Handicapping the Next MLS Expansion Round: June 2018 Edition

Phoenix Rising MLS Stadium

With FC Cincinnati awarded the 24th MLS franchise last week and Miami and Nashville waiting in the wings to field MLS squads, let the speculation turn to the next MLS expansion round for teams #27 and #28.

There’s no firm deadline for awarding the expansion teams, and right now there’s no list of contenders. We do expect a list to be developed in coming months, but right now we have Sacramento and Detroit officially seeking an expansion team and in discussions with the league about the next course of action, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who addressed the issue when announcing the FC Cincinnati award.

So where does that leave MLS expansion and potential new markets? Well, in a way, it really doesn’t change a whole lot: we’re not seeing much interest from additional markets (save Louisville) in landing an MLS team. So, working off the last round of bidding and adding in Louisville, here’s an early handicapping on what could happen in the next round of MLS expansion, focusing on the top contenders—with plenty of caveats, of course.

San Diego: 2-1 There is a huge caveat here, of course: these odds assume that the sweeping SoccerCity development, which includes an MLS stadium, is approved by San Diego voters in a fall referendum. It’s no secret MLS officials like the San Diego market, both to balance the league’s geographic footprint and to take advantage of the vacuum left in the local sporting scene with the move of the NFL Chargers. There’s still a strong ownership group in place, but San Diego State may end up prevailing in the referendum—and SDSU officials have shown no interest in working with an MLS group.

Phoenix: 3-1 With a solid ownership group, a solid stadium plan, a USL track record and a desirable market, the Phoenix Rising bid should be enough to land a team. The sports-business scene in Phoenix is in flux, with the Suns, Diamondbacks and Coyotes all seeking new facilities.

Sacramento: 4-1 That needed heavy hitting lead investor still needs to emerge. Sacramento Republic has been tremendously successful at the USL level, selling out every match, and with a new-stadium plan in place, would seem to have a leg up in the pursuit of an MLS team. But we’ve seen MLS be very patient in giving teams time to check off every item on the expansion checklist.

San Antonio: 9-1 Again, a huge caveat here: these odds assume the Columbus Crew will notmove to Austin. If Anthony Precourt does end up with a new Austin stadium, then the odds of San Antonio landing a new team will be significantly higher. There’s just no way MLS will go for teams in both San Antonio and Austin. Which is a shame for San Antonio soccer fans. The San Antonio bid features a solid ownership in the form of the San Antonio Spurs and a city government supporting MLS soccer.

Las Vegas: 9-1 Brent Lashbrook has proven Sin City is a viable MLS market by drawing fans to a downtown ballpark not very optimized for pro soccer. Can that USL success be extended to MLS? It would seem a discussion of pro soccer in downtown Las Vegas is worthy of consideration, but it would require a new stadium; we don’t see Cashman Field being capable of being upgraded to MLS standards.

Detroit: 15-1 MLS folks weren’t too happy when the Detroit bid shifted from a soccer-specific stadium to sharing Ford Field with the Detroit Lions. While there’s some merit to a covered stadium, there’s also a huge challenge in being a secondary tenant in an NFL stadium. It works in Atlanta with Arthur Blank owning both teams, and it could possibly work in Detroit with the Ford family involved with both teams.

Louisville: 20-1 With state funding approved for a new Louisville USL stadium and a solid track record with USL, local soccer enthusiasts say their next target is MLS. A worthy target. But the ownership group and stadium will need to be upgraded to attract the attention of MLS, and with more worthy contenders ahead in line, it would be a challenge to land a team in the next expansion round. Down the line? Yes.

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