28 pick: San Antonio
And last but not least, the city that I believe will be awarded the 28th MLS club is San Antonio. There are many many positives for expansion in San Antonio, and a lot like Phoenix, population is a major key, as there is a lot of potential growth for soccer in the city. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the United States, and also show great support for the only major professional sports team they have (Spurs).
Spurs Sports & Entertainment started USL side San Antonio FC with the only reason being to bring MLS to San Antonio. “The only reason we did this deal was to get to MLS,” says Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who gave the ultimate sign-off. “There was no other reason.” This ownership group is one of the most committed ownership groups in sports, and if they say they will become an MLS town, I don’t doubt them one bit. They also already have a stadium, Toyota Field, that in its current state is expandable to over 18,000 seats; with just a few upgrades would be ready for MLS play.
So those are my picks for MLS expansion teams 25-28.
What city do you think will receive an expansion team? Comment below.