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USMNT roundtable: What now for USA?

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There are still so many questions which need to be answered when it comes to the U.S. men’s national team.

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One year to the day since they lost in Trinidad & Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as a result, interim head coach Dave Sarachan is preparing his team to play two friendlies against Colombia and Peru over the next week and he has two friendlies against England and Italy in November to see out the calendar year.

With so many changes in terms of the player pool, no permanent manager and a new GM in Earnie Stewart getting to grips with his role, it will be intriguing to see what happens to the USMNT over the next 12 months.

Below our writers discuss the key issues facing them right now and what is on the horizon for the Stars and Stripes.


It is one year since the disaster in Trinidad & Tobago which ended the USA’s 2018 World Cup hopes. How would you sum up the past 12 months for the USMNT after that huge shock?

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NICK MENDOLA: It’s difficult to sum up the last 12 months because there’s a new level of scrutiny to everything the federation does regarding the USMNT. Frankly, the failure of the team in qualifying has opened the door to all critiques, from reasonable to absurd. The ensuing “This is fine meme” reactions from admin, to the presidential election, to a World Cup of “What if Christian Pulisic was on our TV screen?” and the subsequent coaching search has been surreal. At best, it’s been an unusual time. At worst, it’s exposed a rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.

JOE PRINCE-WRIGHT: I agree with Nick. The fact it has taken this long to appoint a new head coach borders on gross negligence, while the pain of watching a World Cup without the U.S. was extreme. Christian Pulisic leads the young bucks trying to restore pride in the program and I think Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah will be around for quite some time. However, there’s a lingering feeling that Oct. 10, 2017 will go down as the date where we look back and say that is where U.S. Soccer lost its way a little. I hope I’m wrong but it will take a lot more than a few friendly wins and a decent performance at the Gold Cup next summer to turn this around.

DAN KARELL: I think it’s been an incredibly disappointing last 12 months. U.S. Soccer CLEARLY had no plan in place for missing out on the World Cup, and delaying any potential coaching hires until a new president was elected in February, then until the World Cup rights had been awarded for the 2026 World Cup, and then again after hiring a MNT GM in Ernie Stewart is a mistake, especially if they end up with a coach from MLS, which at this point looks most likely, unless the jokes about Jose Mourinho actually comes true. Last December, U.S. Soccer could have hired one of the many qualified domestic coaches available, at least to coach through the Gold Cup if not through the next World Cup, so that there was some sort of plan in place. Instead, the next national team coach has missed 12 months of chances of getting to know the next crop of players, seeing them up close and how they interact with one another on the field, as well as perhaps better handling the Christian Pulisic situation, which has gone from understandable at first to questionable now. At this point, they might as well go with Sarachan.

KYLE BONN: There’s been some good, some bad, and some frustration. The introduction of the new faces has been a comprehensive success. The national system has flushed out some bright and promising talents that a year ago would have struggled to see time amongst the high-leverage matches and retreading of old veterans. The young players were already on the radar of those in the national system obviously, but the showcasing of Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent,Timothy Weah, Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, Antonee Robinson, and many others to the fans and giving them time to prove their worth has been invaluable. However, the lack of direction without a permanent head coach has been baffling. While the players begin to prove how they can fit in to the future, there has been a massive void left unfilled in a position that will shape the program’s future. Until that happens, it’s impossible to label the aftermath of the disappointment a success.


Heading into this international break, what do you want to see from this squad?

MENDOLA: Frankly, given the absences of the best players, I just want to see players take their chances by the scruff of the neck. And goals. I want to see goals.

KARELL: I don’t really have any expectations, I just hope no one else gets injured and players build some chemistry. So I guess on that basic level, those are my expectations. But there’s just this air of uncertainty over the whole MNT program and I don’t know what to think until a coach is hired.

JPW: Have to agree with Nick and Dan. Expectation levels are so low that a lot of USMNT fans aren’t too bothered win, lose or draw right now. That is not a good thing for the program overall. I’d like to see the veterans (Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan) integrated back into the lineup and I’m intrigued to see exactly what impact that has on these young players.

BONN: With a number of promising youngsters injured, it’s going to be hard to draw too many conclusions from the current crop. I would like to see the veterans provide some insight to the young guns, and I would like to see the two groups mesh as well as possible.


With so many of the USMNT’s top youngsters going down with injuries for this camp – Pulisic, Adams and McKennie are out  – are you buying into the reports regarding the commitment levels to the national team, which were mainly focused on Pulisic?

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MENDOLA: I am not concerned about this, unless there are those saying the same things about all of the programs around the world. For example, allegations aside, Cristiano Ronaldo is still absent from Portugal despite Nations League matches. While chemistry matters, the next tournament that matters is the Gold Cup. That’s rarely been an all hands on deck event anyway. So let’s not hold Pulisic to a standard we didn’t expect from Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard before him.

JPW: Pulisic is a rare case in all of this. If he calls you and says he needs a rest, you rest him. Just like England, Argentina and Portugal would do with Harry Kane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively. At this point, Pulisic is vital to the USMNT and you need to bend over backwards to make him happy. That said, he doesn’t seem like he has any real ego at all and he is a team player who always enjoys playing for the USMNT. The fact he has only been in one camp in the past 12 months is more about untimely injuries and the need for a rest than anything more sinister. I think the one thing we can say about these young U.S. players is that they’re committed and fight for the jersey. At this point, what more can you ask for?

KARELL: At this point, there’s nothing you can do if these are actually injuries keeping the players out. But I do think in retrospect, the USMNT made a mistake not constantly calling in Pulisic to camps. I know he is still a young man but precisely because of that, I think he could have handled constant call-ins more than a veteran could. Instead, they made excuses every call-up except for the one in May in which Pulisic, tired after a long season, was kind of forced to play. Since then, the relationship has been bad between the federation and his family. Perhaps that could have been avoided with regular call-ups before the May/June games. That was the more appropriate time to give him a rest. rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.

BONN: Absolutely not. The international matches that Pulisic has missed in the past were all valid excuses. Whether he needed to focus on his club situation or just flat out rest after a difficult season, Pulisic is doing what is best for him, and when it comes to the superstars in a low-leverage time period for the international squad, what’s best for Pulisic long-term is also what is best for the national team. I’m not worried about his commitment to the national team one iota, nor am I worried about that from some of those who suffered injuries. It’s impossible to judge something like that until matches of higher leverage roll around, and I have not doubt they will bring their best at that time.


Who would be your choice to come in as the new USMNT head coach? And why?

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MENDOLA: It’s difficult to answer who I want without knowing the marketplace/demand. If I’m limited to MLS coaches and those who’ve already managed internationally and are on the market, then Peter Vermes and Tata Martino top my list. But with the US Soccer budget and theoretical acclaim, I’d much rather have a boss with active connections in top leagues, high level experience in player and program development, and political savvy. I’m not saying there’s a Carlo Ancelotti out there, but I bet there is…

KARELL: If it’s not going to be Dave Sarachan at this point, then I’d prefer to see either Oscar Pareja or Gregg Berhalter get it. Both were terrific players who carry that important clout in the locker room, and both have proven to be good man managers and tacticians for their clubs. Of course, it’s a different game at the international level because coaches don’t have time to implement tactical structures, so it may be best to get someone who will be pragmatic with the resources available.

JPW: Gregg Berhalter. With his brother Jay involved high up in U.S. Soccer and given his relationship with Stewart, this is a very good fit. It helps to work with people you like and know in order to get results. Aside from those factors, Berhalter has worked wonders at Columbus considering all of the issues that franchise has had off the pitch. He develops young players and has a clear identity which is based on a solid defensive unit. That sounds perfect for the identity the USMNT are trying to create with this young team. Sarachan should be in the running, so too should Jesse Marsch and Peter Vermes, but the latter two have pretty cushy gigs right now and Sarachan will likely get a position within U.S. Soccer somewhere after his stint as interim boss is over.

BONN: In an ideal world, I would absolutely love to see Tata Martino run the US national team, but that seems highly unlikely given his own personal interests. I also think seeing Jesse Marsch come back and coach the national team would be much more successful than any other in-house choices, but again he’s unlikely having just taken a job in Europe. I think I think Gregg Berhalter makes the most sense, even if he’s somewhat underwhelming.


Do you feel confident that this young squad can develop and become a dominant force in CONCACAF and make a splash at the next two World Cups?

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JPW: I am unsure. There’s no doubt there are several talented youngsters playing at top clubs across Europe and in some of the best leagues in the world, but how will they all develop over the next 4-6 years? That is impossible to predict but I think the U.S. will see increasing pressure from Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica, just like the did in qualifying in 2018. Their players heading to MLS has helped them catch up with the U.S. and Mexico has moved on to a whole other level. Hot take: I think if the U.S. reaches the next World Cup it would be a massive success. Anything else in 2022 would be a bonus. Not qualifying isn’t as unlikely as you would think…

MENDOLA: Yes. Mexico is in a golden generation but so, too, should the U.S. if it doesn’t try to placate stakeholders at the expense of courting top talent. And the Jonathan Gonzalez embarrassment can never happen again.

KARELL: I honestly don’t feel very confident right now. With some of these guys, there’s a lot of potential but also unrealized talent. Wil Trapp is a good player, but at 25 now, I expected him to be in Europe or playing at a higher level than staying in his comfort zone with the Crew. And it showed against a half-hearted Brazil team, who walked all over the Americans last month. This team, while it has a high ceiling, is not anywhere close to reaching it. Perhaps it could get there in 2-4 years, but I need to see some improvement across the board. Think faster, play faster.

BONN: I don’t see why not. The performances the last year with almost exclusively youngsters and new faces have been promising, so with a mix of vets and a permanent head coach, there’s no reason they can’t. It took a one-in-a-million perfect storm to keep them out last time, I think they’ll be back in the mix this cycle.


What is the one thing you’d like to see the U.S. Soccer Federation do over the next 12 months in terms of helping the USMNT? What can the leaders do better?

MENDOLA: Leaders can let Stewart hire who he wants and largely get out of the way. That’s over simplifying, but now I’m really fired up!

KARELL: I’d like US Soccer to make a hire already for MNT coach and give that coach autonomy to watch current and potential players, hold mid-week training camps to get to know players, and have two distinct tactical systems, one for the gritty, rough and tumble CONCACAF (Big Ten) region and another for European opponents and the World Cup (SEC). Did I get my college sports analogies correct?

JPW: Echoing what Nick and Dan said, they need a new coach and they need him now. USSF needs to let Stewart and his coach get on with things on the playing side and assess things in late 2019. Only then will we really know if the USMNT is on the right path. The main focus for USSF has to be talent identification and making sure they don’t miss out on snapping up the best dual national youngsters who are eligible to play for the USMNT.

BONN: They need to not only hire a coach, but implement a plan that runs up and down the food chain, so everyone is on the same page. And be transparent! Let the public know exactly what this plan entails, what’s the drawback from letting fans in the doors a bit? It’s hard to see where that hurts the setup.

Is now the right time to reintegrate veteran players like Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley? If it is, who else should return to the squad in November for the games against England and Italy?

MENDOLA: Bradley? Yeah for sure, although he’s had an adventurous season as a center back/center mid “save this disaster because you’re the captain” at Toronto FC and returning to the national team to face scrutiny may somehow be a respite for him. Guzan I don’t entirely get. He’s experienced and can provide a guiding hand but if this is about playing time i don’t really get it. Has he clearly shown he’s above the level of any of the young bucks they could drop between the sticks? If he’s there to be the “break glass in case of emergency” then okay.

JPW: I’m with Nick. Bradley makes sense but I think Steffen has been superb for the USMNT whenever he’s played. Bradley was always going to return and I’d expect to see Altidore and Ream return in November. Long-term, those three and maybe Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams could return to the fold but that’s about it. The youngsters deserve to be trusted.

KARELL: Sure, why not. The veterans have been exiled from the MNT for the last 12 months, deservedly so since they suffered a disgraceful fate that condemned the US to sit on the sidelines this summer. But at this point, it’s not a bad idea to get Bradley, Guzan, and other vets like Alejandro Bedoya, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams so the young guys can see what the level they need to aspire to is every day in MNT practice. At this point, it’s hard to say who should or shouldn’t be in the squad because the games don’t matter and there isn’t a permanent a coach yet. I would lean towards giving most of the spots to younger guys but Sarachan can invite some veterans, even MLS vets, to help guide the youngsters.

BONN: Yes, for sure, but the need for a head coach remains. It’s hard to see the team ramping up its preparedness no matter who is in the squad if there’s nobody leading the ship. The vets should be allowed to help the kids fully integrate, but without true leadership it will be an uphill battle. Make that hire!

7 Ironmans in 7 days? Saints legend explains why

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Southampton legend Francis Benali is on a mission. In the past five years he has taken part in two huge challenges for charity, and the third starts on Apr. 29 and is his most demanding yet.

7 Ironmans in 7 days. Yep, you read that correctly.

Benali, 50, has set himself a goal of raising £1 million ($1.3 million) for Cancer Research UK in his post-playing career, as the 13-year Premier League veteran, who spent his entire 16-year career at hometown club Southampton, pushes his body and mind to the limits with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile ride and then a 26.2-mile run each day, for seven days.

Let that sink in.

The “IronFran 2019” challenge will take him on a journey through England from Manchester to Southampton, and will take place from Apr. 29 to May 5, as it will finish with him completing the Southampton Marathon after seven gruelling days.


You can donate to support Benali by clicking here, or on the link above, as he aims to raise over $1.3 million to help Cancer Research UK. 


Talking to Pro Soccer Talk about what spurs him on each and every day during these challenges, Benali revealed he thinks about the individuals and families suffering with cancer. That pushes him on to keep going.

“I have paid a visit to the local cancer ward at Southampton General Hospital recently and I’ve met a number of children, a few of whom are planning to be part on the last day of the challenge [the Southampton Marathon on May 5],” Benali said. “We’ve been touched by it as a family and we have had close friends who have either been diagnosed or lost to this awful disease since starting the first challenge a few years ago. That drives me on and reinforces the efforts we are trying to make on the fundraising side to enable the researchers and the scientists to find ways of treatment and ultimately to find a cure.

“That is very much a factor in my mind. Knowing that I’ve got a few aches and pains and may not want to go training or continue through a session, when your mind flips to people that are fighting this disease and who are affected by this terrible illness, not just the individuals themselves but their families and friends as well, it has a massive impact. It certainly drives me on and spurs me on during the difficult moments.”

(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

A fiery left back during his playing says, Benali was a huge part of Southampton staving off relegation year after year in the 1990s, as the hometown hero led the battles at the Dell alongside the likes of Matt Le Tissier and James Beattie. He epitomizes the spirit of a true battler.

In recent years he’s turned his attention to raising money for Cancer Research UK with extreme endurance challenges, and has pushed himself to the limit by running between every Premier League stadium in 2014, covering over 1,000 miles on 21 consecutive days. In 2016 he then travelled between all 44 teams in the top two tiers of English soccer in just two weeks, covering 1400 miles which meant running a marathon then cycling at least 75 miles every day

Benali has now been training for months for IronFran, which is billed as his final big challenge to get over the £1 million marker as his current fundraising total now stands at just under £700,000.

As he enters the final days of his preparation for the incredible challenge, Benali admitted that making sure he gets the desired rest and refuelling in-between Ironman’s is just as challenging as completing the physical disciplines each day.

“I am really racking up the hours and distance on a daily basis to have the last final push to try and get my body accustomed to the pain and the aches I know are going to come on the challenge itself, and I know they will probably be a lot worse than what I am feeling now,” Benali explained. “It’s just getting my mind and body used to that uncomfortableness of the training and getting out of bed, and keeping moving really. I know from the previous experiences from the other challenges, it is sure as hell going to be the case. It is not just the physical and mental challenge of each of disciplines each day, it is as much a challenge to refuel and get the calories back in and start and get a good enough recovery process in. Including sleep, and what will be a lack of it, in order to get up the next morning to do it all over again the following day.”

The soccer world has rallied around Benali, just as it did in his previous two challenges in 2014 and 2016, with former and current professionals, Premier League and Football League clubs and personalities across the game in the UK and the world helping to spread the word about this mammoth challenge.

Benali admitted the support has been amazing to witness but ever the professional, he wants to make sure he finishes the challenge and do what he set out to do.

“It is wonderful to know you have that level of support and the well wishes coming in from colleagues and people I work with now,” Benali said. “At the same time it brings a pressure. I’ll be honest. The pressure to deliver the challenge, in my head, and complete it. The fundraising target is the main goal, but at the same time I ultimately want to complete what I set out to do. That certainly brings a few sleepless nights as well in my own mind.”

Credit: Chris Cole/ALLSPORT

Asked if he fancies taking his incredible endurance events Stateside, Benali, of course, mentioned some of the toughest event as capturing his attention for the future if he fancies another big challenge.

“I’ve seen some stuff in America, with the Race Across America (RAAM) with cyclists, which is an incredible event. I’ve seen the Badwater Ultramarathon is something that looks right out there on the limits of extreme challenges,” Benali said. “There is stuff I’ve seen in the U.S. that has certainly captured my attention. Maybe one day I might be able to run, or get permission from my wife Karen, to give me the green light on something like that. We will get this challenge out of the way first.”

Benali has never shirked a challenge, and throughout his career in the Premier League he dug deep to keep his hometown club in the top-flight against all the odds and was a machine at left back for Saints.

With Southampton in their own relegation battle heading into the final weeks of this season, Benali believes the club he loves can pretty much seal their place in the Premier League by beating Newcastle on Saturday at St James’ Park (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Just like his challenges, the battle is far from over for Saints.

“I always thought two more wins would do it prior to the victory against Wolves last weekend, so I think having seen Cardiff’s victory against Brighton, that really throws them in the mix and keeps us in contention of being in a relegation place,” Benali said. “I’ve always had that confidence in Ralph Hasenhuttl and the squad to survive and stay up this season, and that is no different right now. Three points and a big victory at Newcastle would be a big step towards survival. I think that would probably be enough given the games that are left and the run-in that Cardiff have. Fingers crossed it will all go well for Saints, and it will be a great game for everyone to watch.”

Championship wrap: Promotion race intensifies

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As always, things got weird and wild in England’s second-tier on Friday.

Leeds United lost at home to 10-man relegation battlers Wigan Athletic 2-1, despite taking the lead early and Wigan playing a man down for over 75 minutes.

Pablo Hernandez missed an early penalty kick for Marcelo Bielsa’s side who have now dropped out of the automatic promotion spots with three games of the season to go and no longer have their destiny in their own hands. This defeat marked the first time this season that Leeds have lost a game after taking the lead.

As for their main rivals for automatic promotion, Sheffield United rallied in the second half to beat Nottingham Forest on Friday and moved into second behind Norwich City as Blades boss Chris Wilder has done a magnificent job for the club he supports.

Norwich look certainties for promotion and their return to the PL after a three-year absence could be confirmed on Monday, while Sheffield United know they will be back in the Premier League for the first time since 2007 if they win their final three games of the season.

In the playoff race, West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough all won to sit in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, while Bristol City and Derby are hanging around just outside the playoff spots with draws to set up a frantic final few weeks. There are some huge teams pushing to be in the playoffs and have a chance of playing in the richest game in soccer at Wembley on May 27, and Villa are the form team right now with nine-straight wins.

At the other end of the table, Bolton’s defeat at home to Villa means they were relegated to the third-tier and they will join Ipswich Town in League One for next season, while Rotherham and Millwall battle to stay out of the final relegation spot.

Below is a look at the standings and points in the promotion race, as the battle to get into the Premier League for the 2019-20 rages on.


As things stand – Championship table, promotion race

Automatic promotion
1st: Norwich City – Played 42, points 86
2nd: Sheffield United – Played 43, points 82

Playoff picture
3rd: Leeds United – Played 43, points 82
4th: West Brom – Played 43, points 76
5th: Aston Villa – Played 43, points 72
6th: Middlesbrough – Played 43, points 67

Pushing for playoffs
7th: Bristol City – Played 42, points 66
8th: Derby County – Played 42, points 64

Preview: Man City v. Tottenham

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“More of the same please, lads.”

That will be the message from neutrals everywhere as Manchester City host Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), less than 72 hours after Spurs got past City at the Etihad Stadium in one of the most dramatic games in UEFA Champions League history.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Pep Guardiola‘s Man City must pick themselves up and now focus on winning their final five games of the season to win the Premier League title, while Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino need to win to keep their hopes of finishing in the top four alive. That said, Spurs may rest several first team players with their injury-hit squad creaking and the north London side focused on being ready for their UCL semifinals against Ajax coming up.

In team news City could have Fernandinho back, while Zinchenko will be assessed. Spurs are without Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier and youngsters Juan Foyth, Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters could all play with injuries hitting Pochettino’s side hard.

What they’re saying…

Guardiola philosophical on late winner denied by VAR v. Tottenham: “VAR appeared to help try and cut out mistakes. The referees can take time, seconds, minutes to see the images and different angles. If we make a lot of mistakes with VAR then I wouldn’t agree with it. We have to take one minute, two minutes, five minutes, until the right decision is made. But I support it, from the first time and well before. If the goal from Raheem in the last minute, which was offside, ends up being a goal and Tottenham go out because of one offside, is not right. It’s so tough on them and I don’t like that.”

Pochettino on Spurs making the UCL semifinals: “This is a massive example for us – how important it is never to give up, to always have faith and believe in yourself, your teammates, the club, the fans. All our decisions we take are to help the club and this amazing history we are writing today will be a massive example for us in the future.”

Prediction

City will be determined to put Wednesday right, and even though their dreams of a quadruple are over, they can still win the domestic treble. Spurs will be emotionally exhausted after the 4-3 defeat at City which sealed their path through to the Champions League semifinals on away goals, and City have a bigger squad which they can rotate. 3-1 win to Man City.

MLS expansion rankings: Who could be teams 28-30?

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Major League Soccer has announced it plans to expand to 30 teams, as commissioner Don Garber revealed the decision was made at the Board of Governors meeting in LA on Thursday.

Previously the limit to expansion was set at 28 teams, but with an expansion fee for teams 28 and 29 set at around $200 million, and team 30 probably beyond that figure, MLS owners and directors aren’t going to push away the dozen or so cities lining up to pay that kind of cash to get a franchise.

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Now, how big MLS should grow to is a debate for another day, and definitely one worth having when it comes to promotion and relegation by creating an MLS 1 and MLS 2, or how the realignment of conferences will impact things.

But below we focus solely on which cities are in line to get the next three expansion spots and rank them accordingly.


Teams 28 and 29 – Sacramento and St. Louis

I won’t go quite as far to say I’ll eat my hat if Sacramento and St. Louis aren’t teams 28 and 29, but I probably should… With both Sacramento and St. Louis steaming ahead with their MLS bids, it is no surprise that news from the governors meeting states that both cities will be invited to give formal presentations on their bids in the coming months. Both could be awarded expansion franchises by early August and begin play in 2021 or 2022.

Sacramento Republic FC has been ready for some time with their stadium plan sealed, and the final piece of the jigsaw is now in place as billionaire Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins owner) and his business partner Matt Alvarez will join the ownership group as and when they are awarded a franchise. St. Louis has always been a soccer hotbed, and with the Taylor Family who own the Enterprise group now leading the ownership group, STL has finally sorted its downtown stadium plan out. With no NFL team in town there is a gap in the market, and St. Louis would link up the Midwest franchises very nicely geographically.


Team 30

What about the 30th team? That race is a lot more complicated than Sacramento and St. Louis in pole position for teams 28 and 29.

Over the past few years we have ranked the wider expansion race many times, and the main thing to remember is this: things change very quickly as ownership groups get fed up, and MLS’ insistence that new expansion franchises must have soccer-specific stadiums (barring a few exceptions, ahem, New York City FC, Atlanta United…) creates problems for potential owners.

Here’s a look at the cities which submitted bids back in February 2017 to MLS (and one other) and how their chances stack up in the current climate:

Phoenix – They are looking like a very decent bet now, as crowds have been impressive in the past thee seasons, Didier Drogba has stuck around and they are financed by several wealthy investors, including Alex Zheng who owns Nice in Ligue 1. With a bit of a geographic gap between California and the Midwest for MLS teams, having a team in Phoenix links things up nicely too. If they arrive in MLS they will also build a soccer-specific stadium on the site of their current home. There’s more than a 50-50 chance they could be team 30. 

Detroit – This bid was gathering plenty of momentum in the league office and was one of the four finalists selected in the previous round of expansion with the other three including Cincinnati and Nashville both awarded teams, and Sacramento on the verge. But after plans for a downtown soccer-specific stadium stalled and the Ford Family got involved, things went south quickly. The plan to have a Detroit MLS team play in the NFL stadium of the Lions wouldn’t be dissimilar to what Atlanta United has done, but is this viable in Detroit? If MLS thinks it is possible to get large crowds for every home game, it would take very little from an organizational standpoint to award Detroit a team. There’s more than 50-50 chance they could be team 30. 

Raleigh/Durham – North Carolina FC are one of the most stable lower-league teams in North America and owner Steve Malik is an influential figure in American soccer circles. Given the freakishly strong college programs in the area and Raleigh/Durham a hugely popular city for young families to move to, there is plenty of potential here. Getting just 4-5,000 average crowds in the USL isn’t too impressive though, and unless that changes, it will put the league off. Possible, but a long shot.

Tampa Bay/St Petersburg – The Tampa Bay Rowdies have a loyal fanbase and the plans to redevelop Al Lang Stadium are impressive. With Orlando City already in MLS, there is a chance for a natural rivalry to grow, and with Miami arriving too, there’s a chance for Florida to become a real selling point for MLS. However, three MLS teams in FLA and Atlanta on the scene may be a little too much. If MLS decides it isn’t, Tampa could join pretty quickly, and despite some pointing to the Mutiny being shut down in 2000 as a warning sign, that hasn’t stopped MLS returning to Miami for a second go at things. Possible, but a long shot. 

Charlotte – No public financing or funding for a stadium plan sort of scuppered this bid early on, although the new ownership group of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are said to be in talks with MLS about rejuvenating the bid as billionaire David Tepper has made it a priority. Having both Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham bid for teams was a bit of a nightmare, as it weakened both bids. These areas are huge soccer hotbeds, but as things stand it would be a bit of a shock if either got a franchise. An outsider.

San Diego – If they could ever agree on a stadium plan, San Diego would be a great place for an MLS franchise given its proximity to LA and a chance to build local rivalries. With the Chargers leaving town, like St. Louis there’s an opportunity to fill a sporting void. But with the Soccer City plan having plenty of big names but not passed by local government, this bid doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon. Things can change quickly though. An outsider.

Las Vegas – Garber has mentioned Vegas as a potential city a few times, even though they didn’t hand in a bid to MLS for an expansion franchise back in 2017. Seeing how well the NHL’s Golden Knights have done in Vegas will be intriguing, as MLS has long looked at the NHL as a shinning light in terms of how teams are added to the league. Like Phoenix, a team in Vegas will fill the void between the West Coast and Midwest, but there is a lot to sort out and the USL’s Las Vegas Lights complicate things a little. They have been a solid addition to the lower-tiers with very good crowds, but having a strong, dedicated ownership group is what’s needed to kick on the Vegas bid. An outsider

Indianapolis – A steady soccer market for years, Indianapolis have had the Indy Eleven and crowds are pretty decent. However, not having an ownership group with deep pockets is pretty much against what MLS wants for expansion teams and unless that changes, the chances of having a team in Indiana’s biggest city remain slim to none. Add to that the success of FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew sticking around, plus St. Louis looking like a favorite, and the Midwest market is a little congested right now. An outsider.

San Antonio – With Austin being awarded a franchise, many will ask if there’s a need for four MLS teams in Texas. Of course, San Antonio has seen some very impressive crowds in the lower tier and San Antonio FC’s Toyota Field could be expanded rather easily, but the fact San Antonio was far from happy with Anthony Precourt being able to relocate a franchise to Austin doesn’t help its chances. An outsider.