Tuesday was the deadline for prospective ownership groups to submit formal applications to apply for one of four MLS expansion spots. In total, twelve cities threw themselves into the ring to be added to the top tier in American and Canadian soccer.
A Dozen Cities Officially Apply for MLS Expansion
Here are the 12 cities that are vying to become the latest addition to Major League Soccer:
Long been a favorite to land a team thanks to the success of FC Cincinnati’s opening season in the USL, the Queen City formally submitted their application early Tuesday afternoon. FC Cincinnati took the USL by storm by leading the league in average attendance in their first ever season. They had a visit from Don Garber in November, which usually bodes well for getting an expansion team.
Sacramento is a favorite right up there with Cincinnati. Sacramento Republic were the attendance kings of the USL before Cincy showed up, and they also hosted Garber in a town hall setting earlier in 2016. They also submitted their bid early on Tuesday. It appears that the Republic brand is no longer included in the bid, however. This could hurt their chances, but the hunger for MLS is still in the city regardless.
St. Louis has been a bit of a roller coaster of late with their stadium situation dying in the legal system and then coming back to life multiple times. With the NFL’s Rams having left town, there is a sporting vacancy in the Gateway City that MLS could certainly fill. Headed by the ownership group of the USL’s St. Louis FC, the club is hoping to secure some downtown real estate for a stadium, but has been blocked by the actions of Missouri’s incoming governor, who won’t use state funds to build a stadium for rich businessmen.
The NASL’s Carolina Railhawks were rebranded as North Carolina FC and are aiming at getting into Major League Soccer. Owner Steve Malik’s bid came in later on Tuesday afternoon. They hope to have more information on their stadium within the next couple of weeks, but previous reports have indicated they are looking to replace the current WakeMed Soccer Park into a legitimate MLS facility.
Detroit is unique among the list of bidders in that they do not have a professional soccer team already in the city. Detroit City FC spent last season breaking attendance records in the amatuer NPSL, and that has many believing the MLS would do quite well there. Billionaire Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores submitted their bid Tuesday evening. A lot of their success will be if they can convince Wayne County to sell the site an unfinished downtown jail to them in order to build their stadium.
Nashville doesn’t have a professional team, yet, but Nashville SC is joining the USL in 2018. Their bid also came in Tuesday evening, although they haven’t announced many details on it. Mayor Megan Berry and the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee have a plan to build a soccer specific stadium on the Nashville Fairgrounds.
The chairman of the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, Bill Edwards, submitted his bid on Monday. The Rowdies plan includes a spectacular looking renovation of Al Lang Stadium, where they currently play, that would bring it up to MLS standards. The main thing working against them is the failure of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, one of the original MLS teams.
The San Antonio bid is spearheaded by the ownership group of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. They purchased the San Antonio Scorpions of the NASL and rebranded they San Antonio FC before moving to the USL last year. Their stadium plan is focused around expanding their current home of Toyota Stadium. If they are accepted, there would be three Toyota Stadiums in MLS and two in Texas alone.
Charlotte’s bid was submitted on Tuesday, but only after being revived from the dead multiple times. They don’t have the support of any local governments, but prospective owner, Marcus Smith, CEO Speedway Motorsports, submitted a bit anyway. He has some private funding, but still needs to convince the city to give him some money.
Phoenix is a relative newcomer to the MLS expansion discussion. Their bid is led by Phoenix Rising FC of the USL. They have the support of many local business leaders and politicians and a plan to build a privately funded climate controlled soccer stadium. Our own Roy Emmanuel sat down with their owner Berke Bakay last month to talk about the club and its ambitions.
Also fairly new to the scene, San Diego is the other city that has no professional team nor an expansion team coming. Mike Stone is the leader of their possible ownership group and has a plan for a 30,000 seat stadium at the site of Qualcomm Stadium, the former home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.
The last bid to come out of the woodwork was that of the NASL’s Indy Eleven. The Eleven are one of the more positive stories to come out of the troubled second tier league this year. They let the league in attendance and their owner, Ersal Ozdemir, has his sights set on the top. They have a fancy looking 20,000 seat stadium proposed for downtown Indianapolis, but there’s no news on how it would be funded.
Stay tuned to Last Word on Soccer throughout the coming days as we take a good, hard look at each of these cities and assess their chances of landing a franchise.