Ranking the candidates for MLS’s next expansion team (after Atlanta’s Wednesday announcement)

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When we went live with our post on Atlanta being awarded a Major League Soccer franchise, we originally called it the league’s 23rd team. Technically, Miami doesn’t have a team yet; David Beckham has merely exercised his option. Particularly after MLS called Atlanta No. 22, we made the change. Twenty-three teams are being planned, put one is still theoretical.

As it concerns the bigger “24 by 2020” picture, however, you have to include Beckham United, meaning there’s probably only one slot open in this round of expansion. If the feelings Garber conveyed in last month’s teleconference are as accurate regarding No. 24 as they were about Atlanta, there’s a huge favorite in the quest to grab that final expansion slot.

Last month, our ranking went five deep. This time, we don’t need to go beyond two:

1. Minneapolis – The picture in Minnesota is complex, with Garber speaking favorably of Bill McGuire’s Minnesota United FC group last month. But as we learned earlier today, the Vikings are “stepping up” their pursuit. With Garber having said the league would like another team in the midwest, everything is lining up to go to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The choice seems to be whether to go with the promotion model (ala Seattle, Portland, Orlando, and Vancouver) or the big partner route (ala New York City FC, Atlanta, and … oh yeah, Seattle).

2. The Field – Places like San Antonio and Sacramento might have better claims than others, but perceived hot spots like St. Louis and San Diego have some superficial national appeal. With that in mind, we could blow out this list, but what’s the point? There no other market nearly as attractive as Minneapolis in terms of ownership, interest, and potential venues, a disparity that has lumped every other candidate into a big “not Minnesota” pile.

That there’s some inner-market competition ensures all bidders will continue to push each other, making it even more difficult to other cities to catch up. Though the scarcity of spots means another bid could develop a sense of urgency, right now, there’s Minneapolis and there’s everything else.