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MLS Expansion Update: St. Louis (Probably) Next, Sacramento, Charlotte, Phoenix, Las Vegas and More

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Courtesy of MLS4theLou

If you’ve never been here before, be sure to check out our extensive MLS expansion coverage. Let’s get right to it.

St. Louis, Missouri

The representatives for the ownership group hoping to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis made a 45 minute presentation to the MLS Board of Governors today at the All-Star game Wednesday. According to KSDK5’s report, partial owner Jim Kavanaugh said, “good progress, but nothing definitive.”

The Athletic is reporting that “St. Louis is expected to be approved as the next expansion team.” Random Twitter folks have it as early as today. As we reported on The Blue Testament back in April, St. Louis and Sacramento are all but in (though things may have changed for Sacramento — see below) and are expected to be announced next as the 28th and 29th teams (Austin FC, Nashville SC and Inter Miami are going to be 25th through 27th teams though I still am never sure on Miami even though they started signing players).

In that same story, MLS said they expected the announcement by the All-Star game which happened yesterday. Obviously, the game came and went without an announcement which have left some to be critical of delays from MLS.

“We had come out of a board meeting with the authority to try to finalize deals in both of those markets,” Garber told ESPN FC. “We have not yet done that. That’s not concerning to me. It just means that the investment stake required to come into MLS, that process of finalizing deals is getting more and more complicated.

“In both of those cases, you’re looking at between $550 million and $650 million in investment. When you’re making an investment like that, they take a while to close. That’s the process that we’re going through now, and it’s not remotely alarming to me or anybody else.”

According to Sports Illustrated, “multiple sources connected to the expansion process, as well as commissioner Don Garber, suggested that St. Louis is the furthest along.” On the timetable, Garber added, “we look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.” So it could be weeks or it could be months but it definitely seems like it’ll happen.

One potential hold-up for St. Louis could be lack of corporate sponsorship. On behalf of the bid Kindle Betz acknowledged the issue but was confident in saying, “we’ll get there” when referring to sponsors.

The St. Louis group continues to aim to open their new stadium and enter MLS in 2022, which is a timeline that Garber echoed.

All in all, it doesn’t seem like anything to be concerned about. Sporting Kansas City fans could have a cross-state (yeah yeah, technically SKC are in Kansas, I know) rival in no time at all.

Sacramento, California

The ownership group hoping to bring the Sacramento Republic FC to MLS from the USL Championship may have hit a slight bump in the road for what must feel like the millionth time to Sacramento fans. In Garber’s interview with SI he seemed to change his tune from the near guarantee he gave that St. Louis and Sacramento were the 28th and 29th teams.

“We are in advanced talks with [St. Louis and Sacramento],” said Garber. “They are not exclusive talks. Exclusive means we’re not talking to anybody else. It doesn’t mean anybody’s leapfrogging anybody else. We are in discussions with Charlotte, but we are also in discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis.”

We’ll get back to Charlotte in a second.

Overall, despite the quotes about a lack of exclusivity, Garber was still pretty high on Sacramento. “Both of those teams [St. Louis and Sacramento] are looking at coming in 2022, so we’ve got plenty of time for them to get their projects finalized,” Garber said.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte?!? I can’t tell you how many times in my various Power Rankings of expansion hopefuls that I put Charlotte dead last. That was when the Smith family (no relation) were the head of the bid. Now the bid is being run by new Carolina Panthers owner and billionaire David Tepper. According to the Charlotte Agenda, MLS are “very impressed” with the bid from Tepper.

It’s not all positive for Charlotte though. Part of their bid includes playing in Bank of America Stadium where the Panthers play. It’s worked pretty well for Atlanta United to have an American football stadium to play in but that apparently is giving Don Garber pause.

“We are primarily in the business of having teams that play in soccer-specific stadiums. (Tepper’s) plan does not include one,” stated Garber. Only five MLS teams don’t play in soccer-specific stadiums and strangely they are all Eastern Conference teams except the Seattle Sounders.

One possible positive for Charlotte is Tepper plans to build a new stadium in the uptown area. It’ll still house his NFL team and it’ll probably require taxpayer funds which just spells more potential delays for this bid if they plan to wait for the new stadium.

“Charlotte’s a great sports town,” Garber continued. “We’re going to continue to talk to David [Tepper] and [Carolina Panthers President] Tom Glick. We’ll [have] ongoing discussions with them to see whether Charlotte could be a good place for MLS.”

Everyone Else

At the same All-Star game where the announcement didn’t happen were representatives from Indy Eleven, North Carolina FC (Raleigh), Phoenix Rising FC, Las Vegas and San Diego. Unfortunately, there is really no news for those cities.

The only city mentioned specifically was Las Vegas, who apparently have two competing bids which is an issue St. Louis had years ago. Ultimately a third, better bid, emerged in St. Louis and the groups in Vegas will probably need to look into getting together to have a cohesive bid and better their chances.

“We have been [looking at] Las Vegas for many, many years, and now there seems to be a bit more energy,” Garber said. More bids. More energy.

As for the other teams, at least they were invited to the table. “There will be no shortage of opportunities for us to determine the right timetable to bring the 30th team into MLS,” Garber said. It sounds like nothing is imminent on team 30 and beyond.

One team not in attendance and not in the original 12 teams that applied for expansion several years back is Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville City FC are back-to-back USLC winners and are apparently interested in getting into the running. They have been “in contact” with MLS and are opening a new 11,300 seat stadium in 2020.

LCFC are probably a bit out though as they don’t have a billionaire owner and they are just an hour and a half drive from FC Cincinnati, the most recent MLS expansion team. Regardless, Insider Louisville did a good write-up on what it would take for Louisville to get in.

Power Rankings

I used to do Power Rankings everytime I wrote one of these. It’s hard to list all the candidates at this point because the field appears to be wide-open instead of restricted to the 12-bids from a few years back. Of the last few announced teams, Austin wasn’t even in contention so you just never know. Here are some quick thoughts.

1. St. Louis — I would be stunned if they aren’t next. I’ve long been high on them, even in their darkest days when the bid appeared dead.

2. Sacramento — They’ve been skipped quite a few times. If they aren’t the 29th team, that’d be really harsh. Never put it past MLS though. No need to rush a 29th team and make the league unbalanced when St. Louis could be 28th and come in with Austin (though the timeline is probably off for that).

3. Charlotte — David Tepper is the latest billionaire to fly up the rankings. It could mean they slip into the league like Cincinnati and Nashville. Or they could be like Detroit who no one even mentioned this week.

4. Phoenix — I’m a homer and I live in Phoenix. They have rabid fan support, they are the largest market of all the applicant teams, they have a stadium site and workable plan. Their only real problem in my eyes is their billionaire investor isn’t local (he’s from China), which MLS seems to prefer.

5. San Diego — San Diego is beautiful. They seem to have a solid plan. They’d have lots of in-state rivals and 40+ million people live in California so that’s a non-issue that there would be so many teams in one state. Oh and my wife is from there. More bias from me.

6. Detroit — Despite their lack of a recent mention, they still have two billionaire owners. Keep bumping up that huge expansion fee and these two guys will be able to pay it.

7. Las Vegas — They are an emerging contender. They have the Las Vegas Lights in USLC. They have the Golden Knights in the NHL. The NFL’s Oakland Raiders will move to LV next year. If that all keeps going well, no reason they can’t get a team.

8. Indy Eleven — A bid I always forget about is one that keeps hanging around. You never know when they could do something to seperate themselves.

9. Louisville — They have a rough path, but the bids below this feel like they are on life support. There proximity to Cincinnati feels like a real problem though.

10. Tampa Bay/St. Pete — Lots of ownership issues may have this bid basically out of contention. That said, they are the largest media market making a bid which is important for the next MLS contract with whatever television networks they work with.

11. Raleigh — North Carolina FC are now way down with Charlotte moving way up. You never know, Tepper could get bored. I doubt it.

12. San Antonio — Austin is in. It feels like San Antonio are out.

There are lots of cities without a very active bid like Oklahoma City that would immediately plug in ahead of the bottom few teams if they got serious. It really depends how high MLS Expansion goes. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes has the number 40 in his head for expansion. If that’s the case, most of the above cities could get in (at least the top eight or nine) and then some new cities would have to emerge.