If the push to get into pro soccer is driven by the desire to get a seat at the negotiating table for one of the four remaining MLS expansion spots, more than a few groups are going to be
disappointed. There are far more interested bidders than spots -- and that was before announcements in St. Petersburg and Raleigh on Tuesday that the Rowdies and North Carolina FC (the former
RailHawks) had entered the race.
MLS expanded from 10 teams in 2005 to 20 in 2016. Atlanta United and Minnesota United are both set to begin play in 2017, and LAFC is targeted to enter
MLS in 2018. David Beckham
's Miami group will get the 24th team -- if it ever secures a stadium deal.
Since its successful launch in 2014, the USL's Sacramento Republic FC has been
the front-runner to nail down the first of the remaining four spots to get MLS to 28 teams, and it now has approval from the Sacramento city council to build a $226 million soccer stadium in an old
San Antonio has been considered an expansion candidate for several years, and San Antonio FC entered the race last year when SS&E, which owns and operates the NBA’s
San Antonio Spurs, launched a USL team and moved it into the NASL Scorpions' Toyota Field.
But such is the speculative nature of the expansion race that the city of San Antonio and Bexar
County, which split the cost of buying Toyota Field, has an agreement with SS&E that the latter will pay a "claw-back fee" -- a penalty, in essence, if no MLS team is secured for Toyota Field.
What changed the expansion landscape in 2016 is the emergence of heavy hitters backing ventures in St. Louis (SC STL representing prominent St. Louis sports owners) and Detroit (Detroit
Pistons owner Tom Gores
and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert
Then out of nowhere came FC Cincinnati, which shattered all USL attendance records in its first year and
recently was graced by a visit by MLS commissioner Don Garber
, a sure sign its effort is being taken seriously.
San Diego, Nashville, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Phoenix,
Indianapolis and Austin have also been mentioned as possibilities, putting the total of potential bidders at 15 -- for four expansion spots.