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A look at what happens next in MLS expansion

The first domino in the MLS expansion process fell on Tuesday as the league announced an event in Nashville for Wednesday that is expected to award the city with a franchise.

Now the tough decision-making has to occur with Sacramento, Cincinnati and Detroit still waiting to hear their names get called.

Most believe the decision will come down to Sacramento and Cincinnati, two recent soccer hotbeds that both deserve to make the step up from USL to the big show.

Detroit is on the outside looking in and has a better chance of refurbishing its bid for the process that will award teams 27 and 28, where there doesn’t seem to be a ton of outside competition at the moment.

Since stepping onto the field in USL in 2014, Sacramento Republic has been a darling of the second division and seemed certain to be on the fast track to MLS.

However, Nashville’s emergence with committed ownership and a strong stadium deal pushed it ahead of the California capital.

Sacramento has a stadium plan in place that would include private financing of the venue, with attendance not being an issue given the tremendous support the Republic has received during their time in the USL.

However, the one thing going against Sacramento is its location. With San Jose in close proximity and it would be the fourth California city to have an MLS team, with the two Los Angeles teams being the other two in the group.

Cincinnati has burst into the spotlight much like Sacramento did during its inception. FC Cincinnati has enjoyed success with large crowds backing it. FC Cincinnati’s stature in the public eye grew during the run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

After weeks of debate in local government, Cincinnati was able to put together a stadium plan that is required by MLS to even have a chance at winning an expansion bid.

The elephant in the room when discussing Cincinnati is whether residing in the state of Ohio with the Columbus Crew relocation situation going on will affect it. No particular answer has been given regarding that scenario, and there’s no guarantee it would even come up as a road block.

Adding a second team east of the Mississippi River wouldn’t seem to be a concern for MLS, even with Miami still waiting to get it all together and join as the league’s 24th team.

Bringing in three teams that would presumably land in the Eastern Conference would appear to be a strike against Cincinnati, but there are ways around it, especially if the Crew end up moving to Austin.

The other conundrum MLS faces in the expansion process is if one of the new franchises would leapfrog Miami to become the 24th team, a possibility that Don Garber didn’t rule out during the State of the League address.

Cincinnati and Sacramento could conceivably play in 2019 in their current form while waiting for a stadium to be built. If Miami can somehow pull strings and get its act together for 2019, this won’t be an issue for the second expansion franchise.

Nothing has been confirmed on Nashville’s start date, but 2020 would make sense given the lack of club infrastructure compared to Cincinnati and Sacramento’s current USL functionality.

The bad news for the city left on the outside of this round of expansion is it risks losing support while a new batch of contenders try to line up everything possible to usurp Cincinnati or Sacramento.

Then there’s the unlikely situation in which MLS rules to allow both Cincinnati and Sacramento to enter the league based off the strength of their bids and leave the 28th team up for contention with Detroit presumably being the favorite given its position as a finalist in the current round of expansion.

Regardless of what you think may happen, both Cincinnati and Sacramento have proven that they deserve to be home to an MLS franchise. Now it all comes down to the question of how and when the next expansion steps will be taken.


    • I’m not entirely convinced Sacramento gets a team in this round of expansion to be honest. Cincinnati has a strong bid together. I do think Sacramento will get in as one of the 28 teams. There hasn’t been another city as strong as Sacramento beneath it in the list of expansion hopefuls.

    • The point is exactly that, that it gets watered down, just like every soccer pyramid in the world, the lower you go..

      Stop thinking of it as a made-for-tv, 1st division exclusive rights product, and start looking at it as one big sporting system joining every club decent enough to feed players through it, and ambitious enough to earn a little local attention. There is no limit to how big that system can be.

  1. What I don’t understand is, why are we limiting the size of MLS expansion? Establish some criteria for expansion – SSS or adequate dual-use facility, capital, investment, fan support, whatever. Then instead of selecting, just permit.

    Expand, expand, and expand some more, as long as people are doing it within pre-established criteria and meet the minimum requirements to join. If the league gets unwieldy, well, that’s what promotion and relegation are for.

    THIS ISN’T THE NFL. There are 300+ college teams waiting to pick up the slack in smaller markets in football. There’s no good reason there can’t be 80 or even 100+ pro teams in the soccer pyramid…let ’em in, then let the free market sort ’em out like it does everywhere else.

    • Also there aren’t enough American players the league quality suffers and keeps away new fans because the product is poor. Think if you added all the USL to MLS.

    • I agree Quozzel.

      I think that the problem you have is the criteria that you would set….probably isn’t met by some current teams.

    • Demand might there in more than 28 cities, but the product can’t be watered down if you keep expanding. That’s one of the fears as well as a few other things. In this scenario you present, it would be wiser to propose as 28-team MLS that eventually morphs into a pro/rel model with the USL teams. There’s new USL franchises popping up everywhere with smaller stadium requirements that fit demand like minor league baseball for lack of a better example. I think one day, maybe 15-20 years from now, a pro/rel with MLS and USL as an MLS2 might be feasible.

  2. I started out thinking Sacramento for sure, but if they go Cincinatti, that gives them 12 and 12 with Minnesota and every team west of the Mississippi playing in the Western Conf.

    • Actually I think I forgot Nashville, so someone will have more

      …..and Miami is just around the corner. 😉

      • That’s the biggest concern I have right now is how you would align the conferences. I don’t think you could justify Nashville in the West, even if they’re in the West for the NHL. You need Nashville playing Atlanta and Orlando as much as possible.

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