Among the various topics Don Garber addressed on Tuesday, expansion occupied the most time, with questions about eight different sites garnering responses from MLS’s commissioner. Though we’d previously given our views on the most- (and least-) likely spots for the league’s 23rd and 24th franchises, Tuesday gave us new insight into what Garber’s thinking.
As a result, we have a new list. Here’s where we were. Now, here’s where we are:
1. Atlanta – If Las Vegas has odds on Atlanta as team No. 23 (and if they do, that’s pretty cool), they should take the wager off the board. Atlanta is so far ahead of the field at this point, it would take a major upset to see two other cities get expansion franchises before Arthur Blank’s making his announcement.
Part of that is the long relationship Blank has with Major League Soccer. Part is the value he brings as a potentially stable, committed owner. Geography plays a role here, too, as does showings like last night’s at the Georgia Dome. Add in a new venue in the discussion, and this is a slam dunk. And not the George Tenet kind.
Of the eight locations Garber was asked about on Tuesday, he spoke most glowingly of the ATL, saying, “We’re getting close.”
2. Minneapolis – The big news on Tuesday wasn’t that Minneapolis looks like the favorite for franchise No. 24. It’s that the Minnesota United FC group seems so far ahead of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
Consider what Garber had to say about the NASL team’s ownership group:
“Minneapolis is on the short list. Lots of interest there. We’ve had a high level of activity with the current Minnesota United ownership group … We think they’re smart. We think they’re focused, and they’re great community citizens.”
Do you hear that, Commissioner Garber? That’s NASL commissioner Bill Peterson telling you to get off his lawn. Poor guy.
3. San Antonio – The Scorpions looked like a good bet to compete with Minnesota for the final spot, but when asked about Texas expansion, Garber said “Expanding in Texas, that’s likely going to happen. Where that happens, when that happens, remains to be seen.” Compared to the enthusiast way the commissioner talked about Atlanta and Minneapolis’s prospects, it looks like San Antonio has some catching up to do. Maybe No. 25, if they can hold off Austin?
4. Sacramento – The Republic’s big to jump from USL PRO to the first division looks like a distant fourth in this race. Asked about the potential to expand into the market, Garber said, “Show that there’s a real appetite north of San Jose for professional, high-level soccer, and we’ll see what happens” – the type of noncommittal encouragement he could to any market. Lincoln, Neb. – want a team? Then show there’s a real appetite north of Texas for professional, high-level soccer. Then we’ll see what happens.
5. The Field – Garber also answered questions on four other markets, with deflecting answers ranging from “not … anytime soon” (North Carolina) to recommendations the market support existing teams (Cleveland). Though cities like St. Louis and San Diego — areas of constant interest to fans — didn’t come up in the Q-and-A, lack of potential owners in those markets lump them in with “The Field” – a group that looks increasingly irrelevant for slots 23 and 24.
Right now, are three, maybe four obvious candidates to slide into MLS’s last two expansion spots. On Tuesday, commissioner Garber made Atlanta and Minneapolis the favorite. “We’ll see what happens.”