MLS Expansion: Cincinnati, Sacramento both deserve spots

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With Nashville to be named as a new Major League Soccer expansion franchise in a ceremony in Music City USA later on Wednesday, the race for the final expansion spot is well and truly on.

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It is too close to call between Sacramento and Cincinnati who are both worthy of an MLS team in this round of expansion.

So, why wait?

MLS asked 12 cities to submit their bids for an MLS franchise in January and since then they’ve evaluated all 12, named four finalists (Nashville, Sacramento, Cincinnati and Detroit) and they’ve said they’ll name two cities who have won the expansion franchises in this round.

That means one of Sacramento or Cincinnati will miss out and their bid for an MLS franchise will have to wait for at least another year as two more MLS teams are expected to be added at some time during 2018.

Surely MLS can add three teams right now instead of two, right?

To deny Sacramento or Cincinnati seems ridiculously harsh.

Some of the rumblings behind-the-scenes suggest that there are concerns about how much money those behind the Sacramento bid are willing to put into the MLS franchise despite their impressive stadium plans and obvious success with a Sacramento Republic FC, while Cincinnati’s ongoing battle to secure land for a soccer-specific stadium continues (a “must have” for expansion teams, at least in most circumstances) even though Nippert Stadium would surely be a wonderful home for the franchise.

With both Sacramento and Cincinnati currently having successful USL franchises as the center pieces of their bids, life will go on whatever happens and they’ll both continue to get big crowds and attract interest.

That is perhaps why MLS has left it down to one from those two bids for the final spot. If either Sacramento or Cincinnati doesn’t get a franchise now, they’re nailed on to join a year later.

When it came to Nashville, many will argue there isn’t a professional soccer team in Nashville right now and it is a risk to award an expansion franchise to the Tennessee city first. That’s a valid argument.

However, it also suggests that getting a team up and running is more time sensitive compared to the situation in Sacramento and Cincinnati. Nashville having two wealthy owners behind the bid, plus a rock solid soccer-specific stadium plan at the fairgrounds site sealed the deal.

Yes, Nashville SC have a U-23 team playing in the USL PDL league for the 2017 season and then stepping up into the USL proper for 2018, but that will simply be a stop gap until the team likely joins MLS for the 2019 season and their success will have no real bearing on how the MLS franchise does in Year One and beyond.

Then there is the Miami factor. With David Beckham’s ownership group changing up a significant part of its financial backing last month, is the Miami bid in danger of collapsing? Why can’t MLS to Miami be put on hold and an extra team be added in this round of expansion so Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville will all join in 2019?

With the future of the Columbus Crew moving to Austin, Texas also up in the air, it may actually help for MLS to expand quicker to help negate any impact of not having Miami or a Columbus/Austin franchise in the league in 2019.

Is it really that hard for MLS to change its mind on the rules for this round of expansion? It shouldn’t be. Both Sacramento and Cincinnati deserve to join Nashville in the MLS party. Now.

Everything is in place and ready to roll in both cities and they’ve proved themselves in USL.