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Five cities, two MLS expansion opportunities; let’s rank the contestants

Feb 22, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT

MLS dome

The race for MLS expansion slots is always fluid, and the darn thing can swing mightily on very little notice.

But for now there seem to be five cities in the running to become MLS clubs Nos. 23 and 24.

In reality, it seems that Atlanta has a big lead on the field, which means there is probably, realistically, just one opening. Not only is Atlanta the largest TV market not currently represented in MLS, the ownership group has ample financial heft, and this MLS push into the American southeast still seems to have legs.

Based on Don Garber’s latest public thoughts, gathered during Thursday’s conference call as the MLS commissioner went over the Chivas USA transfer, and also based on no small amount of guesswork and conjecture, here’s what it looks like in terms of chances, best to worst:

1. Atlanta: MLS owners seem bullish on this one – and ultimately, it’s the owners making big decisions, not necessarily Garber and other league suits in New York. Atlanta’s efforts are all about Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his plans for a domed stadium downtown. (Yes, another dome, which probably means more artificial turf. Sigh.)

2. Minnesota: There are two potential scenarios here, one similar to Atlanta’s and another to build a soccer ground downtown, near where Major League Baseball’s Twins play. Atlanta (8th) is the largest TV market among this field, but this is the next largest at No. 15.

3. Sacramento: Sacramento’s Republic FC will soon debut in USL Pro, and team officials, along with substantial regional support, are driving aggressively toward a goal of getting promoted to MLS.

4. San Antonio: A third team in Texas might seem unlikely, given the lack of a footprint in other areas of the country. But city officials have worked toward the goal for years and keep gaining traction. A recently opened, 8,000-seat soccer stadium for the San Antonio Scorpions certainly doesn’t hurt.

5. San Diego / St. Louis: Ok, this is cheating. I promised five … and weaseled out with six. Thing is, both are attractive markets, although for different reasons, but neither has a lead on the kind of ownership this thing would take, so it’s all theoretical anyway.

  1. kb57 - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    7. Devils : Rangers : Islanders :: Red Bulls : NYCFC : Cosmos

    • tomcatfl - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:52 PM

      You expect all three NY teams to be as crappy as the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders this year?

  2. creek0512 - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    Indianapolis is the dark horse candidate, with the new NASL team selling 7,000 season tickets and the team already moving forward with plans for a downtown soccer stadium.

  3. hildezero - Feb 22, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    “Atlanta (8th) is the largest TV market among this field, but this is the next largest at No. 15.”

    Wait. So where does Phoenix rank then?

    • tomcatfl - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:54 PM

      Presumably smaller than 8th, but I read that sentence as saying Minn is the second largest among his list, not necessarily the second largest unrepresented market. (But isn’t San Diego bigger than Minn?)

  4. skjln - Feb 22, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    Not sure why you state that they won’t put 3 teams in Texas, when they have 3 teams in California and you rank Sacramento odds ahead of San Antonio. That would make 4. My opinion is that they should move Chivas to Sacramento and then sort out the team after Atlanta. I will add that soccer should never be played in a domed stadium, even if it would be the only team located less than 9 hours of my house.

    • soccerphanatic - Feb 23, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      The MLS won’t move Chivas from LA. They love the concept of a strong LA derby too much to let it go. For Sacramento or San Antonio to get the 24th franchise, they’d have to show that they will be more successful and have a stronger ownership group than the other cities mentioned. I personally believe that Atlanta will get the next franchise based on the fact that they have a stadium in the works (yes, it’ll a dome but so is BC place in Vancouver) and a very keen potential owner. After that, it’s really a toss up.

  5. cutelittleguy02 - Feb 22, 2014 at 10:25 PM

    Atlanta all the way

    • gonewthewindatl - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      Mr. Blank will be an exceptional MLS owner he is by far the best owner this town has seen since our beloved, Uncle Teddy!

      The Braves ownership have abandon the city and people are sore about it but it presents a great opportunity for this MLS franchise! Atlanta in my opinion has the perfect MLS demographic where we consistently rank in the Top 10 for best Cities for Young Professionals and are a Top 10 TV market, etc…expansion into the Urban Core is exactly the right thing to do for MLS and for all sports teams, it’s where you wanna be…..see ya Cobb County Braves we don’t love you anymore, without The Ted you’re dead to us here in Atlanta! Our city is a sprawling mess so it is a good point that the Braves may see success in Cobb, I think short term, the revitalization of downtown is one that will prove itself over time. There is a lot to be redeveloped surrounding downtown Atlanta which should hurt the burbs going forward as the burbs contiue to become dated (without character) and more and more people are able to relocate to the urban core. Anyway enough of City Planning 101…we are very excited and whether it’s in the New Stadium or we may be asking for too much to be at The Ted, it’s all good to be the next MLS city!!!!

      • gonewthewindatl - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        …and I think the club known today as Chivas will be well served in another Cali city, either San Diego, Sacramento or even San Fran good luck but to have two in LA just for the derby, come on man!

  6. skipcastaneda - Feb 23, 2014 at 1:43 AM

    skjln, the thinking out here in Sacramento is to move Chivas here. The second team in Los Angeles isn’t working. With the whole SanJuaquin Valley to draw from, a team in Sacramento would do very well.

    • tomcatfl - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      I’m betting they give the new Chivas owner a few years to try to establish their viability as a second LA team, before giving up and letting them move elsewhere. Unless they just can’t find a decent local bidder, in which case eventually they’d have to listen to offers from other markets. I don’t think they want long term ownership by the league.

  7. srberes - Feb 23, 2014 at 6:40 AM

    c’mon minnesota! we have a great NASL team, but there’s a big hunger for soccer here. i’d absolutely love to have a local MLS team.

  8. maverickstar - Feb 23, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    If I were a betting man, I would put money on Atlanta. They seem like the clear front runner. I’d probably bet on Minnesota next as well. I don’t think having 3 teams in Texas is that big of a deal. But Minneapolis is not only a bigger tv market, but it has roughly 1,000,000 more people in the metro area. Thats people in the seats and buying merchandise.

    I don’t think the MLS will stop at 24 either. If the game continues to grow in the US like it is, I could easily see them going up to 28 in the next 10-15 years.

  9. talgrath - Feb 23, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    The Atlanta stadium is supposed to have both a retractable roof and a retractable grass field, that’s got MLS heads rightfully interested; if this can become standard in every NFL stadium then any city with an NFL team might also have an MLS team. The joint use of grounds in Seattle and Vancouver has worked out pretty well for MLS teams so the idea of rolling an MLs franchise into the new Falcons stadium seems like a great idea too. Atlanta has already been selected, it’s just not official yet, I think.

  10. chadmoon1 - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    No to Atlanta and to Minnesota unless they build from their USL/NASL teams. If they can’t support the smaller club, they don’t deserve the bigger one. Let those like Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Antonio, ect build and grow into clubs that MLS will have to accept because of their great support.

    • chadmoon1 - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:15 PM

      And no to indoor stadiums, no to turf, and no to playing in American football stadiums scaled down. SSS’s only, with grass, in the elements, or no go for MLS.

  11. mikeevergreen - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Forget San Diego. Their fans already root for Club Tijuana, and for good reason: Most Americans starting on any LIGA MX team.

    • zuludmj - Feb 27, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      MLS would be stupid not to move Chivas down to San Diego, Chivas need it’s own city and fan base, The franchise would have the fan base from cities SD and TJ, Plus SD and LA are rivals in all other sports it would become the as heated as Seattle vs Portland as far as a top rivalry in the MLS, As long as Chivas stay in LA it will forever be the Galaxy’s retarded little brother

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