The race for the 30th MLS expansion team has a clear leader now, and while we may not know for a while which market will secure the spot, what is clear is that the league is looking West, only one of the markets that previously held down the role of expansion favorite.
Talks between MLS and prospective ownership groups in Las Vegas are “making progress”, Don Garber confirmed in his State of the League Address on Tuesday. Garber acknowledged that Las Vegas is the current frontrunner, though not the only market in contention for the league’s 30th expansion spot.
In addition to Las Vegas, MLS is also “still in discussion with other markets” including Phoenix and San Diego, Garber confirmed. Phoenix also has a USL side and would be seeking first-time involvement in the top-tier league while San Diego recently announced a new NWSL expansion side, the San Diego Wave.
One market that was not mentioned by Garber was Sacramento, which has plummeted out of the expansion picture due to the city’s inability to secure an ownership group with enough financial muscle having had prospective investors pull out of the project.
The billionaire tandem of Wes Edens and Nassef Sawris filed to trademark for a soccer team named the Las Vegas Villains earlier in 2021 and Garber confirmed the league is working with Edens on the Las Vegas possibility. Bill Foley, owner of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights had been interested in joining the MLS expansion race, but recently confirmed that he has withdrawn from consideration.
Las Vegas has become a sports boomtown in recent years, with the NFL’s Raiders relocating to Las Vegas and opening a state-of-the-art stadium. The NHL’s Vegas Knights have also been a success.
“I am just blown away by what’s going on in Las Vegas and I’ve been in the sports business for a really long time. I didn’t see it coming.”
Garber acknowledged that the league has examined expansion in Las Vegas for many years. He said the league met in its early years with former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman about possible expansion.
“We’re very bullish about the market and we’ll continue to plow forward,” Garber said. “I can’t really comment on what our stadium plans are at this point because there’s still fluid. But you know, hopefully sometime in the next couple of months, we’ll have more to talk about.”