Sacramento, St. Louis emerge as MLS expansion favorites

Sacramento Republic
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Soccer fans in Sacramento and St. Louis will be getting pretty excited right about now.

Both cities are in the frame to get an expansion side in Major League Soccer, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

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Garber has said both Sacramento and STL have “the strongest bids by far” and ahead of the Board of Governor’s meeting in LA next month the expansion picture will be discussed heavily.

The commish also committed himself to making an announcement before the end of 2019 on the next expansion franchise, and “very likely much sooner than that.”

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Garber said that Sacramento and St. Louis are way ahead of the other expansion hopefuls but wouldn’t confirm which city is in the lead to get the 28th MLS franchise.

“Both are strong bids, both are great markets, both of them have worked very hard at the political leadership level and very much so at the ownership level, and certainly in each market fans have shown an enormous level of support,” Garber said.

Garber went on to speak of the admiration he has for the new wealthy investors that Sacramento Republic FC have lined up, Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez, with the former the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL. Brought in by club chairman Kevin Nagle, Burkle and Alvarez have agreed to purchase Sacramento Republic FC if the MLS bid is successful.

For many years, Sacramento were the frontrunners in the MLS expansion race given their impressive crowds in the USL and having a $300 million soccer-specific stadium lined up to be built on the Railyards site in downtown. But from an ownership point of view they were just missing some big investors, as Cincinnati, Nashville and Austin jumped ahead of them. Now, they have the owners they need.

As for St. Louis, their chances of getting a franchise have increased substantially after their MLS bid also received new backing from the prominent Taylor family, who own the Enterprise rental car company. They have revived a bid for a downtown stadium which would be primarily funded privately, and STL’s soccer heritage is clear for everyone to see. St. Louis FC are also having decent success in the USL and their part-owner, Jim Kavanaugh, is involved in their bid as the USL team would become the reserve side if an MLS side arrives in STL.

Adding teams in both Sacramento and St. Louis would also link up plenty of MLS cities nearby, something MLS is keen to do as creating local rivalries has been crucial to the recent success of the league.

With MLS previously planning to only expand to 28 teams, it is also quite clear that it will readjust that number and somewhere close to 30-32 would now be a good number of teams for the expanding league.

Teams 28 and 29 look like being Sacramento and St. Louis, with the likes of Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas scrapping it out for the next few spots.