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Which US cities are next for MLS expansion?

May 24, 2013, 11:04 AM EST

Courtesy of MySanAntonio.com Courtesy of MySanAntonio.com

After the fanfare in New York City this week, we now know were Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise will be based.

But what about the future? Just look at St. Louis last night for the friendly between Manchester City and Chelsea. 48,263 fans turned up. Officials said they could have sold at Busch Stadium twice over.

Wow. That is something to think about. And MLS Commish Don Garber said he is doing just that. “There’s still a lot of activity going on in a lot of different markets.”

So many cities across the USA are scrambling to try and grab a piece of the MLS pie. Some more deserving than others, some more likely to be successful than others and some cities are just finding out their potential status as a staunch soccer city.

Why don’t we take a quick scan across the nation, to see which cities could be future MLS destinations.

San Antonio

Only in their second season in the NASL, the San Antonio Scorpions have a beautiful new soccer-specific stadium that is the jewel in the crown of US soccer’s second-tier. Toyota Field has seen tremendous attendance figures so far, can San Antonio surpass their impressive figures of 9,317 in the 2012 season? And can Texas handle another MLS side? Of course they can.

Orlando

We know how close they are to building a new soccer-specific venue downtown, with Mayor Buddy Dyer on board and pushing hard for USL Pro side Orlando City to become an MLS franchise. They’ve had to recently modify their new stadium plans after a bill in the Florida Senate giving money to upgrade sports facilities wasn’t passed. Average attendances are rising this season, with huge financial backing in place to see Orlando become an MLS side. Favorites to become the next MLS expansion franchise.

Atlanta

This city has produced plenty of soccer players over the years, with several USMNT players hailing from ATL. The NASL Silverbacks have recently been re-branded and their new stadium is currently set at 5,000 but can expand to 15,000 over the next few years. Soccer is on the rise in the Southeast, with Florida also pushing for a new side. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is planning to get an MLS franchise to play in the Falcons’ new stadium.

Minneapolis

Much like Atlanta, the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium is set to include plans for an MLS side to play in. That would involve lowering the roof and/or covering up the top bowl of the stadium to create a more intimate and lively atmosphere. Minnesota United are the reigning NASL Champions, and they were also re-branded this season. A new logo, name and ambitions surround the Northern city. Could MLS come calling soon? Maybe not, but watch this space.

St. Louis

As we mentioned, St. Louis put on a great show for soccer last night. As Taylor Twellman mentioned in commentary, how could a businessman not see potential in the St. Louis region? Over 48,000 for a friendly at a baseball stadium? Surely they could attract more than 20,000 for an MLS side? We wait and see, but STL showcased just how big of a soccer city it could become.

Phoenix

A new USL Pro franchise has arrived in Arizona this season, as Phoenix FC is on the scene. Currently they play at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium, and a standing room only crowd of 4,198 saw them win their home opener. I know some of their players have been blown away with the level of support for soccer in Phoenix and as one of the fastest growing cities in the US, population wise, it’s hard not to see soccer getting bigger in PHX in the years to come. Also the huge number of Hispanic residents well help Phoenix and San Antonio with building a solid and stable fanbase. Exciting times in the Southwest for soccer.

Miami

Miami of course had an MLS franchise. Based in Ft. Lauderdale, the Miami Fusion were disbanded along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001 due to a multitude of problems. But with David Beckham rumored to be on board and helping Miami grab an expansion franchise, could soccer return to South Beach? Locals from soccer loving nations in the Caribbean and South America would give any potential side a huge boost in attendance figures. Expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.

You tell us: Obviously there are plenty of other cities not on this list, so where should MLS look to expand? There are plenty of worthy regions across the US and Canada.

  1. dfstell - May 24, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    With the caveat that I’m not a fan of expansion…..I’d rather see them stay at 20 for ~5 more years and then start trying to do promotion/relegation.

    But….with that out of the way, how about the Carolina Railhawks? It’s a stable club in a good market that has good youth teams and 3 quality colleges teams. They draw 7000+ for big games. And, it’s a region that already supports a NHL club, but doesn’t have NBA and NFL (like Charlotte). It get’s MLS into the ~10th biggest state in the USA.

    • geojock - May 24, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      Promotion/relegation is the biggest fantasy in American soccer. Aint gonna happen for 20 years, if ever.

      • mdac1012 - May 24, 2013 at 4:12 PM

        Agree, promotion and relegation is not happening in MLS, the structure of the league won’t allow it and the U.S. does not have the fan support to allow any team that is relegated to survive.

  2. ndnut - May 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    I want it to go to the Twin Cities, but I doubt it will. The Vikes are going to have a closed roof stadium, not retractable like Vancouver. Would MLS let the team play indoors permanently?

  3. quizguy66 - May 24, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    The beginning of the end for the old NASL was when they expanded up to 24. MLS has been smarter about rolling out teams but they really got to consider if they are better off with a strong and solid 20.

    It would be nice if New Jersey got its own MLS team though.

    -QG

    • wesbadia - May 24, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      The beginning of the end for NASL was Day 1 when they attempted to create a league for a sport that had hardly any following in this country by unrestricting team and player salaries and putting a team in any city that raised their collective hands (like Tulsa or Rochester or Edmonton). A quick glance at their history shows the constant state of flux that league was in over its 17-year existence. Going from an insane 17 teams in ’68 to a measly 5 teams in ’69 is exponentially worse than MLS contraction in 2001. NASL and its leadership was obsessed with expansion and over-saturation in a market that was unripe and unwilling for the global game.

      Also, NJ has its own team: the Red Bulls. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re closer to East Rutherford where the Devils play than the Bronx or Brooklyn or even Manhattan where the Yankees, Nets, and Rangers play. If a Jersey team isn’t based in the metro NY area, then where are they based? Blatant Philadelphia territory like Trenton or Camden? NJ has no other legitimate locale for a top-tier professional sports team.

      • ydj1120 - May 24, 2013 at 6:52 PM

        The Devils play in Newark…not East Rutherford…

  4. lanzurrah - May 24, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    San Diego? Always near the top spot in MLS NBC viewership, World Cup tv ratings were better in San Diego than any other city in the country, more soccer fields in the county than any other existing MLS team/city….and an established club scene none of these other markets can even compare to. It’s the most passionate soccer city without a team…and could do a heck of a lot better than the majority of existing teams with the right ownership group.

    • arbeck - May 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      San Diego would be great, except for there is no ownership gorup that seems interested and no stadium plans. St. Louis has a similar problem.

    • Garrett - May 24, 2013 at 5:07 PM

      San Diego is Club Tijuana territory. Any MLS side would have to compete against one of the best teams in Mexico. That’s not going to work out well for MLS.

      • willyofphilly - May 26, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        MLS should just relocate Chivas USA down to San Diego. It would maintain the rivalry with LA Galaxy, without having to compete for a fanbase with LA Galaxy

      • ajortiz365 - May 27, 2013 at 11:12 PM

        Yup San Diego is a perfect strategic location. San Diegans HATE L.A. and there would be an INSTANT rivalry against Gay L.A. There are at least three ideal spots for soccer-specific stadium and plenty of club activity to support a first tier Franchise. WHATEVER you do, DO NOT move Chivas to San Diego. Id San Diegans want to support a Mexican team, the Xolos have it 100% wrapped up. Importing a second-rate knockoff Chivas USA team would be a disaster. And PLEASE don;t saddle San Diego with one of those horrible corporate-approved stupid market-tested branding “nicknames.” San Diego FC will do just fine. Leave the nickname to us.

  5. arbeck - May 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    My guess is 21 teams comes pretty quickly. Most likely 21 is Orlando. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are playing in 2015 and join at the same time as NYCFC. But it would shock me if they weren’t a 21 team league in 2016. With 21 teams the natural time to move to 3 conferences. Then the next expansion probably somewhere in the 2020 time frame will include 3 teams at once and get it to 24. Which keeps the 3 conferences.

    • wesbadia - May 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

      There’s no way they go back to a three-conference system. It poses more problems than it solves, especially when it comes time for playoffs, nevermind the regular season attempting to justify the existence of three separate conferences.

      With two conferences you have the logic being to split the country up into the distinct geographies. And two being the easiest number to divide against, it plays well into playoffs, the regular season, and simplicities sake. I see the league moving more towards a dual-league setup with East and West being almost totally separate from one another in regular season play, and only facing the opposing conference in the playoffs.

      Also, Orlando as #21 poses an added problem of travel as their closest opponent would be DC. Bringing in two or three teams at once in the southeast (Tampa, Miami, Atlanta, Carolina) would be best for the sake of travel and would go a long way towards galvanizing the local soccer culture as the teams have immediate intra-league opponents within their locale. I don’t see Orlando coming by themselves, but the time frame for when all that happens is definitely ambiguous considering how much support some of these teams have been garnering over the last few years.

  6. geojock - May 24, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Good break down of the cities, but attendance at foreign friendlies in not an indicator of MLS potential. It is proven to be just as flawed as the assumption that a city will be successful because “it has a lot of Mexicans”.

    • Joe Prince-Wright - May 24, 2013 at 12:43 PM

      Agree with your point geojock, a bit like how Wembley sells out every time an NFL game is played there… then people call for an NFL franchise in London.

      However, St. Louis does have some pretty strong soccer grounding. Would find it hard to not see at least 15,000 fans turning up to games if a great soccer-specific stadium was built there. Thoughts?

      Look at Sporting KC, what kind of attendances and fanbase did they have while the Wizards were playing at Arrowhead and other venues? It has grown exponentially.

      These expansion franchises, if there are to be any, should learn from the likes of Portland, Sporting and Seattle on how to grow their clubs.

      • wesbadia - May 24, 2013 at 12:50 PM

        Finding local owners with deep enough pockets or strong enough political ties to get an SSS built is another story for cities like St Louis, though…

      • wfjackson3 - May 25, 2013 at 9:45 AM

        Your comments on Sporting KC are not entirely relevant. Sure, watching the Wiz play in the T-Bones park was a terrible experience, but the team was also pretty bad leading up to the opening of Sporting Park. On top of that, their branding was awful, they never advertised themselves around town, etc.

        Did the stadium help? Yes, but it was far from the reason for the increase in fan support.

      • geojock - May 28, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        On thing to add. SKC was just getting the ball rolling in the right direction then came the MUFC game. The SKC win gave that entire franchise such a big boost in momentum and they have kept it going.

  7. player169 - May 24, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    St Louis had an ownership group in place years ago when Portland was selected for expansion. Budweiser even pledged $ for a stadium I believe. portland was a good choice. I am a SKC fan and a St. Louis fan in every other sport. I feel KC and St. Louis are sister cities and if a team were placed there you could easily expect similar attendance numbers, plus a real good rivalry.

    I think that 22 will be the max number of teams and I can see some teams folded by MLS, so that teams in other attractive markets can be opened.

  8. maverickstar - May 24, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Well this list covers all the ideas I had other than a team in North Carolina. I like the idea of adding the existing San Antonio and Orlando City teams. You already have teams, stadiums, and fan bases that can come right in rather than start teams from scratch. On top of that, hopefully the Chivas mess is fixed. Maybe someone buys the team and relocates to San Diego.

    • takeyourspace - May 24, 2013 at 1:52 PM

      Sure was impressed with the St. Louis soccer crowd for the Chelsea/Man City game last night. I realize this doesn’t guarantee 20-thousand for all potential MLS home games but I’ll jump on the St. Louis bandwagon. If an owner with enough wealth came forward let’s get this city a team. I agree with player169. The St. Louis/KC rivalry could be great for MLS.

  9. ndnut - May 24, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    Doesn’t Stan Kroenke own an EPL side? And an NFL team in St. Lois? I think we found an owner…

    • arbeck - May 24, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      He owns the Rapids already and hasn’t been a great owner for them.

  10. dumbassgreg - May 24, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    why do so many think big is always better.this same problem nasl had it was nice solid little league but some thought expand again and again. took down succesful teams with it. many teams already have trouble having enough players of quality already.

  11. seanb20124 - May 24, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    Any market in the country could put 48K people in the seats.

  12. cranespy - May 24, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Bring Chivas to Miami…….would great to see that 75% empty new Marlin Stadium at capacity for something!

  13. charliej11 - May 24, 2013 at 9:11 PM

    40,000+ for one game is so different than getting regular fans for a season. One is casual the other are real fans. I had some who couldn’t tell you whether or not soccer had offsides buy my Chelsea tickets for $50 a ticket. He would NOT go twice, but one time, yeah.

    Guys who watch the Euro leagues in the US are casual by definition, but this takes it to a new level

    • drewyand - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:20 PM

      Based on your experience, I can understand the conclusion you have drawn, but I feel like I can provide a little insight. St. Louis is a soccer and it always has been. As with many things about St. Louis, it is a fairly well kept secret. Here’s a few facts to support my point: The 1950 USMNT that beat England in the World Cup in the game called “Miracle on Grass” had 6 players from St. Louis on it. The corresponding movie, “The Game of Their Lives” was filmed in St. Louis due to this fact. Saint Louis University has more men’s soccer NCAA championships than any other school in the nation. Routinely, several St. Louis high schools rank nationally. Similarly, St. Louis youth teams are always competitive in the national tournaments. Just as there is not one but many powerhouse soccer high schools in the area, several youth club teams compete for the best players yet continually remain competitive on a national level. Everyone in St. Louis grows up playing soccer. Kansas City is widely regarded as a strong soccer city yet Kansas City never succeeds in getting more than one high school to the State Tournament. The rest are all from St. Louis. Friends I have from California are always surprised at the percentage of St. Louisans that can actually play soccer. My point is that I really hope you can look past the one idiot and realize that there is legitimate potential in St. Louis. The city has always supported its professional teams well and soccer is this city’s biggest sport. As the article states, the Chelsea – Man City game could have been sold out twice over. The game sold out within a minute. The upcoming Inter Milan – Real Madrid game sold out similarly and will be at capacity in the much larger Edward Jones Dome. Don’t doubt us!

      • garybow100 - Aug 13, 2013 at 1:24 AM

        Indiana University has more soccer championships (8) and finals appearances (I believe 4-5 other runner up finishes) than any university in soccer and is far and away the most dominate program in college soccer(football) over along period of time.. no other school is even close.

      • garybow100 - Aug 13, 2013 at 1:41 AM

        Correction you are correct St. Louis has nine(9), but hasn’t even made it to a finals match since (runner up) 1974.

  14. ajortiz365 - May 27, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    MLS should allow clubs to organize with mutual ownership. Cities that ar ready for a franchise could rise up and fund a stadium and a club on their own. Why should MLS “own” Soccer?

  15. thesportsbizblog - Jul 2, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    The reason MLS is a single entity league are varied but are also the reason for much of its success. The single entity structure removes antitrust concerns and permits the league to decide when and where to put teams without worrying about litigation over antitrust claims. More importantly, it facilitates, for good or evil, the salary structure as the league owns all player contracts. Since the league has found a way to accommodate deep pocketed new owners at ever increasing expansion fees (if NYCFC was $100 million, do we hear $125 mil for Orlando), there should be a way to accommodate a community owned franchise. The difficulties would be in the organization and funding of the effort more so than in dealing withe league, I believe.

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