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MLS Expansion Update: Phoenix, Miami, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Austin/Columbus

Plus an update on the timeline (that is for some reason ever changing).

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Courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC

It’s been seven weeks since we’ve played the Major League Soccer expansion update game and a lot has happened over that time. One thing that hasn’t happened is MLS actually announcing another team. Something they said they’d do in December, then before the season started and then... who knows when. But before we get to that, let’s catch up on news you may have missing in the past.

  • February (Miami in [we guess], Sacramento, Cincinnati and Phoenix)
  • December (Nashville is in, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix and more)
  • November 2.0 (Final Four, Phoenix, Columbus[!], Cincinnati and more)
  • November 1.0 (Timeline, Miami, Detroit, Nashville, San Antonio)
  • October (Nasvhille, St. Louis, Phoenix -- also, the now incorrect deadline for team #26)
  • For all of our expansion coverage, bookmark this page.


What everyone wants to know is when this next team will be announced. Supposedly only the three teams from the “Final Four” are still being considered: Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit. First it was December. Then it was “before the season.” Now it’s pretty gray.

“We don’t have, and don’t need to have, a fixed deadline, and we will wait until all of the necessary elements are in place before selecting the next club,” MLS President Mark Abbott said. “Whether the announcement is in a few weeks or a couple months is dependent on finalizing the details, but I don’t anticipate that it will be an extended period of time.”

In that same interview, Abbott states the most progress has been made in Cincinnati. But that was a month ago. The mayor of Cincinnati, John Cranley, “believes the MLS expansion bid and stadium deal will be wrapped up by no later than mid-April.”

So the mayor of one city says the middle of April. The MLS President says it won’t be an “extended period of time.” And the two prior “deadlines” have passed. MLS does whatever MLS wants to do. Maybe they should let the other teams back in the bidding.

Phoenix Rising FC

The team that is most making the case to be put back into contention is Phoenix Rising (USL). Since our last update they have gone out and added a new investor. Alex Zheng, the Chairman of Advantage Sports Union Ltd, who also own 80 percent of French Ligue 1 club OGC Nice.

“We were fortunate and flattered to meet with a number of impressive investors who have interest in Phoenix Rising FC, but Alex Zheng was exceptional,” Berke Bakay, governor of Phoenix Rising FC said in a release. “His amazing knowledge, experience and intellect were only exceeded by his incredible personality and passion for our sport. My partners and I were unanimous in our desire to add Advantage Sports Union to our ownership and Alex to Phoenix Rising FC’s leadership.”

According to Sports Illustrated he is a billionaire and will own at least 30% of the team, which is one of the boxes MLS likes to check and the primary box that PRFC had left unchecked. The team is also still seeking additional investors according to co-chairman Brett Johnson.

The other box, an actual stadium to play in. They’ve long had deals in place for land (that are still just pending being given a MLS team — though ownership are keeping their options open). Now they have stadium renders out after narrowing down the list of potential architects and engineers.

The stadium will cost $250 million, will hold 21,000 fans and can be ready by 2021. As has long been rumored, the stadium is not a dome (despite the desert climate) but instead using lots of interesting cooling technology including “water walls” that air will be cooled by as it passes through the stadium. They also have more practical plans like using shade. The western canopy is huge to block the setting sun (as PRFC play almost all their games at night and usually schedule lightly in the summer).

These two moves leave Phoenix as a team that suddenly looks better than some of the three teams left. The question is if MLS will allow them back in the race.

FC Cincinnati

Since PRFC getting in may just be wishful thinking from a season ticket holder, let’s switch gears to one of the top contenders. Cincinnati probably have to be considered the front runners out of the last three teams. Cincy just has weird stadium issues. They have three potential sites, two of which basically seemed locked down, but they want to play in the third, the West End.

The Oakley area now has a traffic study (paid for by the team) that says it can support the team. It also has local government approval for $51 million in infrastructure as well as residents who seem open to the team playing there. Oakley seems to be growing frustrated with Cincy though as they cancelled a meeting set for this Wednesday stating they want the team to choose one of the three sites so they aren’t “used as leverage.”

The West End has lots of vocal opposition from local residents. Another complicating factor is the team needs to buy land from Cincinnati Public Schools and some shenanigans have been going on. School board members stated there would be transparency in dealing with the team but sneakily added them to the agenda of a meeting “in handwriting” just before it started. That meeting discussed property taxes the team would pay to the school, which are higher than they get now (even during construction) and balloon to half a million a year for five years before they are adjusted to account for the teams profits (or lack there of).

If the school sells the land, they will relocate and rebuild Stargel, an existing high school stadium on the land. They would also add soccer programs to the 29 schools that don’t have one. Plus they’ve said they won’t be displacing any current residents. All that is basically out the window though as The Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting the team eliminated the West End from contention but they are also still negotiating behind the scenes reportedly.

The last site, Newport, is actually in Kentucky, though it’s immediately across the river from downtown Cincinnati. In fact it may technically be the closest to downtown, despite being in another state. Interestingly, President and General Manager Jeff Berding said that if the West End deal gets voted down “then they could watch us have a press conference in Newport the next day.” Newport is basically done but fans appear to want the team to actually be in Cincy.

One last random tidbit, the state budget for Ohio includes $4 million for an FC Cincinnati stadium. I’m sure Columbus Crew fans will be thrilled.

Columbus Crew // Austin, Texas

One thing that could impact Cincinnati’s bid is if there is a team in Columbus. If there isn’t, there is a gap on the map Cincy can fill. If there is, I’m not sure if Ohio needs two MLS teams, though FC Cincinnati fans have shown they’ll support another one.

Recently, the City of Columbus and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued Crew owners Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS. The suit is about an Ohio law that requires six months notice of their intention to relocate a team. A rule that was instituted when the Cleveland Browns left town to become the Baltimore Ravens. We’ll see if this actually gets to trial.

Another issue could be the people of Austin not wanting a soccer stadium in Austin. I personally love Austin but it’s already a super expensive city with awful traffic problems and a downtown stadium won’t help that. And a stadium anywhere other than downtown is exactly what the Crew are complaining about back in Ohio.

Weirdly PSV has switched gears to the McKalla Place site. It’s in North Austin and the local paper describes it as “desolate and bleak, surrounded by warehouses and industrial parkways.” The city staff go on to say it has “significant environmental issues.” It’s the former home of Reichold Chemicals as far back as 1957 and has a “history of explosions, unstable ground and chemical dumps into the soil.” It’s one saving grace, it’s very close to the Domain, a sort of “second downtown.” I guess that’s better than being in the burbs.

Miami, Florida

Oh Miami. What is it this time? Four years after announcing a team in Miami, David Beckham and his group finally did another announcement that I immediately questioned. It looks like I may have been right to do so.

Beckham’s new top partner, billionaire Jorge Mas, told the Miami Herald, “We’re actively looking at five or so sites.” Five sites?!? They have been locked in on the Overtown neighborhood since 2015 and now they are changing? The story goes on to say that they are “starting fresh with a new list of stadium sites.” Starting fresh? It’s taken four years to get this far and the site has been the biggest issue. Plus the group has already paid millions for land they may now try not to use.

One proposed alternative site is the city-owned Melreese golf course. It’s 180 acres as opposed to the 9 acre Overtown site. It would allow the team to build a bigger complex that would include a youth academy, restaurant and retail space. It also is near Miami International Airport and has parking, something Overtown didn’t have. The problem, they need the public to approve the site through a voter referendum. And this group has already been given a team?

“They’re looking everywhere,” Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Herald. “They’re looking at all different options.”

Other sites rumored to be under consideration are land inside Hialeah Park and Casino, Doral and land near Jackson Memorial Hospital. The Herald breaks it all down.

Honestly moving to a bigger piece of land makes sense, but it seems like something that should have been sorted out before making an announcement that basically announced nothing. It seems highly unlikely they’ll be ready to play by 2020. How many years will MLS play with 23 teams?

Nashville SC

If there is a 24th team in 2019, it won’t be coming from Tennessee. The 2026 World Cup bid incorrectly stated that would be happening but The United Bid Committee issued a correction that stated a start date hasn’t been finalized. Maybe they know something we don’t and let the cat out of the bag. If they were to play in 2019, they could play in Nissan Stadium, where they drew over 18,000 fans for their debut. It’s not FC Cincinnati numbers, but it’s impressive.

In some better Nashville news, the Metro Council voted to defeat a proposal to rescind the $275 million deal to put a stadium on the Nashville Fairgrounds.

Sacramento Republic FC

For a team in the “Final Three,” Sacramento and Detroit have been very quiet. Some potential news could be on the horizon. Billionaire Ron Burkle, was seen with SRFC Chairman Kevin Nagle at a Sacramento Kings game earlier this month. Burkle is worth $2.1 billion and attempted to buy the Kings twice. He would seem to check the box that Sacramento is still missing, a secure local owner. That’s something Phoenix Rising can’t say they added since their new billionaire is from China (though owns a home in Phoenix).

Corner Kicks (all that other expansion news)

I’m going to continue to skip Power Rankings since there are supposedly only three teams in the running. It still seems Cincinnati would be first, Sacramento second and Detroit third. Phoenix makes a strong case to be considered but if Cincinnati would just lock down their stadium site it seems they would be in (despite poor Sacramento being so deserving).