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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.”

With Las Vegas out of MLS expansion race; Sacramento or Minneapolis?

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With Las Vegas officially out of the running to have an Major League Soccer franchise for the foreseeable future, two cities are now at the forefront of the league’s expansion plans.

Sacramento and Minneapolis.

[ RELATED: Vegas officially out ]

Both cities already have teams in the lower leagues of the North American soccer pyramid, possess ambitious stadium plans and have plenty of financial backing from renowned owners of other major league sports franchises. More importantly, both cities have solid soccer fanbases which could easily expand if an MLS team was granted to them.

Right now, Minneapolis appears to be a real frontrunner as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has spoken about the importance of having a team in Minnesota geographically, while Sacramento may be a little too close to the San Jose Earthquakes’ fanbase in northern California. Despite all of that, the race to become MLS 24th franchise is well and truly on as an announcement is expected this summer. With plenty of uncertainty around David Beckham’s franchise in Miami, plus new teams in Los Angeles and Miami to arrive in 2017, this may be the last expansion opportunity for a while.

There’s plenty to consider, so let’s take a close look at both potential MLS expansion cities…

Sacramento

WHO: USL club Sacramento Republic FC.
FINANCES: Backed by Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s 49ers. Plus a huge group of wealthy investors.
STADIUM: Plans for downtown stadium in place. Huge fan support, highest average crowd in USL history.
HISTORY: That history is just one (albeit very impressive) campaign. Is California’s capital soccer mad?
POPULATION: 480,00
POTENTIAL MLS RIVALS: San Jose, LA Galaxy, LA FC (LA teams five hour drive, two to San Jose)
RATING: 7/10 – After winning USL in 2014, having Preki as coach and a host of wealthy investors, there doesn’t seem to be much risk here. However, they’ve only had one season as a team. That’s the only sticking point.

Minneapolis

WHO: Two groups – Minnesota United of the NASL and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
FINANCES: Minnesota United backed by Dr. McGuire, Timberwolves, Twins; the Vikings.
STADIUM: The Vikings will house the team in their new stadium, United want a downtown S.S.S.
HISTORY: United founded in 2010, formerly known as the Minnesota Stars, other pro teams since ’94.
POPULATION: 400,00
POTENTIAL MLS RIVALS: Chicago, Sporting KC (both a six hour plus drive away)
RATING
: 8/10 – With two competing groups, a young population and sustained crowds for lower leagues over a long period, they have the edge. But which group will get the MLS franchise?

MLS expansion: Las Vegas eliminated, leaving Sacramento, Minneapolis in race for 24th team

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The dream of the greatest away day weekend week in the history of professional sports has been snatched out from under the noses of Major League Soccer fans before it ever became a reality.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | USMNT ]

The city of Las Vegas, devoid of a major-league sports team in its history, has been eliminated from contention for an MLS franchise during the current round of expansion, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a letter to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, given the timing of your expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” the letter said.

[ MORE: Strike is “imminent” as players stand firm in CBA negotiations, say players ]

Garber recently said publicly that MLS was seriously looking at Sacramento and Minneapolis — as well as Las Vegas, St. Louis and San Antonio, not so seriously — for the final expansion franchise as the league aims to be at 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta and Los Angeles FC are scheduled to enter MLS as expansion teams in 2017, while David Beckham’s Miami project (arrival date TBD) struggles to gain traction in South Florida.

The group in Sacramento is being spearheaded by USL club Sacramento Republic FC, who recently received a further round of financial backing from Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s 49ers. Republic FC won the 2014 USL PRO championship, U.S. Soccer’s third division, in its first year of existence and signed an agreement for a stadium location should an MLS franchise be awarded to the city.

Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis has two groups vying to be named MLS’s 24th franchise — Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League and the NFL’s Vikings. United FC would look to build their own soccer-specific stadium, while the Vikings group would play their games in the NFL team’s new 65,000-seat stadium, due to be completed in 2016.

[ MORE: Former MLSer Geoff Cameron shares his thoughts on ongoing CBA battle ]

Both Sacramento and Minneapolis seem, at this point, vastly superior options to Beckham’s Miami project. Not only are their new stadiums close to being done or agreed upon well in advance, each city is already home to a lower-division team, giving them a fanbase and soccer infrastructure to build upon before an MLS franchise is ever announced. If I’m the MLS commissioner, that’s extremely appealing to me.

The clock is officially ticking on Beckham, as Sacramento and Minneapolis are both deserving to join MLS. The league would be just fine putting the Miami project on hold for a few years and welcoming Sacramento and Minneapolis with open arms in 2018 or 2019.

Garber: MLS to add expansion club in first half of 2015, group of three markets headlines race

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The latest market to join Major League Soccer  commissioner will be revealed in the first half of next year, according to commissioner Don Garber.

An Associated Press reports says Garber was impressed by bids from groups representing Sacramento, Las Vegas and Minneapolis.

There would appear to be no sure thing amongst the trio, and The Sacramento Bee reported that the league still has significant questions about all three markets.

From the Associated Press:

Commissioner Don Garber says league officials were impressed by proposals made last month by four groups representing those three cities.

Garber says MLS hopes to choose its next expansion market within the first six months of 2015. MLS will meet with the groups again before announcing its final selection process.

The Sacramento Republic burst onto the scene with big crowds in USL PRO this season, while Minnesota has been a hot button area for a few years. Las Vegas would seem to be the long shot, as Garber seems to look for markets that are actively thriving in attendance.

Is there an “out” for Chivas USA in Sacramento?

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“Expansion interest” in MLS, always a swell topic worthy of discussion, can usually be categorized in one of three ways:

There are what I call the “real estate dandies.” That’s where someone who needs to fill dates in a new behemoth stadium says, “MLS? Uh, yeah … let’s get us one of them soccer teams in here. How many dates a year does that cover?”

Clearly, MLS needs that like it needs a good deal on size 4 soccer balls.

Next, there are serious soccer guys who have grand designs, men or women who dote on the game and would love to add to the professional, domestic soccer community – but may not have enough financial weight to get there. That’s what we saw previously in St. Louis, where the passionate, sharp effort petered out for lack of high-level financing. (They were rich guys, just not mega-rich types MLS now prefers.)

And then we have serious expansion interest from groups that have the will and the ways. We see that right now in Orlando, and David Beckham’s expansion initiative appears to be coalescing into an increasingly serious player.

In all honesty, we don’t know enough yet about the burgeoning Sacramento efforts, other than that the region appears bullish on the idea, from the soccer community to local business leaders and even to the local press. That’s always a great place to start.

(Oh, by the way, cool bridge, guys! We wanted to show everyone a picture of it.)

And there is certainly some innovative thinking going on. This story from the Sacramento Press suggests that Sacramento abandons the idea of gaining an expansion team for now – and focusses on buying Chivas USA instead.

(MORE: Never a dull moment for Chivas USA and its owner)

From a standpoint of dollars, it makes perfect sense. The logic is that purchasing the mess of a franchise that is Chivas USA would be roughly equal to the going rate for expansion fees. The difference: No waiting around. You could probably get Chivas USA as soon an adequate venue was up and running, even a temporary one.

And while it would be sad for the small-but-loyal core of Chivas USA supporters, most MLS fans would love to see the Goats in a better place, literally as well as figuratively.