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Garber: MLS plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020

Jul 31, 2013, 10:52 PM EDT


After New York City FC was announced, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said the league planned on taking a break from expansion.  However long that break lasts, the league now plans on expanding by 20 percent by the beginning of the next decade, with 24 the new magic number the commissioner provided at half-time of Wednesday’s All-Star Game.

In what’s become an annual event, Garber spoke to ESPN at halftime of tonight’s game, this time answer questions from analysts and former U.S. Men’s National Team standouts Alexi Lalas and Kasey Keller. There Garber spoke of the league’s plan to eclipse the FIFA standard 20-team league six, explaining the league plans to add four new franchises by 2020:

“These expansion clubs have brought new ideas that have contributed to our strategy for growing the league and the addition of new markets has expanded our geographic reach while increasing our fan base …”

“The strength, passion and vision of the MLS ownership group is the foundation behind the success of our league … We look forward to adding new partners with the same commitment to the sport and love of the game.

“As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”

That geographic coverage will almost surely address one of the league’s current deficits: a lack of teams in the southeast. Orlando has made a major push of be the league’s next expansion destination, with the Orlando City Soccer Club group headed by Phil Rawlins hoping to play as early as 2015. A potential return to Miami has also been speculated, with former LA Galaxy star David Beckham’s name linked with a possible successor to the defunct Miami Fusion.

While the biggest message for fans in potential expansion markets will be the potential for MLS soccer in their home town, the broader implication from Garber’s Wednesday comments concerns the league’s ambition. Previously content to build to 20 teams, the league has set its sights higher before the 20th team has even taken the field.

Though some will quibble with the idea of a league being allowed to build beyond a 20th team, the U.S. has always been seen as a unique market, both in terms of is size and the challenges soccer has to take root. Announce plans for another stage of “accelerated growth,” Garber is signally not only an intent to grow into that unique market but also leverage the stability the league’s established over the last seven years to grow beyond previous expectations.

So where do we go from here? From MLS’s release:

The process to determine a future MLS expansion market will be selected on the basis of multiple criteria.  Factors taken into consideration include:

  • Committed and engaged ownership;

  • A comprehensive stadium plan;

  • Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;

  • Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;

  • Geographic location;

  • A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club.

  1. ndnut - Jul 31, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    What about addressing the Upper Midwest (Milwaukee, Detroit, Twin Cities)? Or non-Florida southeast (Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans)? Or the stadium fiasco in New England? Bigger may want to wait for answers on how, where, and why.

  2. ramblingalb - Jul 31, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    Only the Twin Cities have shown any interest in an MLS team of the the three cities mentioned, and New Orleans has certainly not either. Atlanta is a maybe, and they have to decide if Charlotte or Raleigh is a better NC market.

  3. jelliot1978 - Aug 1, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    Wondering if they should do it in pairs like Por and MTL? Do they switch it from conference to conference with two in each? Or is another East team moving west, KC? In the East you have Orlando and Miami as front runners, Miami because of Becks. What options out West? I am not sure how good of an option Detroit is if only because VW is an official sponsor of MLS leaving the big money in Detroit out by default. San Antonio maybe? St Louis?

    • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      Portland came in with Vancouver in 2011. Montreal came in alone in 2012. The only other times MLS expanded to two cities in the same season was 2005 with RSL and Chivas and 1998 with Chicago and Miami.

  4. ndnut - Aug 1, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    Not San Antonio. Texas is covered. I did forget St Louis. Also, what about mid-size Canadian markets like Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City, or Calgary? I don’t know what kind of interest they have in soccer.

  5. footballer4ever - Aug 1, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    24 MLS football clubs by 2026 sounds the proper and magic number ONLY as long the weak clubs are strenghted to solidify the league throughout; Otherwise, we are progressing based on expansion only, but what will happen with the league when expansion finally stop? Expand properly, not out of convenience or else it can be a recipe for disaster. As far as Fifa’s 20 team limit, well, it goes without saying USA is a different sporting landscape country which no other country can duplicate.

  6. bryaneverson - Aug 1, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    One would HAVE to imagine that a second venture into Miami would be so carefully fabricated as not to fail like the maiden voyage, no? Obviously Becks would be a help for publicity. Two SE teams, some combination of Miami, Orlando or Atlanta seems appropriate. Still hard not to be weary of Miami, though, for many of the same reasons as before.

    I think there’s a lot of Midwestern cities that could make sense. Here in Detroit, I think an MLS team would be great. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and quality within the metro area for youth soccer up to the high school level. Detroit City FC is just two years old and already has a passionate, steadily growing following despite its infancy. I think whether you go with Pittsburgh or St. Louis or what, Detroit has to be a top contender. Just makes a lot of sense, geographically and otherwise.

  7. longcutskolvikes - Aug 1, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    While I would like to see a club in Minneapolis, I’m skeptical about how successful it would be. One thing I know for sure is that the Minnesota Vikings ownership is going to push hard for a franchise in the coming years.

    • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 9:06 AM

      Do you support Minnesota United right now?

  8. player169 - Aug 1, 2013 at 7:51 AM

    I would like to see St. Louis get a team, because I think the fan base part would be covered. I think that a good ownership group / owner would have to step up (Kahn maybe).

    I would like to see Chivas sold and replaced too…

  9. liketheriver7 - Aug 1, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    Well since Columbus just got purchased by someone from San Fran who didnt seem very intrested in keeping the francise in Cbus they move out west. You bring up Indy Eleven(by 2020 they will have had 6years under their belts in the NASL, Great fan base) Natural rivalry with Chicago.

    • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 9:10 AM

      Uh… did you watch the press conference for CLB ownership change? Precourt has no plans on moving the club. And Garber and the Board would need to approve any sort of move. CLB isn’t going anywhere. Their faults can be traced to two things: 1) lackadaisical ownership under the Hunts; and 2) a stadium that doesn’t compete with even the others in the city, let alone the others in MLS. SKC has proven what a new stadium and rebranding can do to a club. If Precourt gave any indication of anything, it’s that the Crew may undergo a slight rebranding, but nothing major, and he as even talking about finding a new location for a brand new facility, too. Everything else would remain the same.

  10. gloryostrich - Aug 1, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    Spreading the talent pool thin with more teams, hope the quality of play doesn’t drop.

    • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 9:12 AM

      You should read my research about why the US can support up to 40 top flight teams (in a dual league system). This country is unlike any other, as someone else mentioned here. It deserves preferential treatment.

  11. kicksave1980 - Aug 1, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    As a St. Louis native, I’d love to see STL get a team, even though I live closer to Columbus now. I’ve always been shocked that they don’t already have an MLS team, honestly.

  12. griffinjohn - Aug 1, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    Why are so many hung up on the 20 team model. The USA is a much different animal than any other country. Put it this way, if England was the size of the USA do you think the BPL would be stuck at 20???
    I count 15 cities mentioned in another posting on here and all seem viable in their own way. It is a nice mix and a nice problem for MLS and soccer in general to have in this country this day in age.
    The good news is MLS is in no rush, they have given themselves seven years to get this done. With smart biz plans, NASL and USL can and should take advantage of all the markets that don’t make the MLS cut.

    • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Well said.

      I’ll add that the only reason the number is 20 is because Sepp Blather has commented years ago that top flights around the world should cap at 20. There are no rules otherwise, even at FIFA.

    • charliej11 - Aug 1, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      I am going to start reverse posting. Europe ( twice as large as the US ) should only have two 20 team leagues.
      Every city that can support top level soccer should have a team. I put this at 40.

      • wesbadia - Aug 1, 2013 at 11:09 AM

        Good logic. Which exposes how narrow-minded Blather’s opinions are.

  13. bishopofblunder - Aug 1, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    I have already come up with a mascot for the new Miami club: Miami Ocean. That way the starting lineup would be known as the Ocean’s 11.

    Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

    • handsofsweed - Aug 2, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      Ugh. Just for that, I’m NOT tipping my waiter. Not until next week.

  14. hildezero - Aug 4, 2013 at 3:25 AM


    Canada shouldn’t get another franchise, because they already have enough. Three franchises is fine.

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