MLS confirms “advanced discussions” with Minnesota United; will evalute expansion past 24 teams

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Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber confirmed on Monday that league executives are in “advanced discussions” with North American Soccer League (NASL) club Minnesota United regarding the second-division club’s bid for an MLS expansion franchise, as outlined in a report by SI‘s Brian Straus last week.

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To recap, Minnesota United’s bid is highlighted by a proposed soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis and, which Straus reported last week is accompanied by a written Letter of Intent from MLS to the city of Minneapolis. The United group has been chosen by MLS over a second Minnesota bid, from the NFL’s Vikings, which would have involved the NFL team’s under-construction, 65,000-seat domed stadium.

From MLSsoccer.com:

The league confirmed on Monday afternoon that it is in “advanced discussions” with representatives from Minnesota United FC, though the final decision is not ready to be announced.

“We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club’s home,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released by the club. “We remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days, though no specific date for an announcement has been set.”

I’ll take a soccer-specific stadium over a cavernous NFL dome any day of the week, as well as the existing soccer infrastructure and fanbase. Kudos to MLS choosing the better proposal from the Twin Cities.

Expansion beyond 24 teams

However, on Monday, Garber stated that the league will evaluate its expansion plans.

“Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs,” he said.

First things first, MLS never planned to stop at 24 teams. “24 teams by 2020” was the stated goal — one they’ll reach with ease — but rarely in the context of “once we reach 24, we stop.”

What “24 teams by 2020” did do, however, was put the fear of being left out into the hearts of every prospective MLS market’s ownership group, local government and community of fans. MLS essentially said to all of those groups, “We’re going to admit four more of you (five, once Chivas USA disappeared) into our super-exclusive club, and we’re going to take the first five who offer 1) the most money, 2) a soccer-specific stadium the quickest, and 3) guarantee the highest number of season tickets to be sold.”

In other words, supply and demand.

It’s how the league managed to get a $110-million expansion fee out of a second Los Angeles franchise and $70 million from each Orlando and Atlanta. One would presume they’ll get a similar fee to that of Orlando and Atlanta out of Minnesota.

Who is team No. 25, and where do they stop?

Sacramento Republic, unless they’re team No. 24 ahead of David Beckham’s Miami project. As I speculated last week, Sacramento would enter MLS right alongside Minnesota, if not for Beckham having a temporary (permanent?) hold on an expansion bid.

It’s extremely obvious MLS will not have a balanced schedule with a single-table standings anytime soon, if ever. The North American continent is simply too large for a Florida-based team to fly to the Pacific Northwest for three games and California for four, not to mention the rest of the league’s cities.

Three divisions — preferably of 10 teams each — seems to make the most sense and/or be inevitable. With the correct teams joining the league in the future (more on that in a minute), MLS could easily fill three, 10-team West, Central and East divisions. Anything beyond 30 teams, and you’re probably granting undeserved franchises for the sake of filling out numbers.

Team 26? 27? 28? 29? 30?

Once we move past Sacramento and Miami, future MLS expansion speculation gets really fun. We can be practical and say, “These cities are most likely to attempt/achieve a move to MLS,” or have a little more fun and frame the conversation as, “In a perfect world, these would be the next [x-number] of teams in MLS.”

In my own perfect world, the following cities would be the next six awarded an MLS franchise, in the event suitable ownership groups could be found for each: St. Louis, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and a city in North Carolina, bringing the total to 30 teams.

St. Louis has the fifth-largest metro population without an MLS team (at this point of our projections) and could soon be without an NFL team, leaving the city with only MLB and the NHL. Adding St. Louis also gives MLS a solid three-way rivalry — something the league loves and desires — along with fellow Midwestern cities Kansas City and Chicago.

San Antonio and Indianapolis have done very well during their clubs’ short existences (2010 and 2013, respectively) in the NASL. Again, San Antonio makes a third Texas team, and we’re suddenly paying attention to the Texas Cup the same way we do the Cascadia Cup.

“A North Carolina city,” meaning somewhere near Raleigh, a booming soccer hotbed with three major Division I colleges — Duke, North Carolina and NC State — within 30 miles of one another. Currently, the city of Cary — positioned amongst all four universities — has an NASL team of its own.

Las Vegas is the biggest question of the above five teams. There’s always the issue of mixing sports and gambling, but let’s say the NBA leads the way in embracing sports betting, and it’s something MLS is comfortable with eight or 10 years from now, the biggest Vegas hurdle is cleared. They’ve made approaches before.

Also garnering consideration should MLS expand beyond 30 teams: San Diego, Austin, Nashville and Phoenix.

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.