Don Garber

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Sacramento announced as latest MLS expansion city

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Major League Soccer is coming to Sacramento… finally.

[ MLS PLAYOFFS: LA Galaxy beat Minnesota to set up El Trafico ]

After nearly five years of waiting while flashier markets like Miami and Los Angeles scooped expansion bid after expansion bid, Sacramento was awarded an expansion franchise on Monday. Sacramento Republic FC, the existing team in USL Championship, will make the leap to MLS in 2022 in a brand new downtown stadium.

The stadium, which will be situated in the Railyards District as “a centerpiece of a redevelopment project” on the northwest corner of downtown Sacramento, will seat just over 20,000 fans and is expected to cost $300 million

[ MLS PLAYOFFS: Philly storms back from 3-1 down to beat Red Bulls in ET ]

The 20th largest media market in the United States, Sacramento sent a message to the North American soccer community in 2014 when the debut of their USL club saw a capacity crowd of more than 20,000 fans pack Hughes Stadium for the inaugural match of Sacramento Republic FC. Since then, they sold out match after match for Republic FC and established a new standard at the USL level. In the USL, Republic FC has set league records in many business metrics, including season ticket sales and merchandising, and have hosted exhibition matches against top international clubs.

With the addition of the MLS team in Sacramento, 19 clubs have joined MLS since 2005, fulfilling a vision for strategic expansion that has transformed the landscape of professional soccer across North America.  Republic FC will add another major professional sports franchise to the city, joining the National Basketball Association’s Kings. It will be the fourth MLS club in California, following the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC.

Report: MLS, Sacramento on the verge of finalizing expansion deal

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Patience is a virtue, just ask Sacramento Republic.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento representatives and Major League Soccer officials have agreed “to the framework of a deal” that would grant the Californian capital an MLS expansion franchise in 2022, ending years of laborious work to bring top-flight soccer to Sacramento.

The team, which is expected to maintain their name and brand, issued a statement regarding the status of the negotiations shortly after the report surfaced:

“We appreciate the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer,” the statement read. “As we have stated all along, we are working tirelessly to finalize an agreement to bring MLS to a city and a fanbase that deserves it. We respect the league’s expansion process and will not be providing any additional comment at this time.”

Since their introduction to the North American soccer landscape in 2014, with record crowds, a clear identity on and off the field and a championship behind them, it was crystal-clear Republic were MLS ready then.

League commissioner, Don Garber, who echoed the thoughts of many, and his pupils, however, never acted on their words, striking deals with Cincinnati, Miami, Nashville, Austin, and St. Louis amidst the clamor of Sacramento joining the league.

With billionaire Ron Burkle, partner Matt Alvarez, and local businessman Kevin Neagle all in the ownership fold since the beginning of the year, Sacramento’s legitimacy has taken a much-needed boost – with talks between the team and the league advancing uninterruptedly since April. Over the past two weeks, the deal has never been closer to the finish line.

The ownership group is required to commit to lavish financial undertakings, with the expansion fee bumped to $200 million recently – all in addition to land purchases, the construction of a 20,000-plus seat stadium in the city’s Railyards, and team-wide operational expenses. There is a “contingency deal in place” for the group to buy 31 acres of land for the $250 million stadium as soon as the expansion is made official.

A green light from the league would make Sacramento the league’s 29th team, and the state’s fourth, joining the likes of LA Galaxy, LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes, who they’ve established a budding rivalry with dating back to the club’s first-ever game in 2014.

“While the deal is not finalized, we are working hard and I’ve never been more confident that we will bring (MLS to Sacramento),” Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has been an influential contributor to the project, tweeted Friday.

The wait is almost over.

MLS’s new ‘no political display’ policy causes controversy

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Major League Soccer’s new policy that bans political displays at matches is stirring controversy in the Pacific Northwest, where supporters’ culture is often intertwined with politics and social issues.

The Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers have banned signs and flags with the “Iron Front” symbol, which they say has become appropriated by some in the loosely structured antifa movement, at times in the context of violence.

The symbol of three arrows pointing downward and to the left dates back to an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization formed in Germany in the 1930s. Supporters’ groups maintain the symbol represents opposition to fascism and persecution – a human rights issue, not a political stance.

“With the recent rise in targeted attacks against so many groups – LBTGQ+, immigrants, women, religious groups, and more – and the presence of fascists in our stadiums, this symbol represents our firm stance of combating hatred in soccer, our communities, and our world,” the board of directors for Portland’s 107 Independent Supporters Trust said in a statement. The group represents fans of both the Timbers and the NWSL’s Thorns.

The league’s new fan code of conduct, implemented this season, prohibits “using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.”

MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said the league worked with all its teams to devise the policy.

“I think it was the belief of the league and the clubs that fans are at our games to enjoy the game and that there is a place for third-party political organizations or groups to express their views, but that place isn’t within our stadiums,” Abbott told The Associated Press.

Major League Soccer is the only professional league among the top five in the United States with a code of conduct that expressly bans political signage. Policies for the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB mostly deal with fan conduct, like abusive behavior or language, and intoxication. The NBA prohibits “obscene or indecent messages” on signs.

MLS is also the only league to specifically target racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist language or behavior, which was lauded by supporters’ groups.

But some questioned the inclusion of political displays as too vague.

“We, as an organization, feel strongly on ensuring that displays of human rights are not mistaken for political statements. Political engagement is sometimes necessary in securing human rights for all, but that does not make the message of human rights inherently political,” the Independent Supporters Council of North America said in a statement following the release of the policy.

Earlier this season, a fan waving a Trump 2020 flag was removed from Providence Park.

Sounders supporters took issue when the Iron Front symbol was included with mentions of far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys in a letter from team management that explained the ban.

“Messages, banners, flags or any other symbols that represent an association to a political group will not be allowed in CenturyLink Field. This includes, but is not limited to, Antifa, Iron Front, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer,” the letter from team management said.

The Sounders later apologized for equating the groups. Taylor Graham, Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing, spoke to reporters following practice last week, saying: “We first and foremost want to put our hand up and say, `That’s not fair, and we apologize for those words,’ putting them in that context.”

But the link to antifa has spurred some to take action. Last weekend a group of a dozen activists confronted fans taking part in the traditional March to the Match. The group also tried to get into a pregame party at a nearby bar but was turned away by bouncers.

There was one scuffle but no arrests were made.

The incident came on the same weekend as the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. In Philadelphia, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya rushed to the sideline after a goal and shouted into an on-field microphone: “Hey Congress, do something now! End gun violence! Let’s go!”

While Bedoya’s statement was clearly political, MLS did not take any disciplinary action. Bedoya was voted the league’s Player of the Week even though he was not included on the ballot.

“The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue,” the league said in a statement.

Abbott said he believes the new policy makes clear that the MLS does not equate different political or ideological groups. He also pointed to the league’s Soccer for All initiative.

“We unequivocally condemn groups that engage in hateful actions and speech. Through our commitment to Soccer for All, it is very clear where the league stands on supporting diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We also recognize the importance of these values to our fans, but we don’t believe our venues are the appropriate place for signage that promotes any kind of third-party political organization or group, regardless of whether we agree with the tenets of that organization.”

MLS give update on expansion situation

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Major League Soccer has issued an update on expansion, and it appears that the Charlotte bid is making a strong case for itself.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber revealed that the league is in “advanced talks” with both St. Louis and Sacramento who many see as the favorites to be awarded teams 28 and 29. Garber also revealed those two teams hope to begin play in MLS in 2022.

At the last MLS board of governors meeting in Los Angeles in April the league was given permission to talk with the groups from Sacramento and St. Louis about a deal, while the board will meet again in December. In the next 30 days they plan to visit both Charlotte and Sacramento after visiting St. Louis two weeks ago.

“We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis, and we really appreciated the details that they provided,” Garber said in Orlando, speaking from the MLS All-Star Game. “We look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.”

With no timeframe given for when teams 28-30 will be announced, there is no rush here. But it appears the STL bid led by an ownership group fronted by Enterprise Holdings Foundation president Carolyn Kindle Betz which includes St. Louis FC owners, is way ahead in this race.

It also seems like Charlotte and Sacramento are now level-pegging, which is a little surprising given the fact that billionaire Ron Burkle is now the majority owner fuelling Sacramento Republic’s expansion bid. Garber did say talks with Burkle were “positive” and there is an expectation that both MLS and Sacramento are working through things at a sensible pace.

When asked specifically about STL and Sacramento, Garber revealed that talks are down the line with both but he also revealed that Charlotte’s bid, led by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, is making headway.

“We are in advanced talks with both of them. They are not exclusive talks. Exclusive means we’re not talking to anybody else,” Garber said. “It doesn’t mean anybody’s leapfrogging anybody else. We are in discussions with Charlotte, but we are also in discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis.”

Where has this Charlotte bid come from?

Tepper has spoken before about his aim to have an MLS team play at the Bank of America Stadium downtown, and Carolina Panthers president Tom Glick was former president of New York City FC. It is clear Charlotte is in talks, but not having a soccer-specific stadium may be hurting its plan a little.

“We are primarily in the business of having teams that play in soccer specific stadiums,” Garber said. “His plan does not include one. So it’s not something that we’re running with very quickly until we’re very, very, very comfortable that that could be a different path for us. And we’re intrigued by that path because of the success we’ve been having in Atlanta and in Seattle and [the Chicago Fire’s impending] move down to Soldier Field. … It’s an aspect of his bid that puts it sort of in a different path.”

Whatever happens, MLS will not be short of options when it comes to this round of expansion, or even beyond that as 32 still seems like the “magic number” for the league.

Reports suggest that the bid teams from Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix Rising FC, San Diego and Raleigh were all in Orlando for meetings with MLS around the ASG, which suggests that potential expansion cities San Antonio, Detroit and Tampa Bay are now out of the picture.

Garber isn’t trying to rush into awarding the next expansion franchises and that is a very good idea for everyone involved.

“These are lifetime decisions for a board to make and for an investor to make,” Garber said. “There’s a process that we go through that is really really time consuming. These are massive commitments at this point. When you get involved in an MLS team now with the [$200 million] expansion fee and the stadium, it’s a minimum of $500 million dollars. And finalizing those deals take time. Both of those teams [St. Louis and Sacramento] are looking at coming in 2022, so we’ve got plenty of time for them to get their projects finalized.”

Panthers owner David Tepper to meet with MLS about expansion

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Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and team president Tom Glick will travel to New York next week and meet with Major League Soccer officials in an effort to convince them to bring an expansion team to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Tepper has been working to bring an MLS team to Charlotte since purchasing the Panthers last summer.

Glick believes “the region deserves it. We think the region will support it, and we are confident of that.”

[ MORE: What’s next for the USMNT? ]

He says the goal is to land an MLS team as soon as possible.

MLS will announce two expansion teams by July 31.

Glick spoke Tuesday at a news conference to announce Charlotte will host an International Champions Cup game for the next five years. Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium hosted two CONCACAF Gold Cup matches last month attracting more than 59,000 fans.

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