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MLS Expansion Update: Cincinnati is in, Miami, Phoenix, Detroit, Austin/Columbus, Nashville, Sacramento, San Diego, Louisville

We all know the Cincinnati news, but there is a lot of news on the other teams trying to get into MLS.

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Courtesy of FC Cincinnati

It’s been two and a half months since we’ve brought you an update on MLS Expansion and a lot is happening. FC Cincinnati are in and supposedly there are only two slots remaining for everyone else that is interested in getting in. Before we get to all that, you may want to catch up on past news before diving in.

  • March (Timeline, Phoenix, Columbus/Austin, Miami, Sacramento)
  • 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)
  • For all of our expansion coverage, bookmark this page.

FC Cincinnati

Let’s start off with the obvious. After what seemed to be inevitable with the snubbing of the Sacramento Republic FC back in December, MLS announced FC Cincinnati would join MLS in 2019 -- ahead of fellow expansion teams Nashville SC and Miami. Despite the announcement coming at the end of May, apparently the league told Cincinnati a month prior during their visit to Los Angeles FC. The team announced they had already been preparing for the transition by designing a training facility and other infrastructure needs.

The deal is essentially as Sports Illustrated had it in early April. There is $33.8 million in public infrastructure in the West End location (less than they could have gotten for the Oakley site). FCC (I hate that abbreviation) will pay out $25 million in property taxes, replace the high school where the stadium is being built ($10 million) and they promised another $15 million in affordable housing. The stadium will be 21,000 seats (well below Cincinnati’s attendance numbers) with the ability to expand up to 28,000+.

As always, not everyone is happy with the idea of there being any sort of public funds used for a stadium, especially in Cincinnati where they were fleeced for the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds stadiums. There is a petition to put it up for a vote in November.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has lots of good coverage that I want to highlight, even if it’s not “expansion news.”

Overall Don Garber Expansion Update

First, there is no current timeline for teams 27 and 28. However, Garber did give a general update and he indicated “conversations were ongoing with Sacramento and Detroit.” He went on to say:

“Very productive discussions with Sacramento, as well as in Detroit where we’re working with that ownership group on possible modifications of Ford Field that could, perhaps, make that city more MLS ready than it is today.

”There’s a lot of engagement going on in San Diego. Recent news out of Las Vegas, who has a thriving USL team and their mayor reached out to us very recently. San Antonio remains on our list and we have great respect for what the NBA ownership team has done there. So there remains a lot of interest in MLS and we’ll continue to get back to work and figure out what the next steps are.”

Completely left out were Indianapolis, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, or Tampa/St. Petersburg. So Vegas, who weren’t in the original 12, are getting more discussion than the five above cities. That seems bad for those sites. Then again, all it takes is a billionaire and a stadium (from the MLS perspective preferably with some public assistance and downtown) to be back in the conversation.

Sacramento Republic FC

The big losers in Cincinnati getting into MLS has to be Sacramento (or Columbus, more on that in a bit). However, they don’t seem to be distraught. Kevin Nagle the lead investor who is seeking an additional primary investor, said the following after the Cincinnati announcement.

“This announcement does not impact Sacramento’s ability to join MLS. We remain in regular communication with the league and commissioner Garber and are working around the clock to secure a new lead investor to finalize our bid.”

Additionally, in other stories Sports Illustrated had indicated the team is still likely set to gain expansion once they find their new billionaire owner.

Speaking of new owners, the famous plastic surgeon behind Extreme Makeover, Garth Fisher has joined the ownership group. But he’s not a billionaire.

Miami, FL

Oh Miami... will they ever figure this out? When we last left Miami they had moved from the Overton site as their locked in stadium location to considering “five or so sites.” Their top site of choice, the public Melreese golf course. But according to the Miami Herald, David Beckham’s group has been dragging their feet so much they won’t get on the August ballot and instead will have to attempt to get on the November ballot (a ballot which already has 13 state constitutional amendments plus a host of city ballot questions).

Supposedly Miami was the 24th team, but they’ve been usurped by Cincinnati. As recently as June of 2017, they said they would be ready to play by 2019. Now Cincinnati is joining in 2019 and Miami is supposedly coming in with Nashville in 2020. That seems unlikely at this point and really opens the door for another team to come in with Nashville.

If Miami does go back to Overtown for their site, they had a nearly million dollar payment due on June 8th that they were trying to postpone because of a pending lawsuit. As of this writing, it’s unclear if they’ve made that payment.

In other, probably less important Miami news, the Miami team that may never step on the field has registered some potential names. The list includes: Miami Freedom Football Club, Miami Freedom United, Miami Freedom FC and Miami Freedom. I need logos and colors, but I’m not initial blown away.

Phoenix Rising FC

Tim Riester, one of the many PRFC owners, sat down with 12 News to talk about MLS Expansion. Some of the topics covered include time frame for expansion, their new Chinese billionaire owner and the stadium plan being approved by MLS. Speaking of the stadium, they have a 70-year deal on the land. They are two-years in but they have an option to leave after five-years if they want. Tim advised they could put the shovel in the dirt within two weeks if approved for expansion. Riester also advised they want to build another 20 fields both for training, their academy and for other youth teams.

Nashville SC

While Nashville are set to join the league in 2020, there are still potential roadblocks. The Tennessean reports that Metro Councilman Steve Glover has introduced a proposal to scrape giving NSC 10 acres of land on the fairgrounds site, where there is a stadium plan in place. Glover has long been against the plan and was one of six dissenting votes when the plan passed 31-6 last November.

Glover’s objections came as the 10 acres was originally allotted for a new events building and expo center but instead will be owned by the Ingram’s and used for “mixed use development.” The other buildings would still be built, just further away from the stadium. The meeting to vote on the change was on June 12th and it passed.

In actual soccer news, former Liverpool executive Ian Ayre has been announced as CEO of Nashville SC.

Detroit, Michigan

The other team in the final four that was left out with Sacramento are Detroit. The cities name is still on the lips of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, but apparently their switch to Ford Field instead of a soccer specific stadium downtown doomed their bid this round. At the Cincy announcement Garber had this to say:

“In many ways, they have come together to retrofit Ford Field, which could make it very MLS-ready; and they can talk about what those ideas might be, but they were really front runners when they were looking at the jail site.”

The jail site is downtown and soccer specific. I said it at the time they announced it, that it felt like a switch to get their bid finalized by the deadline and it ultimately hurt them. The goal posts got moved several times for Cincinnati so one wonders why billionaires Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores stayed so quiet instead of pushing forward their site. If they return to the jail site plan, they would appear to be “front runners.”

Columbus Crew // Austin, TX

While this is technically not expansion news, the last time a team moved in MLS, an expansion team was later granted to the city losing the team. So I’ll make this quick.

With the move to Austin looking more and more likely, some people believe Cincinnati coming in as a new rival is a boon to Columbus but I tend to think they will be looked at as a replacement. I forget where I saw it, but someone said FC Cincinnati should buy the Crew brand and make them their USL affiliate if (when) they get moved to Austin. Harsh!

San Antonio FC

The actual story is behind a paywall, so I’ll just link you to Reddit instead, but the idea that San Antonio FC could join Liga MX has been brought up. It’s an interesting move since San Antonio is likely being snubbed by the whole Columbus to Austin situation. That could be quite the development.

San Diego, California

The San Diego Union Tribune is reporting that come this November, San Diego residents will finally get to vote on if they will get a new MLS stadium. The catch is, there appear to be two ballot measures, one belonging to San Diego State University that is for a football field. They would like to have an MLS team too, but there is a seperate initial from Soccer City, the group behind the San Diego MLS bid.

The author professes to love soccer but then quotes Stanford economist Roger Noll that 10-years from now MLS will “meet the same fate as the top-level American soccer league from 1969 to 1984.” That fate was going out of business.

Louisville City FC

Louisville officials approved $30 million in bonding for the new soccer specific stadium project, including $24 million for land and infrastructure improvement. Additionally, the team was granted $21.7 million in financing with the expectation that they will spend $130 million on the project with $45 million headed towards stadium costs. The stadium will initially hold only 11,300 with the ability to be expanded (up to 20K) should the club be granted an MLS team. The stadium is expected to open by the beginning of the 2020 season.

While Louisville isn’t one of the initial expansion candidates of the 12 that have been in the running for the last year and a half, MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche had kind words in the Courier-Journal:

“We have been impressed by the passionate support for Louisville City FC, and we encourage soccer fans in Kentucky to continue to support their local USL club. The incredible support for the USL’s Cincinnati FC was a key reason why Cincinnati was selected as the next Major League Soccer expansion club.”

Cincinnati is a very close geographical rival and LCFC have drawn really well despite playing in a minor league baseball field. They defeated Sporting Kansas City’s B-Team, the Swope Park Rangers, in the 2017 USL Cup Final.

North Carolina FC

The News and Observer has an interview with Steve Malik, the man behind NCFC’s MLS bid and now he is open to public financing after initially advising it would all be privately financed. Outside of that, not much is happening.

Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):


With Nashville and Cincinnati in we’ll remove them from the rankings. I’m tempted to keep ranking Miami since they are never coming but it seems they have unlimited chances. So for now, since MLS hasn’t said otherwise, we’ll assume it’s the last 10 of the original 12 applicants (even though Las Vegas and Louisville are better bids than Charlotte). It will look like everyone looked up since we are dropping from 13 to 10 on the list.

1. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 1)

I just can’t bring myself to move them down. They’ve been snubbed three or four times. If they get that new owner, it would seem they are in.

2. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 6)

Having not done a ranking with all the teams since November, a lot has changed. Phoenix unveiled their stadium, added a billionaire owner and appear to be shovel ready if they get the call. Without MLS’ artificially imposed final four that PRFC were left out of, they have to be a favorite to get in.

3. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 5)

MLS still loves billionaires and Detroit have two. MLS hasn’t ruled out Ford Field, but if they would just commit to building their original downtown stadium, they’d probably pull a Nashville and skip past everyone.

4. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 8)

The fact that this went to a public vote and it was soooo far out always hurt San Diego. With no timeline for the next two (or more) teams to get in, San Diego is back in play. It seems MLS has no need to rush with the next three teams already mapped out (unless someone else leaps over Miami).

5. St. Louis FC (Previous Rank: 9)

Make no mistake, there has been zero news and you can call this cross-state bias. But fifth and down feel like they don’t matter right now. Garber didn’t mention any of them but San Antonio (and that was lip service). St. Louis is as likely as any of them to emerge if they get their stadium bid revived.

6. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 7)

A lack of news out of Tampa continues. No updates on the legal troubles of their owner either. And they haven’t been very successful in USL sitting mid-table.

7. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 10)

Getting public money could actual be good. MLS loves free money.

8. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 11)

This still isn’t happening but at least there are a couple of former Sporting KC and Swope Park Rangers on the roster (see: Soony Saad, Tyler Pasher).

9. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: LAST)

This bid was DOA, but you just never know. The people behind the bid are really rich, but they are being really cheap.

10. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 12)

As the Columbus to Austin news keeps coming, San Antonio seems increasingly less likely. The two cities are less than 80 miles apart. They both won’t get teams in MLS.

Let us know what you think in the comments.