Major League Soccer is continuously growing. Next season, it will become the largest top tier division in global soccer with 22 teams with Atlanta United and Minnesota United joining the fold. Los Angeles FC will come along in 2018, bringing the total to 23. David Beckham’s Miami project is slated to be number 24, but with all the struggle he and his investors have had securing a stadium deal, I won’t believe that until they actually take the field.
With Saint Louis FC looking increasingly likely to join MLS in the near future and an announcement on Sacramento Republic possibly on its way, what are the next MLS expansion cities?
The Next MLS Expansion Cities
Sacramento Republic had been leading the USL attendance charge until FC Cincinnati burst onto the scene this past spring. They have eyed MLS for quite some time and hosted commissioner Don Garber in a town hall in April. The city council recently passed a measure approving a 19,621 seat soccer stadium, which is the most important thing the league looks for in an expansion city. It’s quite likely we will hear the official admittance of Sacramento Republic within the next couple months.
2. St. Louis
With yesterday’s news that Saint Louis FC had secured a large group of new investors and are sending a stadium proposal to the city, it seems like the Gateway City will be next in line with an official announcement. See Matt Pollard’s piece linked above for the full story, but it’s suffice to say that the ownership group has a lot of the crucial checkboxes marked off for expansion. They have wealthy business partners, a solid USL fanbase with the St. Louligans, and a large vacancy in their local sports market since the NFL’s Rams left for Los Angeles. The only thing they are missing is a stadium deal, which will go to a public vote in April.
I am wary to put David Beckham and his partners high on this list. His stadium proposals keep stalling. Investors keep dropping out of the fold. He cannot get enough real estate for a development. Nothing seems to be going right for the first Designated Player in MLS history. He apparently has more investors that met with Miami-Dade County officials on Thursday, so there’s something in motion perhaps. He still needs more land and is looking for about $150 million to build a stadium from an area that has a history of getting fleeced by local sports teams.
FC Cincinnati is taking the USL by storm with it’s high attendance numbers and electric atmosphere for that level. On multiple occasions this year they outdrew Columbus Crew, their in-state MLS brethren, on the same night. They have formed a close relationship with Crystal Palace in the Premier League as a means of learning how to run a soccer club. The two sides played a friendly over the summer. They certainly have the attention of MLS. Garber will be in the city on November 29 to meet with fans and the FC Cincinnati brass. If this town hall goes as well as it did in Sacramento, we could see FC Cincinnati in MLS very soon.
Detroit is the largest market in the country without professional soccer. They have a very successful NPSL team, Detroit City FC, that set the regular season attendance record for the amatuer circuit and recently renovated an old high school stadium that will eventually hold 10,000 fans. They also have a pair of billionaires trying to get a stadium built in or near downtown. All the factors are there for Detroit to get a team, they are just making slow work of it. Garber was in the city to listen to Tom Gores’s and Dan Gilbert’s ideas back in April, but the only news to develop since then is their original stadium site will not happen. Wayne County won’t abandon a dormant jail project and turn over the land. However, local business experts are certain something will come together soon enough, even without their original site.
These five cities would take MLS to 28 teams, which Garber claims is the stopping point. With plenty of other markets looking at the league, I doubt it stops there. Nashville, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio, and others have all formed groups or made statements with the aim of bringing top flight soccer to their city. While 28 teams may be the next mile marker, I think 32 is a more likely stopping point. Too many markets are interested and I have a hard time believing that Garber and the rest of the league will be able to turn down all that incoming money.