MLS expansion: Las Vegas eliminated, leaving Sacramento, Minneapolis in race for 24th team

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The dream of the greatest away day weekend week in the history of professional sports has been snatched out from under the noses of Major League Soccer fans before it ever became a reality.

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The city of Las Vegas, devoid of a major-league sports team in its history, has been eliminated from contention for an MLS franchise during the current round of expansion, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a letter to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, given the timing of your expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” the letter said.

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Garber recently said publicly that MLS was seriously looking at Sacramento and Minneapolis — as well as Las Vegas, St. Louis and San Antonio, not so seriously — for the final expansion franchise as the league aims to be at 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta and Los Angeles FC are scheduled to enter MLS as expansion teams in 2017, while David Beckham’s Miami project (arrival date TBD) struggles to gain traction in South Florida.

The group in Sacramento is being spearheaded by USL club Sacramento Republic FC, who recently received a further round of financial backing from Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s 49ers. Republic FC won the 2014 USL PRO championship, U.S. Soccer’s third division, in its first year of existence and signed an agreement for a stadium location should an MLS franchise be awarded to the city.

Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis has two groups vying to be named MLS’s 24th franchise — Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League and the NFL’s Vikings. United FC would look to build their own soccer-specific stadium, while the Vikings group would play their games in the NFL team’s new 65,000-seat stadium, due to be completed in 2016.

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Both Sacramento and Minneapolis seem, at this point, vastly superior options to Beckham’s Miami project. Not only are their new stadiums close to being done or agreed upon well in advance, each city is already home to a lower-division team, giving them a fanbase and soccer infrastructure to build upon before an MLS franchise is ever announced. If I’m the MLS commissioner, that’s extremely appealing to me.

The clock is officially ticking on Beckham, as Sacramento and Minneapolis are both deserving to join MLS. The league would be just fine putting the Miami project on hold for a few years and welcoming Sacramento and Minneapolis with open arms in 2018 or 2019.