Major League Soccer

MLS Expansion update: 12 cities apply for a franchise

Leave a comment

“Come one, come all. Welcome to the Major League Soccer lottery!”

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

That’s what it feels like as Jan. 31 was the deadline for cities hoping to secure an MLS franchise in the next round of expansion with the expansion fee reported to be over $150 million for each team.

12 cities from across the U.S. have now put in their formal application, with the league office confirming on Tuesday that the following cities have all submitted their bids.

  • Sacramento
  • Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg
  • Phoenix
  • San Diego
  • St. Louis
  • Detroit
  • Nashville
  • Charlotte
  • Raleigh/Durham
  • San Antonio
  • Cincinnati
  • Indianapolis

Now, the waiting game begins.

With MLS growing to 22 teams for the upcoming 2017 season with the addition of Atlanta United and Minnesota United, LAFC will arrive in 2018 to take the number of teams to 23. David Beckham’s team in Miami is currently on hold as they continue their search for a stadium site which puts their status as team number 24 in some doubt.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has stated his goal of adding four more teams in the coming years to expand the league to 28, but more specifically two more teams will be added for the 2020 season to take the league to 26 teams. The decision on who those two expansion franchises will be will be made midway through 2017 and will come from these 12 candidates who have submitted applications.

With the 12 cities formally submitting their bids, who seems nailed on for the next round of expansion to become MLS’ 25th and 26th franchises?

St. Louis appears to be at the top of the list with their plans to house an impressive stadium downtown from ownership group SC STL which is headed by Paul Edgerley who is part owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Considering the huge success of club friendlies and U.S. national team games in STL in recent years, plus the relocation of the NFL’s Rams to LA, their ownership group is extremely confident of getting the deal done.

Sacramento Republic
Sacramento Republic’s plans for a new downtown stadium

Another Midwest city is also near the top of the list, with second-year team FC Cincinnati showing there is a real hunger for the sport in the southern Ohio city. Average crowds of over 17,500 in the third-tier USL smashed all records in their first-ever season as a franchise in 2016. Surely they’re right at the top but they could come in the second wave of expansion.

The impressive ownership group behind USL side Sacramento Republic FC has also seemed highly likely to get a franchise with investors of the Sacramento Kings and San Francisco 49ers on board. However, there is some confusion around the MLS bid for Sacramento with rumors suggesting it does not involve the Republic and instead a separate bid by a group of investors led by Kevin Nagle and including Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman and her husband Dr. Griff Harsh. Is Sacramento’s bid in jeopardy? Still, Garber is adamant Sacramento will have a team in MLS by the time it has 28 franchises.

San Diego also appears to be favored by Garber as he collected their bid in a ceremony on Monday, the day after the city hosted the USMNT’s friendly against Serbia. With Landon Donovan, Stu Holden and other big names in the U.S. soccer community on board, San Diego’s location next to the Mexican border and soccer mad Tijuana is also an intriguing opportunity. It may have to wait for the next window of expansion but there’s no doubting the appetite for a team, especially after the NFL moved the Chargers to LA.

stl
St. Louis’ downtown stadium

Plenty of other intriguing sites also stick out for the expansion committee with Detroit and San Antonio showing strong fanbases for lower-tier teams in recent years, while the likes of Tampa Bay, Phoenix and Indianapolis also have strong bids in place.

Making the decision about all of this, Garber’s MLS’ expansion committee is made up of New England Revolution’s Jonathan Kraft, Orlando City’s Phil Rawlins, the Philadelphia Union’s Jay Sugarman, Chicago Fire’s Andrew Hauptman and Columbus Crew SC’s Anthony Precourt. These guys will be very busy in the months to come as MLS’ impressive growth continues.

One thing is for sure, the plan to expand to only 28 teams by 2026 could be scrapped because plenty of these cities have extremely strong bids to house an MLS franchise in the next few years.

detroitformatted
Detroit’s MLS bid

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

Photo by Trond Tandberg/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
1 Comment

It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images
Leave a comment

VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”