For those of you that don't know, I'm quite obsessed with the idea of MLS expansion (and USL expansion and NWSL expansion). Usually, when I cover it, I want an update on St Louis, Missouri getting an MLS team, unfortunately I don't have that today. That said, Sporting Kansas City will still be effected by the addition of these new teams in the form of an expansion draft and potential division realignment. Heck, maybe one day there will be enough teams for two divisions of MLS soccer.
Lots of news has been coming out of the desert over the last couple of weeks, but none bigger than the selling of Arizona United SC. As a current resident of Arizona I can tell you AZSC has been promoted poorly. They are set way out in the West Valley and attendance is abysmal. With new ownership taking over things look to have a chance to change.
The lead investor of the new ownership group is Berke Bakey, the CEO of Kona Grill. Bakey has soccer in the family as an uncle of his is Vice-Chairman of the famed Galatasaray club in Istanbul, Turkey. Still included in the new ownership group is the DJ Diplo and Fall Out Boy bassist, Pete Wentz. The former owner, Kyle Eng, was quoted as being "not a soccer guy" so the news of this move has promise.
The bigger issue for Arizona United is the fact that they play in Peoria instead of Phoenix. News of a move probably has to be next and that was echoed by minority owner David Rappaport:
"Playing in Peoria has been difficult," Rappaport said. "We need to get a stadium of our own. Peoria is not a long-term solution."
It just so happens, I have a solution to the location problem as well as the problem of playing in the summer in Arizona. The Arizona Diamondbacks are fighting with Maricopa County and are threatening to leave. First, the county said they wanted the Diamondback to stay but now they are trying to sell Chase Field to a group of investors. If the Dbacks end up moving, it's a bit big for soccer, but a reconfiguration of that stadium would be a heck of a lot cheaper than spending a few hundred million building a soccer specific stadium. Chase Field is already in downtown Phoenix, it has a roof and it is right next to the main public transportation in the valley. Hey, it's an idea at least.
Major League Soccer made it official when they announced Minnesota United will start play in 2017 alongside fellow expansion team Atlanta United. It has long been rumored that Minnesota, despite having the name first, was going to be forced to drop United from their name, but those concerns have been alleviated. Minnesota will play their first season in TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and will move into their new stadium in 2018. That said, Orlando was supposed to do the same thing in their second season and they won't move into their soccer specific stadium until their third year in the league (hopefully). MNUFC will also keep their colors and essentially the same logo, which is nice because it's a good look.
Sporting KC played (and defeated) Minnesota in the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and they can expect many more meetings in the future. Minnesota will play in the Western Conference and Atlanta will play in the East.
Speaking of Atlanta, they have sold an MLS record of 22,000 season tickets for their expansion season. Their new stadium, which they share with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, will hold an astonishing 71,000 seats. The team plans to close off the upper deck and artificially limit capacity to 29,000. Even at just the 22,000 they have currently sold, they would be second in MLS behind only the Sounders for attendance.
Los Angeles Football Club
LAFC are currently set to join MLS in 2018, despite initially being the targeted team to join in 2017 along with Atlanta. We've covered news on their stadium and transportation that being built to get people to the stadium (because, you know, LA traffic) but we've not really covered their diverse ownership group. One of the more unique owners is Will Ferrell, who told an interesting story on how he got involved. That just confirms it is not a joke.
LA are also looking at Tustin, California as the potential site for their training complex, a youth team and a 5,000 to 8,000 seat stadium that may one day hold their future USL team. It's also been rumored that USL team may be the current independent team, Orange County Blues.
A new group has formed in Nashville with the hopes of securing an MLS franchise. They apparently will work in connection with the newly minted USL franchise that will move Nashville FC up from the National Premier Soccer League (unofficial fourth tier). Nashville seems like the perfect fit for soccer. It's a hip city that is very up and coming and only has the Tennessee Titans of the NFL as the other professional sports team. Also, when this news was announced, the MLS league site put out a list of possible sites for expansion including, "Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, San Antonio and San Diego among those competing for the final spots." That's seven cities, including Nashville, that are competing for four spots (assuming Miami is the 24th team).
Corner Kicks (more expansion news)
- Bleacher Report has their own Promotion/Relegation idea
- The case for $200 million dollar MLS expansion fees
- Is all this expansion boom really a bubble that is going to burst?
- SI.com have their own expansion update
- NWSL look to expand again
- Mia Hamm says LAFC could be a future NWSL expansion team
EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS
1. David Beckham's Miami United
Miami is a mess. It's been well over two years since the team was announced but it seems MLS is looking for them to still be the 24th team. I could see them being skipped if they cannot get their stadium situation worked out. Also, Beckham is still looking for partners to share in ownership with him.
2. Sacramento FC (USL)
They are doing everything right. They have a bunch of rich owners, they have a stadium site and they have a successful USL team. All that being said, they are two hours from the San Jose Earthquakes and could get bumped down the list.
3. St Louis, Missouri
They have a stadium site in place but no solid ownership group. MLS really seems to want to put a team there, so they could jump some others if the right owners step forward.
4. Cincinnati FC (USL)
Have you seen their attendance in the third tier? They make Sacramento's attendance numbers look terrible.
5. Detroit, Michigan
They have two billionaires that would own the team. MLS loves billionaires.
6. Phoenix, Arizona
See above. Things are looking up. They just need a plan for the heat.
7. San Antonio FC (USL)
They are having a strong debut season in the USL. They have a stadium that can be expanded to the size of a typical MLS stadium and they have rich owners (the same group that owns the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA). Austin, Texas would make more sense to me, but they are just an hour away and they can't even get their act together in USL to rejoin next year.
8. San Diego, California
Sure, they don't have a team, stadium or owner but their weather sure is nice. All signs point to expansion going into the current San Diego Charger stadium site if they get their own stadium (or leave for Los Angeles). Sign me up to move there and cover soccer.
9. Nashville, Tennessee
See above. It never hurts when the MLS' official website announces your bid. Detroit just had that same news, but they have those pesky billionaires that Nashville is still lacking.
10. Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas just got an NHL expansion team into the new T-Mobile Arena. They are in talks to get the Oakland Raiders (NFL). If the Raiders build a dome (which they are proposed to do) then there is no reason an MLS team cannot play in the same stadium.