It is time once again for our monthly-ish update on the state of MLS expansion (with some sprinkled in news from other leagues around the United States). For those of you unfamiliar, I have a bit of a thing for MLS Expansion (and the growing and shrinking of leagues in general). Last month's update covered San Diego, St. Louis and Phoenix, amongst many others. For those looking for a bit of a deeper dive check out the September and August updates. Let's get to the news.
St. Louis, Missouri
What better place to start than with our neighbors to the East. As we've reported on here at The Blue Testament, a new group has emerged in the race to bring an MLS team to St. Louis. Foundry St. Louis unveiled their stadium plans in late October which included plans for a 22,500 seat stadium that will be privately financed on the campus of St. Louis University (SLU). It's said to cost up to $150 million, which appears inline with other privately financed stadiums around Major League Soccer, including Orlando and Minnesota.
On the heels of Foundry St. Louis making their announcement, a second stadium site situation Downtown has emerged. This appears to be tied to the original MLS ownership group but has a little less concrete information. For starters, the city just has the option to purchase the land (30 acres) owned by the State Department of Transportation. The city will have two years to negotiate the purchase but it looks to be a development primed for much more than just a soccer stadium. For their part, MLS spokesman, Dan Courtemanche stated that downtown stadiums have been "extremely successful" but didn't state the league will force the stadium to be downtown. Courtemanche went on to site Children's Mercy Park as a "destination for soccer fans."
Regardless of which site emerges as the future home of an MLS club in St. Louis, it seems that the league will have options to choose from.
Another Midwest team is looking to fill out the map of MLS teams and that is FC Cincinnati of the USL. They have had an extremely successful debut campaign, with attendance sometimes over 30,000 people. Their next steps should become more clear after they meet with MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, at a scheduled town hall meeting on Tuesday, November 29, 2016. Garber is going to take questions from fans (the event is open to the public) or questions can be submitted via the Twitter hashtag #MLS2Cincy. Garber will also meet with civic and political leaders in the area. The event will be hosted by former MLS player and current ESPN commentator, Taylor Twellman.
Las Vegas, Nevada
There has been little word about a potential MLS team in Vegas since they missed the last round that went to Minnesota United but there is a ton of news about the Oakland Raiders becoming the Las Vegas Raiders, which would provide a domed stadium for an MLS team to play in. First, the senate passed and the governor signed a bill providing $750 million in public financing towards the stadium. This prompted Raider owner, Mark Davis, to declare Vegas the new home of the Raider Nation.
The brakes were put on the excitement when it was announced 2019 would be the soonest the Raiders would leave, which is just two more years. That said, we should know within 6-9 months if they'll be moving. Two big roadblocks still exist. The leagues owners need three quarters of them to approve the move with a vote. And the Raiders are seeking another $500 million from casino owners like Sheldon Adelson and he's playing hardball.
Expansion Priority Draft
With Minnesota United and Atlanta United set to join MLS in 2017, both teams recently took part in the Expansion Priority Draft. It could be argued the top prize is the first pick in the Expansion Draft (which Atlanta won the coin toss and selected first). We've come up with a rough list of who SKC should protect in said draft. That said, Orlando City picked a player (Donovan Ricketts) who is no longer on their team but struck goal with the first pick in the MLS SuperDraft (Cyle Larin). Minnesota ended up with the first pick in next year's SuperDraft. A couple other mechanisms were up for grabs with Atlanta getting the top Allocation spot (think USMNT players coming back to the United States) and Minnesota got the top spot in USL/NASL Priority.
The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Atlanta United are interested in RSL's Nick Rimando as their first goalkeeper (technically second as they've stashed one in USL). Rimando is 37-years-old and has one year left on his current contract. He currently makes $420,000 and is second only to Tim Howard in goalkeeper pay.
In less important news, it sounds like ATL may be debuting their kits next week on November 15th. I love jersey news (as you will no doubt see through all the speculating during the offseason of SKC's new kit(s)). Our sister site at Dirty South Soccer did a little speculating of their own. There are some interesting designs that seem pretty plausible.
Atlanta also announced that they will open next season in Georgia Tech's football stadium. They'll stay there while their future home, which is to be shared with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, is completed.
In one last bit of ATL UTD news, their academy is apparently turning heads around the league. That has to be tough to hear for teams like Minnesota that are behind the game in that area.
In news that should be close to every Sporting Kansas City fans heart, Minnesota are reportedly interested in several coaching candidates, including SKC assistant Kerry Zavagnin. Also on that list is former Seattle Sounder coach Sigi Schmid and current New York Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese. It'll be interesting to see if any of them are interested in that job. KZ has long been thought to be waiting in the wings if Peter Vermes ever leaves. He was a leading candidate for the Chicago Fire job last year.
Minnesota also made their first two signings by inking Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas to MLS contracts. Both players were members of the NASL team and have been with the club at least five seasons.
Stunningly it's been over 1,000 days since David Beckham announced his future Miami MLS franchise. Grant Whal is reporting that MLS officials tell him Miami could start in 2018 but a source from inside Beckham's camp would prefer 2019. Apparently they are still trying to both acquire land in the Overtown area for a stadium and find a primary investor for the club. This would definitely mess with the plan from MLS to bring two teams into the league in 2018 (LAFC being the other).
The USL's Charlotte Independence is jumping on the MLS expansion bandwagon by hiring a sports investment firm to assist in a future MLS bid. That firm is Accelerate, who previously worked with the Sacramento Republic (who are still in USL if you hadn't noticed). Charlotte are also working on a $25 million plan to renovate their 80-year-old stadium to hold 10,000 fans. There is a future plan to expand it by an additional 10,000-15,000 seats. A stadium that old doesn't sound like the type of thing MLS usually goes for, but you never know.
Speaking of Sac Town, Ryan Lillis at the Sacramento Bee seems to think Sacramento could be getting the news of an expansion bid by December. We will see.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion news):
- Nashville SC hired a former MLS executive
- IBM has partnered with LAFC to help with their "stadium experience"
- My plan to put an MLS team into Chase Field in Phoenix may have taken a hit with a potential tear down in the stadiums future
- Updates on a bunch of MLS stadiums (including Minnesota, Atlanta and LAFC).
- The FC Dallas SBNation site loved my power rankings so much they did their own
- The USL is looking to expand more and change it's affiliate system
- The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury are leaving the NASL for the USL
- A fun map from Reddit of a potential NASL and USL merger
- A brief history of MLS expansion
EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS
1. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 3)
Here is my bold prediction based on nothing but my own gut. Cincinnati has a big meeting set with Don Garber. Cincinnati has put over 30,000 butts in seats in their debut season. Cincinnati is owned by a billionaire. Cincinnati fills in those gaps in the middle of the country like Minnesota did last time. I predict that they will leap frog Miami and join MLS with LAFC in 2018. That will keep things very balanced between East and West and make up for the fact that Miami still isn't ready to go.
2. Miami (Previous Rank: 1)
With Grant Wahl confirming a source told him Miami prefers to join the league in 2019 and their inability to hit deadlines, I say they'll join in 2019 or later with Sacramento or St. Louis.
3. Sacramento Republic (Previous Rank: 2)
Sacramento are definitely more ready to join MLS than Cincinnati. One look at their broadcast will let you know how organized the team appears to be. They could easily be the team that leaps over an unprepared Miami. But something in my gut says the league doesn't want two California teams joining in the same season. Poor Sacramento may get skipped again when St Louis gets all their ducks in a row. They just feel like the red headed step-child. It's probably those awful maroon jerseys (hey, I can say that, my college had awful maroon jerseys).
4. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 4)
I was tempted to move them ahead of Sacramento but I'll give it more time. St. Louis is a soccer town and appears to be a priority for the league.
5. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 5)
Nothing new to report but lets not forget they have TWO billionaire owners. That alone keeps them high in the rankings.
6. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 7)
They keep climbing the rankings based solely on beautiful weather. We should know more about this after tomorrow's election to see if the San Diego Chargers get a new stadium which would clear their old stadium spot for an MLS club.
7. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 8)
They had an alright debut season in USL, but they have rich owners and a stadium with a plan to expand. It is another team in Texas, but it's really close to Austin. I have it on good authority that hipsters love soccer.
8. Phoenix, Arizona (Previous Rank: 6)
With my entirely made up plan for them to play in the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium on the rocks after an investor group indicated they plan to tear down the stadium, they've taken a hit. Also, as a resident of a Phoenix suburb, it stayed just shy of 100 degrees until the end of October. Unacceptably hot to watch soccer.
9. Nashville FC (Previous Rank: 9)
They also fill a gap on the MLS map and just hired an executive with eight years of MLS experience. That keeps them in the race.
10. Las Vegas, Nevada (Previous Rank: 10)
I was tempted to move them up but not a single person is mentioning an MLS team in that Raiders potential stadium. The only person I've seen support it is David Beckham and he's clearly very good a getting things done very slowly.