New York FC and Orlando City will start play in 2015. Miami? Who knows, but at least they’ve got a ticket, and with Major League Soccer approaching that magic 24 number, there aren’t that many left. If the league sticks to its plan to find its 23rd and 24th members by 2015, there’s only room for two more kids at this prom.
So who does that leave? Atlanta seems to be the favorite for No. 23, but it’s hard to tell. With Orlando’s entry (team in place, stadium coming), it was easy to read the tea leaves. Likewise with David Beckham. He had his option, and we knew he was angling for Miami. Teams 21 and 22 were predictable.
Atlanta doesn’t have Beckham’s promises or the Orlando City SC blueprint, but they have been part of what seems like a continuous connection between Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank (pictured) and Major League Soccer. With MLS committed to setting up camp again in the southeast, Atlanta could be a significant cog – one that complements the new Florida franchises. What Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are to one corner of the map, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando could try be to the other.
The other expansion candidates aren’t such easy fits. Minneapolis represents another potential partnership with an NFL owner and venue, but the geographic urgency isn’t as pressing. St. Louis is always mentioned as a possible destination, but that’s more a nod to the city’s soccer history than any viable plan to play in the market. San Antonio is the type of market where MLS has found recent success, but attendance for the second year of the NASL franchise dropped slightly.
Then there are the fringe candidates. Charlotte’s USL PRO ownership has whispered about wanting to follow Orlando’s example. Likewise, the Sacramento Republic may be a third-to-first tier candidate (just don’t forget about those average temperatures of 92-93 degrees in July and August; highs eclipse 110).
This is where the decisions get hard, which is why we might not get the relatively quick decisions we saw with Orlando and Miami. And with MLS down to two slots, it might be worth it to let this process play out, see which ownership groups strengthen, and let the competition identify which options are the strongest.