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Ranking the candidates for MLS’s next two expansion teams (after Don Garber’s Tuesday Q-and-A)

Mar 6, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT

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Among the various topics Don Garber addressed on Tuesday, expansion occupied the most time, with questions about eight different sites garnering responses from MLS’s commissioner. Though we’d previously given our views on the most- (and least-) likely spots for the league’s 23rd and 24th franchises, Tuesday gave us new insight into what Garber’s thinking.

As a result, we have a new list. Here’s where we were. Now, here’s where we are:

1. Atlanta – If Las Vegas has odds on Atlanta as team No. 23 (and if they do, that’s pretty cool), they should take the wager off the board. Atlanta is so far ahead of the field at this point, it would take a major upset to see two other cities get expansion franchises before Arthur Blank’s making his announcement.

Part of that is the long relationship Blank has with Major League Soccer. Part is the value he brings as a potentially stable, committed owner. Geography plays a role here, too, as does showings like last night’s at the Georgia Dome. Add in a new venue in the discussion, and this is a slam dunk. And not the George Tenet kind.

Of the eight locations Garber was asked about on Tuesday, he spoke most glowingly of the ATL, saying, “We’re getting close.”

2. Minneapolis – The big news on Tuesday wasn’t that Minneapolis looks like the favorite for franchise No. 24. It’s that the Minnesota United FC group seems so far ahead of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

Consider what Garber had to say about the NASL team’s ownership group:

“Minneapolis is on the short list. Lots of interest there. We’ve had a high level of activity with the current Minnesota United ownership group … We think they’re smart. We think they’re focused, and they’re great community citizens.”

Do you hear that, Commissioner Garber? That’s NASL commissioner Bill Peterson telling you to get off his lawn. Poor guy.

3. San Antonio – The Scorpions looked like a good bet to compete with Minnesota for the final spot, but when asked about Texas expansion, Garber said “Expanding in Texas, that’s likely going to happen. Where that happens, when that happens, remains to be seen.” Compared to the enthusiast way the commissioner talked about Atlanta and Minneapolis’s prospects, it looks like San Antonio has some catching up to do. Maybe No. 25, if they can hold off Austin?

4. Sacramento – The Republic’s big to jump from USL PRO to the first division looks like a distant fourth in this race. Asked about the potential to expand into the market, Garber said, “Show that there’s a real appetite north of San Jose for professional, high-level soccer, and we’ll see what happens” – the type of noncommittal encouragement he could to any market. Lincoln, Neb. – want a team? Then show there’s a real appetite north of Texas for professional, high-level soccer. Then we’ll see what happens.

5. The Field – Garber also answered questions on four other markets, with deflecting answers ranging from “not … anytime soon” (North Carolina) to recommendations the market support existing teams (Cleveland). Though cities like St. Louis and San Diego — areas of constant interest to fans — didn’t come up in the Q-and-A, lack of potential owners in those markets lump them in with “The Field” – a group that looks increasingly irrelevant for slots 23 and 24.

Right now, are three, maybe four obvious candidates to slide into MLS’s last two expansion spots. On Tuesday, commissioner Garber made Atlanta and Minneapolis the favorite. “We’ll see what happens.”

  1. footballer4ever - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    I get weary with nfl owners wanting to be MLS owners too? Will they treat the MLS football clubs with the support and respect it deserves or are they just looking to have an extra tenant to bring in more money into their pockets? Questions! Questions! Questions! that need Answers! Answers! Answers!

    • mvktr2 - Mar 7, 2014 at 2:58 AM

      I completely agree. For these guys owning an MLS team is a bit like owning a bugatti veron (sp?)as the NFL team and the world’s best bicycle as the MLS club. Sure, most people will never own the world’s ‘best’ bicycle as it probably costs 10-50K, but for a guy with a bugatti in the garage it’s an afterthought.

      I don’t care how much coin Blank is shelling out to make the stadium a one of the kind in the world foldable soccer modified stadium … doesn’t matter, that’s about getting the city to approve a multi-use stadium just 25 or so years after building this corporatist jerk a state of the art stadium in the Georgia Dome. Blank loves spending money taken from individuals by government and handed to billionaires like him … as far as I can tell he’s scum!

      • danielofthedale - Mar 7, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        Blank did not buy the Falcons till long after the Dome was built and the dome is used far more for non Falcons Events. In fact even if the Falcons did not want the Dome it would probably have been built. Also Blank is paying for a majority of the new Dome and it will continue to host non Falcons events that Blank does not see money from as the GWCC will be the owner.

  2. maverickstar - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    I always felt like Atlanta was the front runner. Now its seems like we are just waiting for the announcement. I also thought San Antonio and possibly St Louis could compete for the 24th spot. Now I’m starting to feel like if I had to bet on it I would bet on Minnesota United moving up. Another thing to consider with Minnesota and San Antonio, having those teams do what Orlando is and move up into MLS, they might be in the league at the same time or before Miami and Atlanta.

    • mvktr2 - Mar 7, 2014 at 2:59 AM

      ATL & MIA getting teams is very much about improving the TV footprint as they are HUGE TV markets. No doubt it needs to be done especially with billionaire owners proposed at both places.

  3. djp141 - Mar 7, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    MLS in Atlanta makes sense, because it secures the Carolinas, as well. Sure, we’d rather have our own team, but most of us have had a rooting interest in the Braves or Falcons at some point.

  4. Vnice - Mar 7, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    I guess the Silverbacks are out if luck. Blank should respect the local history and buy the rights to the Silverbacks identity.

    • dfstell - Mar 7, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Nah….just leave the Silverbacks. If London has room for 20+ teams, Atlanta can have two. Honestly, I don’t think that soccer is supposed to be a sport where you support teams from farm away. I think you’re supposed to support the team down the road…..not on the other side of a sprawling metropolis like Atlanta.

      • Vnice - Mar 10, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        I agree, but I’m not sure Silverbacks will Survive while MLS is in town.

    • danielofthedale - Mar 7, 2014 at 3:06 PM

      The Silverbacks brand carries little weight among the population at large and a large number Silverbacks fans are not that enamored with the name. It will be sad to see them go, I will enjoy going to games the next three seasons but moving on to a better team in a better league is a trade off I will make 10 times out of 10.

      • Vnice - Mar 10, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        Good point.

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