Officials discussing MLS expansion name many cities. The race for the next few spots could come down to Sacramento, Detroit and Phoenix. Let’s have a look at their respective bids.
Officials discussing MLS expansion name many cities. And MLS spokesmen won’t say exactly when they’ll choose the final two teams, playing by 2022.
Right now, three cities stand out as top contenders for the 27th and 28th spots. One of them, Phoenix, hasn’t often been named among the contenders. Another, Sacramento, has come close in the running more than once. And a third, Detroit, has everything an MLS expansion requires except a soccer-specific stadium.
For now, the 28th team will remain the final MLS organization.
If the league picked only one more MLS organization, that honor would go to Sacramento. They’ve got more than enough of what MLS expansion needs.
Sacramento Republic FC draws a crowd second only to MLS-bound FC Cincinnati, they come close enough in the superstar owner department that draws officials’ attention, and, very importantly, they’ve got an outstanding stadium site, so much so that additional prominent owner-candidates have come out to visit it. If Sacramento doesn’t get the 27th or 28th slot, it’s because they’ve already been given a team. And that team comes with superstar ownership who bring a complete MLS-ready structure with them.
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In Texas, Austin City Council continues to stall and delay a decision on a Precourt Sports Ventures LLC stadium to house the relocated Columbus Crew SC. The longer the stadium decision takes, the likelihood increases that the Crew moves to Sacramento, instead. That means all three cities will win MLS expansion when the league grows to 28 teams, except Sacramento gets the existing member, Columbus Crew SC.
So, how do the other two winning contenders rate? Well, let’s begin with Detroit
The Detroit MLS expansion bid has everything they need but a soccer-specific stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that point-blank after the league accepted the FC Cincinnati bid. Detroit remains steadfast in keeping Ford Field as the home pitch for their projected MLS team, but it’s the only part of their bid that isn’t perfect and it could cost them dearly.
Early on, the Detroit bid included a $1 billion, 23,000-seat open-air stadium. That plan got abandoned. The Ford family stepped in with plans to retrofit Ford Field so that if games get played there, the crowd wouldn’t even notice it wasn’t specific to their sport.
When the decisions are made on the final two teams, both MLS and the Detroit ownership team will have to negotiate a closer position to each other. The team owners, led by Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner, know sports and know how to get such a position.
They’ll have to show MLS that calling home where the Detroit Lions play isn’t a second choice. It’s a unique opportunity that will make a successful Detroit MLS team better, and probably include a retractable roof. That is their argument, at least. Whether it is convincing enough or not, remains to be seen.
The Phoenix bid for MLS expansion, meanwhile, features the gutsiest group yet among the contenders. When they weren’t satisfied with responses to their communications, they asked for and showed up at the league’s doors and got a meeting.
They’ve got a great group of investors, including Advantage Sports Union headed by Chinese hotel magnate Alex Zheng. They also have soccer legend Didier Drogba on board. They not only have a 21,000-seat stadium site picked out, but secured funding from Goldman Sachs to build it in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, near Scottsdale.
As for concerns about watching open-air soccer in Arizona, the designs cover that. They’ve got canopies, water walls, shade and maximum airflow to keep supporters cool; as for Arizona soccer culture, Phoenix Rising FC made the USL playoffs last season. The supporters are on board as well. This is a bid that is on the rise, that is for sure.
So, in the expansion plans to bring on two more teams for a total of 28, you actually get three teams: Sacramento, Detroit, and Phoenix. One thing’s for sure, the league will be greater for it.