Cincinnati and Sacramento anxious over second MLS expansion pick

In Cincinnati and Sacramento, where strong support for their respective USL teams made them top MLS expansion candidates, the news that MLS has announced a press conference in Nashville on Wednesday to presumably announce it as the 24th MLS team triggered lots of angst from fans in the two cities.

No announcement on the second team is expected until after the New Year, so either MLS's board of governors has made a decision but isn't telling and won't next week when the week between Christmas and New Year's isn't the time to hold a major expansion announcement or the board indeed hasn't made up its mind.

None of the 12 expansion candidates -- even Nashville -- really come close to having the support that Cincinnati and Sacramento have shown.

FC Cincinnati has shattered all attendance records for minor-league soccer -- it averaged 21,199 fans in 2017 -- and drew three crowds of greater than 30,000 for its home Open Cup games. Sac Republic FC again sold out every USL game, averaging 11,569 fans a game.

Measuring the two bids is not easy because Sac Republic FC's strength -- its ready-to-go urban stadium project as part of the Railyards development -- is FC Cincinnati's weakness -- it has been working on a plan to build a stadium in the Oakley neighborhood, which is located six miles from Nippert Stadium, the downtown football stadium owned by the University of Cincinnati where FC Cincinnati plays.

Conversely, FC Cincinnati's strength -- its ownership group led by Carl Lindner III -- is believed to be Sac Republic FC's weakness in MLS's eyes -- its local ownership group headed by Sac Republic FC chairman Kevin Nagle lacks the heavy hitters that Cincinnati, Detroit and Nashville, the other three finalists, have.

Both cities remained optimistic that they will be picked as the second expansion team and won't have to fall back into the pack and compete for the 27th and 28th MLS teams selected at a time not yet known.

In an editorial Tuesday night, the Sacramento Bee wrote that "much more is at stake for Sacramento than just bragging rights from its second major league pro sports team, besides the NBA Kings." It then listed the economic impact of the soccer stadium, which it termed a "linchpin" for the downtown Railyards development.

The Bee's editorial board added that "Republic FC fans will be sorely disappointed if there’s no expansion franchise this time around. But it’s only a matter of when MLS will be coming to Sacramento, not if," paraphrasing the words of MLS commissioner Don Garber when he came to Sacramento in April 2016 before the current expansion process kicked off.

In Cincinnati, Mayor John Cranley, who had spearheaded the funding plan needed to help FC Cincinnati with the cost of infrastructure work on the Oakley stadium, told WLW Radio on Tuesday he was “75 percent confident" FC Cincinnati would get the second expansion bid but he was "100 percent the next time around."

Falling into the consolation bracket, though, won't sooth the disappointment of Cincinnati or Sacramento fans if their city loses out.

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