A look at the 10 candidates for MLS expansion

A look at the 10 candidates for MLS expansion


A look at the 10 candidates for MLS expansion



Ten hopeful American soccer cities had their dreams officially furthered last week, as Don Garber unveiled specific details regarding the next round of MLS expansion.

In a teleconference last Thursday, Garber detailed a specific timeline for the league’s growth and other factors, including the hefty new expansion fee of $150 million.

Each of the 10 potential expansion markets has its own unique soccer history and unique offerings that should appeal to MLS. While its clear that a few cities stand out as soccer hotbeds, it seems that some cities are already ahead of the curve as the league looks towards adding more teams in the coming years.

Here’s a bit of background on each of the 10 markets in the running for MLS expansion:


Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina, but their professional soccer history to-date is not extremely impressive. The MLS expansion bid is being led by Charlotte Motor Speedway CEO Bruton Smith, a man with the experience necessary to put legitimacy behind the plan.

Charlotte is currently home to two professional clubs. The Charlotte Independence began play in USL in 2014, and the Charlotte Eagles have played in the PDL and USLPRO. The city’s track record in supporting the local teams doesn’t quite match several other candidates, but residents have come out in droves to view international and friendly matches in recent years.


It has been quite a year for FC Cincinnati, the club that managed to break the USL playoff game attendance record in its first year of play. 30,187 home fans attended as club hosted a post-season game in their inaugural season, an incredible feat in itself.

The biggest hurdle for Cincinnati to overcome is the lack of a new stadium plan. The FC Cincinnati ownership group has begun research on potential sites, but has already put more than $2 million into renovating Nipert Stadium, where the USL team played in 2016.

Other former teams in the city include the Cincinnati Kings from 2005-2012, and the Cincinnati Riverhawks from 1997-2003.


The Detroit metropolitan area, with a population of 4.3 million, is one of the biggest markets that MLS does not yet occupy. The cash flow and experience supplied by the owners of NBA’s Pistons and Clevealnd Cavaliers makes Detroit a desirable expansion candidate for Don Garber.

The city’s current flagship team, Detroit City FC, were founded in 2012 and have played in NPSL for the last four years.  However, the club has repeatedly stated its desire to stay independent from the MLS model. Other notable teams from the city’s soccer history include: the Detroit Cougars, Detroit Express (both of the original NASL), and Detroit Arsenal.


While professional soccer has never really stuck in Nashville, the city has always supported the national team in force.

The Nashville Metros existed from 1989-2012, first taking the field as an indoor team playing in the Sunbelt Independent Soccer League. The club’s outdoor team played in USLPDL for the majority (2002-12) of its 21-year existence. Nashville FC was founded in 2013 to play in the NPSL Southeast Conference, and play at Vanderbilt Stadium. The club had major ambitions to climb into USL and eventually NASL, but those hopes were dashed by Nashville SC in 2016.

Nashville SC was created by a separate ownership group, and received USL backing to begin play by 2018. Nashville FC subsequently sold the specifics of its identity to the new group in exchange for partial ownership.


North Carolina FC,  the new identity of the Carolina RailHawks, has existed since 2006. The club started out as a USL franchise, but have spent the last several years playing in NASL. The club went all-out to gain traction as a potential MLS expansion market in early December, completely rebranding with new colors, a new crest, and a new name.

New club owner Stephen Malik has been the driving force behind the MLS expansion bid. The ownership has set its sights on building a new stadium to be completed by 2020. A unique aspect of NCFC’s MLS bid is their stated mission to secure an NWSL franchise as well. Another distinct feature of North Carolina’s rebrand is their membership program, which allows fans the chance to put their name and money behind the MLS bid.


Sacramento Republic FC was announced as a franchise in 2012, and has played in USL since it first took the field in 2014.

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive met with MLS officials in 2014 to express interest in bringing the league to their city, and their investment in Sacramento Republic was officially announced in January 2015. Two months later, city mayor Kevin Johnson announced his support with a plan to build the club an MLS stadium.

Garber has gone on record saying that he hopes and expects Sacramento to be awarded an expansion franchise.


St. Louis has been a potential MLS city since the foundation of the league. The city was a candidate when Real Salt Lake could’ve potentially moved in 2007, and was also in the running when the league eventually awarded franchises to Philadelphia, Portland and Vancouver.

College and semi-professional soccer has long been supported in St. Louis, with local teams and leagues being popular among residents even prior to the 20th century. Another crucial tidbit: the city has also been represented by at least one player on every World Cup roster in U.S. history.

St. Louis FC has played in the USL since 2014, and have recently announced former USMNT and MLS star Preki as their head coach.


San Antonio FC were founded in January 2016, debuting USL play the same year following the demise of the San Antonio Scorpions. The club was created with MLS expansion in mind. Its home ground, Toyota Stadium, currently seats just under 9,000 but was designed to be expandable for a future capacity of 18,000.

The club’s ownership group, Spurs Sports & Entertainment LLC, operates a number of professional franchises and venues, most notably the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. SAFC is led by Managing Director Tim Holt, who served as USL President for six years before his last stop as VP of Development at Orlando City SC. The experienced and well-connected executive has the knowledge and a vital background for earning San Antonio an MLS expansion team.


San Diego has supported a number of semi-professional soccer teams, both men’s and women’s, for the past decade. The San Diego WFC SeaLions played in WPSL for 11 seasons. The San Diego Flash were originally founded in 1998, and played in the A-League until folding in 2001. The Flash resurfaced with new ownership in 2010, and played in the NPSL until 2013. In 2016, the NSPL welcomed two new teams from San Diego with North County Battalion and the Albion SC Pros.

Pete Seidler, a large investor in the San Diego Padres, is the most publicly-known potential owner for an MLS expansion team in San Diego. A potential drawback to the city’s bid, though, is the wild success of nearby Club Tijuana. The Liga MX team, founded in 2007, has poached fans and player prospects alike from across the border in San Diego.


Professional soccer has existed in the Tampa Bay area in some capacity for over four decades. The Rowdies resurfaced in 2010 after a long hiatus to join NASL, and have recently announced their move to the USL.

From 1996-2001, the Tampa Bay Mutiny succeeded on the field but not off it while playing in Major League Soccer. Carlos Valderrama and Roy Lassiter are among the stars to shine for the Mutiny before Florida teams flamed out of MLS in 2001. The final head coach of the Mutiny, Perry Van der Beck, currently sits as the VP of Competition and Operations for USL after serving on the technical staff of the Rowdies.

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