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MLS expansion race reaches final stretch

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The race to MLS expansion in 2011 is in the homestretch and the race still looks too close to call even though two favorites have emerged.

Vancouver and Portland look like the most likely candidates for expansion, but St. Louis hasn't given up hope, making for a final stretch so tough to call that MLS appears ready to extend its own deadline for a decision to buy itself some time.

Portland looked to move into the lead after Wednesday's city council vote to approve stadium funding, but a $15 million reduction in the funding has cast some doubt over the strength and viability of the project.

Vancouver's bid has remained quiet but continues to be the most likely expansion candidate among the remaining four. According to sources with knowledge of the process, MLS and Vancouver ownership have been going through all details of the bid, as well as of league policies, in what can be called the final stages of their bid process.

Another potential decision delay by MLS could by St. Louis enough time to try and crash the Pacific Northwest party.

On Wednesday, Anheuser-Busch threw some support behind St. Louis' expansion bid by agreeing to donate the Anheuser-Busch Center, a local soccer facility, to the expansion group, St. Louis Soccer United.

The agreement to donate could potentially give St. Louis the land it needs to build a stadium closer to the city. The St. Louis bid has an agreement in place with the suburb of Collinsville for the funding of a stadium project, but concerns about the distance between Collinsville and St. Louis have limited the project's benefit to the bid.

Will that gesture really be enough to push St. Louis into a winning position in the expansion race? It will probably take something stronger, like the addition of Anheuser-Busch as part of the ownership group, or the inclusion of some foreign money, much like what the Miami bid tried with FC Barcelona.

As for Ottawa? Much like Vancouver, Ottawa has been very quiet, in part because the expansion bid is contingent on the city funding a stadium project, and with Ottawa considering the funding of a football stadium instead, Ottawa's prospects have gone from promising to shaky at best.

So there they are, four expansion candidates, racing down the stretch. Vancouver looks to be leading, but Portland and St. Louis are making late pushes. With the 2009 MLS season just a week away from starting, we should know at least one of the two expansion bid winners soon, but it might be a while before we find out who both winners are in the race for 2011.


  1. I played soccer in Ottawa for over
    ten years and at the grass roots level
    it is solid with more kids, men and
    women playing soccer than ever before.
    In fact soccer has overtaken hockey
    by a factor of 3 to 2 in terms of participation. I attended the under20
    FIFA World cup in Ottawa and it drew
    very large crowds. So the only hurdle,
    given Melnyk’s solid ownership, is city
    hall approving the stadium. As Garber
    said, if Ottawa gets a stadium, it is
    inconceivable that it will not get
    an MLS team. Don’t count out Ottawa.


  2. The Ottawa situation is simple, if they get stadium approval they have all their ducks in place. For those who say Ottawa doesn’t have a fanbase, the FIFA U20 in 2007 drew 20 000+ for every game to a stadium in very bad shape (later found to be defective and part of the standings had to be blown up) with almost no parking. Other than Montreal (who had brazil playing there) and Toronto, no other Canadian city can say the same.

    Ottawa’s only shaky issue is the slowness of the city council in dealing with ANYTHING. As fot the issue of artificial grass (which someone mentionned because the Ottawa ownership group had stated they might let CFL football play at their stadium) this is baseless. Football can is is mostly played on grass.

    MLS should take notice that all four bids are solid, and should entertain the thought of letting two in 2011 and the other two in 2012 or 2013.

  3. I hope all of you that are dead set on St Louis are willing to explain to a casual viewer why theyre only 5000 in the stands while youre watching their games on tv.

  4. Vancouver’s bid is quiet because that’s the way Kerfoot does things, and because it doesn’t have any issues at all. the BC place renovation is underway (partially due to the Olympics coming up in 2010) and they have solid ownership and are willing to pay the fee as requested. They also still have a plan underway to build an SSS (which Seattle, for example, did not and does not).
    Vancouver is clearly in the best shape of all.

  5. AB transferring Soccer Park to Cooper’s group does give a potential stadium site that is much closer to where the vast majority of the population live in St. Louis. That site would definitely need some major improvements though. It is in a flood plain and some of the fields have been under water a few times that I can remember. Highway access is not great and parking currently is very limited.

    I do agree that without some investment from AB in the team itself that St. Louis is still behind Portland and Vancouver.

    It will be interesting to see what happens if Cooper does not get a team. There have been rumors of adding an expansion USL-1 team or even moving a team from another city. However I have also heard that the St. Louis Lions soccer club have the right of first refusal for a USL-1 team.

  6. STL soccer park is not a big parcel of land, it’s current capacity is in the 5-7K range, there’s parking for what seems like 50 cars max (only slightly kidding) and it’s in a flood plain. Other than that…it’s great!

  7. MLS needs their franchises to be in big TV markets (with accompying SSS) for long term sucess. Unless the MLS owners and fans are happy with tiny $2.9 salary caps and a no-depth 24 man rosters, and their top players leaving the league alltogeher, then they’re going to need big national TV revenue and that means teams in big cities.

    I have no problems with Vancouver or Portland, but both of them to go along with Seattle? Stupid. St. Louis and thus two teams in Missouri? Also stupid.

    If the current economic climate does not allow for ideal expansion candidates, then just simply wait and add none or just one.

    Rather than expand for expansion’s sake, MLS should (a) help the existing teams without stadiums (DC United, NE Revolution, San Jose, Houston) expediate the stadium approval/building process and (b) help put together viable ownership groups and stadium packages for a New York City team and Miami team (their needs to be a team in the South East).

  8. Hey Ives,

    Forget all the hoopla and speculation. Hypothetically speaking, if all 4 cities had their ducks in order would MLS let all 4 in and take the $160 million?

    The Ottawa situation will be much clearer in April after the council decides what to do (CFL or MLS). The extension seems to work in their favor. I know people have concerns about fan bases, but I don’t understand why people don’t just let the teams figure out whether there are fans or if they plan to lose money by starting a soccer team. These people aren’t buying to MLS b/c their toilet stop flushing money away. Plus doesn’t MLS benefit greatly through a national Canadian TV contract supported by 3 teams rather then 2 or 1?

    So 4 teams – Portland & Vancouver 2011
    St. Louis and Ottawa 2012

    If all 4 pass the vetting process, what is keeping MLS from accepting all four bids?

    I’d really like to get the Ives-approach as to what you would do if you were commish

  9. Ives, if MLS really wants to increase the product on the field, why not call Canada, US and Mexico “domestic.” I know Mexico does not have an MLS team, but it would allow mexicans to be part of MLS as a domestic without taking up an international slot. This would not only help the product on teh field, but could also increase the number of mexican fans watching MLS.

    Also helps out with expansion in Canada.

    Or at least Canadians and Americans being labeled as domestic.

  10. Agree with George. Maybe the Canadian Soccer organization wanted to develope Canadians and wanted to ensure some made it into MLS?

    Basically Canada is 1/10 the population of the US. With Vancouver, the Canadian teams would be 1/8 of MLS.

    Just let US/Canadians be home grown

    Either Toronto (and vancouver) would be at an atvantage or a disadvantage with unique rules.

    Either is unacceptable.

  11. St. Louis lead investor Cooper was beggin Beckham to throw some $$ into his St. Louis bid. Unless A-B is throwing cash into the ownership mix, the donation of a soccer park that its new parent company likely wants off its books does not bridge the financing gap for the team. I would like to see St. Louis in the league but it is always the same old story with them – need to beef up the owenership group in terms of $$$.

  12. With the talk about Vancouver and having trouble finding competitive Canadian players, why didn’t MLS just group Americans and Canadians in the same “domestic player” group since the league is represented in both countries. It just never made sense for TFC to have to have an abundance of Canadians and Houston to have to use an SI slot on De Ro, when the teams are in the SAME LEAGUE!

  13. RK, I understand what you’re saying but whats good for the city may not always be the best choice for the MLS. There’s nothing worst then watching a game in an empty stadium. We don’t want another repeat of Kansas City. I’m not saying STL won’t support a MLS team but from what i’ve been reading it seems like a northwestern or canadian team will be the safest bet.

  14. Chris13

    Thanks for your info. I was one of those people trashing the Collinsville location. Which I’m still not sold on it. I think they can find a better place and i think that 2011 is not the time to bid for it. I like the northwest connection!! then hopefully

    2012 is Montreal and St. Louis


    Who are your picks for the Expansion?

  15. There is no way that the 3 yes’ from yesterdays Portland city council vote won’t get that 15 million from somewhere within the next couple of days—-sources.

  16. Re: the St Louis bid, I keep seeing random statements about location of the stadium that seem to be made by people with no real knowledge of the city (not just on this site, but on others as well). My 2 cents would be:

    -Collinsville (the current proposed site) is very close to downtown and well connected to the interstate (prob about a 15 minute drive). The Arch (on the riverfront) is visible from Collinsville.

    -The problem with Collinsville and the Illinois suburbs in general (aka: the metro-east) is twofold:

    1. You have to drive past East St Louis to get there & people from the Missouri side act as if that amounts to crossing the Israeli-Palestenian border. It’s pretty stupid, but it is a common perception.

    2. Though Collinsville is close to downtown, the money and fanbase is going to come from West and South St Louis County, not the city. St louis is a VERY suburban city. This makes the drive more like 30-40 minutes depending on where you start in the county. Not really insurmountable, but when combined with #1, it is a little more of an obstacle than some have let on.

    That said, the Collinsville plan is good to go. The A-B donation of land in St Louis County just complicates things b/c there is no stadium plan there (new local government to deal with) and it won’t really be that easy b/c the area is in a flood plain. I think it would be wise in the long run for Cooper, et al to fully explore this site before proceeding, but no way is that ready in this expansion cycle. For now, it is Collinsville or nothing this time.

  17. Agree with Zoran.

    San Jose collapsed after failing to produce a decent stadium for eight years.

    Then a couple years later, they hand another franchise to the city without solving any of hte problems on the “hope” that the stadium issue is resolved.

    Two years later, still no stadium or chance of viability.

    Even if it were approved tomorrow, San Jose would have lost money for three or four seasons before they moved in.

    Terrible decision on MLS’s part.

    San Jose is a good market but the’ve done nothing to build a viable franchise.

  18. Zoran, I’ve been asking that question since day one….I can only assume somebody in San Jose had compromising photos of The Don with some goats.

  19. There are already 15 Canadians on Vancouver’s team. They are the reigning USL champions. I’m sure they will want to keep many of those players. I don’t forsee any problem with Canadian content going forward. Should they raise the salary cap in the new CBA which is likely, there could be many Canadians playing in lower European leagues that will become affordable to MLS teams.

  20. zoran:

    Come to Buck Shaw when we play the Dynamo and you’re questions will be answered.

    Even without local marketing and no attendance boasting double headers, the Quakes were no worse than middle of the pack in attendance. The problems here were an absentee ownership group that treated the team the way a chop shop treats a stolen Ferrari. We will get ours stadium and you’ll wonder why MLS ever left…

  21. Can someone tell me why the league went back to San Jose? It seems as though all 4 candidates remaining would be better than San Jose.

  22. DJking: if TFC has ‘no problems’ filling the Canadian player requirement, why do they have 18 internationals? which meant trading for 5 additional spots? (maybe 4, since Frei is GA)? is there a single Canadian player who isn’t one of the five starters?

  23. no, TFC has different player rules than the rest of the league already, but it doesn’t get to treat Americans as domestic players. last year they had the 11+5 rule, a total of 16 international players, of whom no more than 11 could be American. this year they have 13 international slots, no more than 5 can be Americans. which means they have to have at least 11 canadians on the roster. Obviously they have traded for more, since they currently have (according to the website) 18 internationals and 5 Canadians.

    other MLS teams have 8 international spots. Frankly, I don’t thing Vancouver is going to be able to find enough competitive Canadians without some serious luck. All of which is also really good for US Soccer, since they will have to trade for international slots with US teams. who will then hire more Americans.

    and, no, I would not favor TFC and potentially the Whitecaps being allowed to treat Americans as domestic players, that would be a competitive advantage, unless US teams could count Canadians as domestics as well.

    Right now, TFC is the only first tier professional club in the country, and only manages to find 5 Canadians capable of playing for them. that doesn’t bode well for Vancouver, Montreal or Ottawa.

  24. I really would like a team in STL but lets be realistic. If STL is such a soccer hotbed then why are they still trying to get into MLS. Why are they having such a problem getting financial backing? Why did AB come in at the last moment instead of at the beginning? Also is AB giving more than just land for a stadium? STL produces some great players and is a great sports town but that appears to me that it is not carrying over into getting a soccer team. Hopefully AB is bringing more than land to the table and it will be Portland and STL as the next two teams. I think the league should hold out for Montreal as the next Canadian team IMO.

  25. I’d like to clear up some things about Ottawa and their bid.

    From the published materials I’ve seen (Ives, please correct me if I’m wrong), bids seem to be evaluated on the following criteria:

    1. Financial strength of ownership group.

    2. Presence of, or solid plans for, a good stadium.

    3. Probable soccer fanbase in the locale.

    On this basis, Ottawa can only point to an owner (Eugene Melnyk) with good finances as a strength. Plans for a stadium are going nowhere fast and Melnyk’s now said he would share his pitch with a pro football team–therefore, no grass. However, the biggest problem by far is that Ottawa has no history of pro soccer support and no realistic shot at building that support from scratch. An Ottawa team might draw support from an area whose population is 1.1 to 1.2 million at most.

    On this basis, Ottawa should not be considered for expansion now, or any time in the near future.

  26. Hey Ulrich, not only is it not hard for TFC to meet its Canadian player content, this year it looks like at least 5 of the starting 11 will be Canadian. Should Van get a franchise I hope MLS makes an adjustnment to the rules for Vancouver’s sake though.

  27. Ulrich:

    I’m almost certain that MLS rules allow Canadian teams to treat American’s as domestic rather than international players.

  28. Well, if there’s one thing MLS is good at, it’s extending deadlines. I don’t know why that would necessarily suggest the ownership groups are tightly contested instead of MLS’ inability to operate professionally.

  29. This decision on Portland might need to wait until 2011…from Soccer America:

    If MLS is to approve the Portland expansion bid, it must either grant the franchise assuming the $15 million hole will be filled, or wait until discussions and negotiations complete the funding package. MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said last week the league might decide to name just one team for the 2011 season – presumably Vancouver – in the near future and wait on selecting a second.

    The other funding sources for the $88.8 million package remain intact. Paulson’s share is more than $24 million, with the renovations for PG&E Park projected to cost $33.69 million and a new baseball stadium pegged at $55.095 million. There are conditions and restrictions by which he guarantees repayment of the loans, and all events at both facilities will incur a 7 percent ticket surcharge to help the repayment process.

    Not until the city council approves a plan that includes the $15 million portion can it enter into a binding agreement. Paulson has pledged $12.5 million and needs to raise another $11.8 million to pay his share of the projects, in addition to forking out the $40 million expansion fee.

  30. Any chance MLS accepts all three of Vancouver, Portland, St. Louis? It creates odd scheduling scenarios, but those three bids are all ready.

  31. sucram: but not good for the American cities that want their own team. Like the south.

    OTOH, if a city has a great fan base and a stadium plan — and a deep-pocketed owner — go for it. Portland is going to be a great addition.

  32. i dont understand why MLS is putting more teams in Canada when there isnt one team in the USA Southeast. I say St.Louis and Portland should get the bids.

  33. If St. Louis doesn’t get in this time around they are going to give up. They have had a stadium plan ready for two years and are one of the biggest soccer hotbeds in the nation. If MLS leads them on again, gives two more teams to the Pacific Northwest, increases the transfer fee and expects St. Louis to still want to be a part of it all they are crazy. St. Louis was there and fully ready to go when the expansion fee was millions of dollars less.

    I really don’t think Vancouver is a lock like Ives keeps implying. Especially if Portland gets in. No matter what happened in Toronto, if MLS adds two teams in the Pacific Northwest, one not even in the United States, at a time when one of the biggest soccer cities and one of the nation’s best sports cities has everything on the table, it would simply just be a public relations nightmare.

  34. “MLS has already reportedly reached an agreement with the Portland expansion group to award Portland a 2011 expansion team if the stadium funding proposal is passed, leaving it up to today’s vote to decide the future of MLS in Portland.

    Do you think Portland will pull it out and join Vancouver (which SBI identified as one of the expansion winners last week) in the MLS expansion class of 2011?”—–Ives

  35. Very unlikely that another Canadian city gets a team this round of expansion – it’s already difficult for Toronto to meet its player needs (canadian vs. american as domestic players).

  36. Blue White Lion I dont think it’s neccessary to put a cap on the amount of Canadian based teams. If the teams in Canada show the same support Toronto has shown then it’s good for the leauge. IMO what’s good for the MLS is good for American soccer. If more MLS games are televised with a full stadium maybe more Americans will take interest due to a band wagon effect.

  37. So what is Vancouver’s stadium prospect, BC Place? Will it be grass? Any news on their potential waterfront stadium? It’s been so quiet up North I’m starting to forget why that’s such a great bid (besides strong ownership and fan base). Remind me.

  38. Wow, what a tight race. None appear outstanding but all are very promising. Remember that who does not get in now will probably be a front runner in the next round. (lol, and who knows what other strong players will be in the market then)

    I still think it is the 2 NW’ern region cities who get it this time. Instant rivalry, instant fan base, consistant money, less travel time and expense (good in a tough economy), a solid base of teams for these times. St. Louis, even with the A-B gift still is behind on a stadium and a major financial backer. But they are closing fast.

    Personally, St. Louis is closer to me and definitely where family is, so I would benefit from them getting it. But it is NW, all the way.

    The only thing I wonder about Vancouver: how many potential Canadian teams can the league have? Montreal would still be a great candidate, and perhaps Ottawa is sounding like a good choice too. Is there a limit?

  39. The irony of the Anheuser Busch donation to the SLSU ticket is that the proposed park in Collinsville, the Illinois suburb, is actually CLOSER than the Soccer Park location to downtown St. Louis. This seems like mere posturing until, as Ives said, AB gets on board as part of the ownership group.

    Vancouver should be in for sure, but being from Seattle, I’d love to see Portland get denied, even if it’d add another regional rivalry. Eat that Timbers.

    Vancouver-Collinsville in 2011. Or Vancouver-St. Louis. Just not Vancouver-Fenton.


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