Garber Lays Out Path to 28, Says it’s Time for a Conclusion in Miami

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JAKE NUTTING

In a conference call with media members on Thursday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber outlined the timeline and requirements for groups hoping to fill the expansion spots that will take the league to 28 teams.

Garber stated the league expects to announce which expansion groups will be the the 25th and 26th teams in the third quarter of 2017 and that both new teams would enter the league officially in 2020. A timetable for the last two spots has yet to be determined.

Competition for the open slots will be fierce. MLS acknowledged Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Nashville, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa Bay are all in the mix after publicly starting their desire to bring MLS to town. All interested parties must submit an application for expansion into MLS by the end of January.

Since launching  a push for MLS before they even kicked off in the USL in 2014, Sacramento Republic FC has stood out as strong contender and not much has changed on that front. However, the anxiety in Sacramento is growing after years of patiently waiting as the list of cities interested in MLS reached double digits.

“We’ve always said to [Sacramento Republic] that we would be establishing a formal process,” Garber said. “In no way have we used any market to leverage any other. Sacramento, like all other expansion prospects, will have to go through the formal process so that they’re sure they have all the pieces in place to ensure they’re a success.”

Garber went on to reiterate that Sacramento’s bid remains strong and that the league has spoken to their group more than any other potential expansion group over the past few years.

Republic Owner Kevin Nagle released a statement following Garber’s comments, saying, “The path to MLS just became crystal clear. For over two years, Sacramento has methodically built our case as an MLS-caliber city. We’ve proven the strength of our market. We’ve delivered a truly shovel-ready MLS stadium plan. And we’ve assembled a world-class ownership group. At last, all of that hard work will bear fruit. We look forward to the MLS application process and to demonstrating once and for all that Sacramento is ready for MLS.”

St. Louis is considered another favorite to win one of the next two spots. Backed by investor Paul Edgerley, former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock, and the owner of the USL’s St. Louis FC  Jim Kavanaugh, the group recently revealed a plan to construct a stadium in the downtown area. A vote in April will determine whether the group receives $80,000,000 million in public money for the proposed venue. Garber confirmed to the media that the group in St. Louis would need to reassess if the vote does not go their way.

FC Cincinnati has emerged as a dark horse in the race for the next round of expansion after drawing stellar crowds throughout their first year in the USL. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the rebranded North Carolina FC only stated their MLS intentions last week, but each side’s deep-pocketed owner has been quietly working behind the scenes for months in preparation of filing an application with MLS.

Garber also revealed the league has had contact with Marcus Smith, whose family company owns the Charlotte Motor Speedway, about bring an MLS team to the city. Smith’s bid is not connected with the effort from Charlotte Independence owner Jim McPhilliamy to do the same with his USL team.

NBA owners are also involved in the hunt for a seat at the table. The San Antionio Spurs ownership remains committed to bringing a MLS team to the city through their USL outfit and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has proposed a redevelopment plan in Detroit that includes a stadium for an MLS team. The ownership group behind San Diego remains unknown.

The competition to become one of the next two MLS teams could become open up to three, though, depending on what happens with ongoing saga with David Beckham’s pursuit of a team for Miami. A final decision on Beckham’s Miami team is expected to be made by the time team’s 25 and 26 are announced in the back half of 2017.

Garber stuck to the party line that Beckham’s Miami group remains the league’s primary target for the increasingly coveted 24th expansion spot. However, he also indicated the time is rapidly approaching for things in South Florida to come to a head — one way or another.

“We are very focused on Miami being our 24th team and we’ll continue to work to try to achieve that,” Garber said. “I think I’m more optimistic than I was in the past … but I’ve also learned not everything you want to do gets done and sometimes you have to step back and if you can’t get it done, you move on. That’s not something that’s driving any energy on this to a conclusion. Much more, it’s just about everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners and the league and everybody else, that we’ve worked hard and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion.”


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