Five cities, two MLS expansion opportunities; let’s rank the contestants

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The race for MLS expansion slots is always fluid, and the darn thing can swing mightily on very little notice.

But for now there seem to be five cities in the running to become MLS clubs Nos. 23 and 24.

In reality, it seems that Atlanta has a big lead on the field, which means there is probably, realistically, just one opening. Not only is Atlanta the largest TV market not currently represented in MLS, the ownership group has ample financial heft, and this MLS push into the American southeast still seems to have legs.

Based on Don Garber’s latest public thoughts, gathered during Thursday’s conference call as the MLS commissioner went over the Chivas USA transfer, and also based on no small amount of guesswork and conjecture, here’s what it looks like in terms of chances, best to worst:

1. Atlanta: MLS owners seem bullish on this one – and ultimately, it’s the owners making big decisions, not necessarily Garber and other league suits in New York. Atlanta’s efforts are all about Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his plans for a domed stadium downtown. (Yes, another dome, which probably means more artificial turf. Sigh.)

2. Minnesota: There are two potential scenarios here, one similar to Atlanta’s and another to build a soccer ground downtown, near where Major League Baseball’s Twins play. Atlanta (8th) is the largest TV market among this field, but this is the next largest at No. 15.

3. Sacramento: Sacramento’s Republic FC will soon debut in USL Pro, and team officials, along with substantial regional support, are driving aggressively toward a goal of getting promoted to MLS.

4. San Antonio: A third team in Texas might seem unlikely, given the lack of a footprint in other areas of the country. But city officials have worked toward the goal for years and keep gaining traction. A recently opened, 8,000-seat soccer stadium for the San Antonio Scorpions certainly doesn’t hurt.

5. San Diego / St. Louis: Ok, this is cheating. I promised five … and weaseled out with six. Thing is, both are attractive markets, although for different reasons, but neither has a lead on the kind of ownership this thing would take, so it’s all theoretical anyway.