Handicapping MLS Expansion: June Edition

MLSAs we move closer to the end of the 2016 season, we also move closer to decisions on MLS expansion in coming seasons. Fans in multiple cities are eagerly awaiting any news of MLS expansion down the road, and plenty of financial plans are being prepared in anticipation of the circuit moving to 24 or even 26 teams.

Indeed, discussions of MLS expansion pop up regularly, especially in cities where a USL or MLS team was launched specifically with a goal of MLS down the line. It’s hard to avoid the chatter, especially on social media.

This is our second monthly look at where MLS might be expanding down the road. That MLS is expanding is certain; where MLS is expanding is anything but certain.

We’re assuming that the current plans for Atlanta (where construction of a new 2017 stadium now calls for a June 1 opening — but that date is far from certain), Minnesota (where team owners have discussed a 2017 debut) and LAFC are on track. We’re also following what officials say they’ll look at when evaluating MLS expansion bids, and the first criteria — by a wide margin — is a solid ownership group. Too many folks commenting on this process tend to look at markets first and disregard the ownership side of the equation.

Miami: 1:2 Despite the hiccups, many in the MLS world believe a new Miami stadium will be a reality, and that an expansion team will be playing there in 2018. It’s not a done deal, and the David Beckham group is still seeking more investors, with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens pitched this month.

Sacramento: even money There’s a new stadium plan in place, solid ownership, and great community support. Really, judging by some MLS front-office chatter, this really is a matter of when, not if.

Cincinnati: 2-1 FC Cincinnati just rolls on in the USL. A renovated Nippert Stadium helps create the modern soccer experience, but clearly the owners of FC Cincinnati have put into place a game plan that has positioned the team for an MLS move. The beauty of the plan: it didn’t take tens of millions of dollars to launch the USL squad and adapt Nippert Stadium for pro soccer; rather, it took some pro-sports expertise and a sound game plan. There are already plans for more Nippert Stadium upgrades in 2017.

Detroit: 4-1 With a proposal from two NBA owners already successful in their fields — including Dan Gilbert, whose big investments in downtown Detroit development has brought new life to a sad situation — the real issue isn’t whether a team can succeed, it’s whether the team can procure funding and land for a new stadium.

San Diego: 5-1 With an investment group led by San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler and a new-stadium plan emerging for the Mission Valley area, the prospects of MLS in San Diego immensely improved over last month’s ranking.

San Antonio: 6-1 With a stadium built to be expanded to MLS expectations, a solid soccer market and some serious sports backing in the form of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, we expect to hear more in coming months about an MLS bid.

St. Louis: 10-1 After the departure of the Rams to Los Angeles, there was a lot of talk about a new downtown soccer stadium to replace the proposed NFL stadium. Since then: nothing. St. Louis is considered by many to be a good soccer market (indeed, USL’s St. Louis FC sells out matches — but the stadium capacity is only 5,513), but a committed ownership group hasn’t been able to push a new stadium plan.

Las Vegas: 15-1. Public funding for a new $1.4-billion domed stadium is now far from a done deal, as an influential committee trimmed a potential public component. And with the NHL in town, perhaps the future of soccer in Sin City is hosting big friendlies, not MLS matches.

Indianapolis: 20-1 A good ownership group is in place for the NASL’s Indy Eleven, but past attempts to secure state funding for a new stadium have come up short. Still, Indy Eleven has proven there’s passion for soccer in the city, so any talk of MLS can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Nashville: 25-1 The new USL team seems to be doing everything right so far, bringing in the city as team owners discuss a soccer-only facility. But that stadium announcement isn’t expected to come any time soon. A USL team will show if there’s interest in pro soccer in the Music City.

Louisville: 50-1 Louisville City SC is setting attendance records, hitting five figures at a recent match at Slugger Field. The city may be too big for USL and too small for NASL — but an upcoming feasibility report on a new stadium may give Wayne Estopinal and his investors a roadmap to the future of the sport in Louisville.

Austin: 75-1 Again, no ownership group and no stadium. Austin is viable only if San Antonio fails to land an MLS expansion team.

Phoenix: 100-1 No owner and no facility — just a lot of fans whose support of soccer is mixed. Given the other facility issues in the Valley (Suns, Coyotes, Diamondbacks), talk of a new soccer stadium is pretty nonexistent.

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