It’s been a year since we posted odds and updates on the status of MLS expansion, but amazingly enough little has changed since we tabbed Las Vegas and San Diego as the likeliest markets to land a future new team–as confirmed by none other than Don Garber.
In his annual remarks ahead of the MLS regular season launch — set for this weekend — Garber opined on the leading MLS expansion contenders. With St. Louis launching this season as the circuit’s 29th team, MLS is poised to add a 30th team. No surprise he named Las Vegas as a leading contender, but what followed was a little more surprising: the league is open to further expansion to 32 teams, allowing the possibility for a San Diego MLS team as well:
“We do need more teams. The 30th team will come at some point soon. Hopefully, we’d like to get that announced by the end of the year,” Garber said Wednesday during a kickoff event at the league’s new television studio, built with Apple TV.
“We say we’re going to stop at 30, but [some of] the other major leagues are larger than that. I never say never in Major League Soccer. There are many other markets that are opportunities for us. I think San Diego and Las Vegas are the most likely opportunities for 30.”
He mentioned Detroit; Phoenix; Sacramento, California; and Tampa, Florida, as other expansion possibilities.
There are probably a few other markers he should have mentioned that are being discussed among MLS types, including Indianapolis, where Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir is moving forward with the Eleven Park development that will include a new 20,000-capacity stadium capable of hosting MLS soccer (shown above). Here’s how we peg MLS prospects odds as of February 2023:
- Las Vegas: 1-5. Las Vegas has been the front runner to land the 30th franchise for over a year now. MLS officials openly covet the market and the potential owners, Aston Villa owners and sports entrepreneurs Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. For Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Edens, the play would be a real-estate play as much as a soccer play. Edens’ Fortress Investment Group owns Brightline, which is planning a high-speed light-rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, terminating at Las Vegas Boulevard and Warm Springs Road. Brightline controls the 110-acre site, considered prime real estate at the south end of the Strip, a few miles from McCarren and within easy access of Interstate 15 and the 215 Beltway. It was once coveted by the Oakland A’s as a ballpark site, but the plan now is for Brightline to use it for development and a 65,000-square-foot terminal—as well as potentially a new soccer stadium.
- San Diego: Even. Southern California has become the cradle of the game for American soccer, with two MLS teams and two NWSL teams thriving. With NFL football unlikely to return to San Diego and a ready facility in San Diego State’s Snapdragon Stadium, it would not be a difficult task to put together a deep-pocketed investment group.
- Sacramento: 10-1. The mechanisms used to plan a potential downtown MLS stadium are still in place. Insiders think the Bay Area is more than capable of hosting two MLS teams, and adding Sacramento to San Jose would place two teams at each end of the market.
- Phoenix, 12-1. The previous Phoenix Rising FC owners put time and money into an expansion effort, coming up with a stadium design that addressed the weather issues without resorting to a covered stadium. It seems to be a market with the demographics MLS is targeting as well.
- Indianapolis: 15-1. Having a new MLS-quality stadium already in the works for USL’s Indy Eleven, a team already enjoying decent support in a very sports-friendly town, is a big plus for Ozdemir. No, Indy isn’t a glamorous market, but it’s one of those mid-sized markets where MLS soccer could thrive.
- Tampa: 20-1. In theory Tampa should be an attractive expansion market. In reality, nothing will happen soon, as the local sports economy is frozen by the Tampa Bay Rays’ pursuit of a new ballpark. That situation is likely to be resolved soon, as the team has ballpark proposals in both downtown Tampa and the current Tropicana Field location. In theory, one of those locations could end up being the site of an MLS stadium–one could easily see new St. Pete development built around an MLS stadium instead of an MLB ballpark. But nothing is likely to happen on the MLS front until the Rays ballpark situation is resolved.
- Detroit: 25-1. Yes, Detroit is a top 15 media market, and yes, there have been runs at putting an MLS team in Ford Field before.
- Raleigh, 50-1. Local soccer fans are likely to renew calls for MLS in Raleigh, even if the current plan is for a new USL stadium anchoring downtown development.
RELATED STORIES: Future MLS Expansion: February 2022