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Volume 22 No. 34
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With Sacramento and St. Louis in place, where next for MLS?

The International Champions Cup at Bank of America Stadium gave Charlotte a taste of elite-level soccer last year.
Photo: getty images

MLS’s board of governors convened in Los Angeles on April 18 and confirmed perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets in sports — the league would continue to expand beyond MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s previously stated goal of 28 teams.

In all but locking in Sacramento and St. Louis as its future 28th and 29th teams — each with expansion fees of $200 million — MLS made clear it intends to join its fellow major North American sports leagues in growing to at least 30 clubs.

As for which city will get the 30th team, both MLS and its board are hoping that cities once passed over for spots will come back with newly enriched bids when the unspecified date for that process begins, likely later this year.

Among the top contenders, that would seem to favor Charlotte, where a bid once backed by Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith now is being championed by Panthers owner David Tepper, who has met with the league to express his interest. Detroit, backed by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert, was viewed as a near-lock in 2017, but it has since fallen down the list after telling the league one year later that it wanted to play at Ford Field instead of building its own soccer-specific stadium. Phoenix has proposed a privately financed $250 million outdoor stadium that would allow MLS to plant its flag in the Southwest, but it is awaiting local approvals and would have to clear the hurdle of convincing the league that an outdoor stadium in such a climate is a good idea.

 

Two other cities with USL teams — Raleigh and Indianapolis — submitted bids to MLS in 2017 and are on the league’s radar but have notable hurdles to clear. Indianapolis needs to bolster its ownership group because Ersal Ozdemir does not have the capital for a bid, and Raleigh would need to overcome an in-state favorite in Charlotte while its own stadium plan remains a work in progress.

And given the growing popularity of Las Vegas on the major sports scene, it could emerge as a dark horse, though it has never submitted a bid. The league is interested in having a team there, but as of yet no ownership group has emerged nor is there a stadium plan anywhere on the horizon.

The Sacramento and St. Louis groups will have their first chance to present to the board’s expansion committee in the coming weeks, potentially being confirmed as teams entering the league in 2021 or 2022 ahead of the board’s next meeting, which is set for July 31 in Orlando.

A timeline for next steps to add the 30th team are unclear, but it’s a sure bet MLS will get there.