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MLS Expansion Update: St. Louis, Cincinnati, North Carolina, San Diego, Phoenix, Sacramento, LAFC, Minnesota, Atlanta

We have the latest updates on Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion including news from St. Louis, Cincinnati, North Carolina, San Diego, Phoenix, Sacramento, LAFC, Minnesota, Atlanta.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It is time once again for our monthly-ish update on the state of MLS Expansion around the country (and some USL/NASL news as well). If you've never read one of these, you'll find I have a fascination with the growing (and contracting) of our various sports leagues in the United States (and Canada). Maybe it was missing out on most of the expansion in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, but it's cool to be a bigger part of this round. If you'd like to catch up, here are the last several months updates.

  • November (Big St. Louis News, wild Cincy prediction plus a lot more)
  • October (San Diego, St. Louis, Nashville, OKC and more)
  • September (Phoenix, Nashville and more)
  • August (St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix and more)


St. Louis, Missouri

As we discussed last month, there are now two stadium proposals from two different groups bidding for MLS expansion. Since the second stadium plan emerged for the downtown site, the plan from SC St. Louis, it turns out it's going to cost $80 million to the taxpayers. This comes on the heels of the St. Louis Rams leaving to Los Angeles because they couldn't get a publicly financed stadium (granted they wanted a lot more money). Aside from the money, the new plan lays out who is involved in this second group and that the plan includes buying the USL squad, St. Louis FC.

After this plan emerged, the second ownership group (with the first stadium plan -- are you confused yet), Foundry St. Louis, offered to step in and pay the $80 million. That seems really nice but I'm sure they are buying themselves into the ownership group for that money. It seems SC STL isn't interested in that money and maybe that's because they are in a great position to get this market per MLS. MLS President, Mark Abbot, has said that SC STL are the "only contender."

The way I see it, this hurts St. Louis' bid for MLS Expansion. They have a stadium site that they have two years to purchase (versus Foundry's site which Saint Louis University already own) and they are asking for public funds, which is basically no go in most parts of the country. It's a shame a compromise can't be worked out. I've actually heard the downtown site isn't really convenient for lots of locals, but only time will tell what happens next.


FC Cincinnati

Last week FC Cincinnati has their long awaited meeting with Don Garber. He didn't immediately grant them a team, but he spoke encouragingly about their situation.

"I’m very impressed with what the city has shown me, and the fans are wonderful. This is the beginning. It starts with this visit, but there’s a lot of work to be done here."

The doesn't exactly sounds like Cincy is getting a team tomorrow, or after all the various meetings the league has lined up over the coming weeks. The team was a little more optimistic. Something that did come out of this meeting is FCC backing off their stance that they won't build a stadium. MLS loves billionaire owners, passionate fan bases and filling out the country/television map. But they really like soccer specific stadiums. It'll be interesting to see if they release some designs and buy some land in the near future.

I also have to note, somewhat related to Cincy, is that the Cincinnati Business Courier made reference to my prediction FC Cincinnati could get a team in their publication. This feels very cyclical.


North Carolina/Carolina Railhawks

Sports Illustrated has a robust piece on the NASL and their possible impending collapse. Part of that story are teams like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury leaving the NASL for the USL. Another possible defection to the USL would come in the form of the Carolina Railhawks.

But Chad, what does this have to do with MLS Expansion?

I'm glad you asked. Well news leaked out that the Railhawks are rebranding to North Carolina FC. The official news should come later today but this is supposed to be centered around a move to MLS in the next few years. If this does happen, they'll be competing with the Charlotte Independence for MLS Expansion as well. Charlotte and Cary (where the Railhawks play) are about 2.5 hours apart. Charlotte has several pro teams already (NBA, NFL) but Cary is in the heart of college country. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Carolina may be in the market for an NWSL team as well.


San Diego, California

Bad news for MLS in San Diego. Everything seemed to be contingent on a stadium bill being passed and it was crushed at the polls in November. I don't think it's the end of the world because the San Diego Chargers will probably leave town without a new stadium and then San Diego State University can acquire the old stadium and move forward with their plan. It's just so far off that it has to hurt San Diego in the short term.


Phoenix, Arizona

Big news out of the Valley of the Sun when the new ownership group of Arizona United SC announced the rebranding of the club to Phoenix Rising FC. The name change isn't the biggest news, but the news that they will be moving the team out of the West Valley and building a soccer specific stadium right in the heart of town where Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa all converge. The initial stadium will hold just 5,000 seats but the plan could be to expand it beyond that. The 5,000 number is a USL requirement in their quest to reach the second division of US Soccer under MLS.

There is plenty of land at the new site (and it's conveniently located near me) to build a much bigger stadium. Word is the Arizona Coyotes will be building their stadium there as well. The location is very centralized and the biggest issue now becomes drawing a crowd and eventually putting a roof over the stadium to deal with the heat.

In other team news, the President of the club was relieved of his duties just before the big rebranding announcement came out.


Sacramento Republic FC

The Sacramento City Council approved a proposal that could clear the way for the team to build their soccer specific stadium. It's another step towards Sacramento gaining MLS expansion. Word is they'll build the stadium with or without acceptance into MLS, but that seems suspect as it's a lot of money to build a stadium just to remain in USL.


The Rest

With so much  news coming out about all the already announced expansion teams, I'll now be limiting this to quick headlines and links to fill in the gaps.

LAFC

Minnesota United

Atlanta United


Corner Kicks (all that other expansion news):


EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS

1. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 1)

No one expected an announcement right after Don Garber visited town. Cincy still has that billionaire owner, huge attendance numbers and fills a hole on the MLS map. Their willingness to look into stadiums other than Nippert is a good sign. Let's see if any renderings or plans emerge in the comings weeks and months.

2. Miami (Previous Rank: 2)

No news can't be good news forever. They still appear set for 2019 but I'll believe it when I see it.

3. St. Louis (Previous Rank: 4)

With the MLS essentially knocking the Foundry St. Louis group out of contention SC STL gets stronger. Let's see how quickly they get their act together now that they've announced their stadium plans.

4. Sacramento Republic (Previous Rank: 3)

They are quietly plugging along but no one seems to care. Sorry SacTown.

5. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 5)

No real news out of Detroit but the NPSL club, Detroit City FC, have been in "constant contact" with those billionaires looking to bring a club to MLS. Something new out of Detroit would be good to hear for their hopes.

6. Phoenix, Arizona (Previous Rank: 8)

The new owners of Arizona United SC Phoenix Rising FC are really being aggressive here in the valley. A new stadium and a HUGE market that MLS aren't in can only be good for the chances in Phoenix.

7. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 6)

It should only be a small setback waiting for the Chargers to leave town before this whole stadium situation can move forward.

8. North Carolina (Previous Rank: NR)

Whether it's the to be renamed Carolina Railhawks or the Charlotte Independence, this is a bit gap on the MLS map with healthy competition looking to fill it.

9. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 7)

No word out of Texas about a new team. A few more years in USL will only do them good in figuring things out.

10. Nashville FC (Previous Rank 9)

They still have a year until they debut in USL but they also fill out the map quite well. Plus, Nashville is a super hip city all the sudden that seems primed for soccer.

Dropped from the Rankings: Las Vegas, Nevada.