MLS has had relatively good success with expansion through the years. If it had not, it would not have grown from 10 teams in 2004 to 27 in 2021 and a planned 30 in 2023, tripling its size in less than two decades.
It took more than six years from when David Beckham exercised his option to field a team in Miami for Inter Miami to play its first game in 2020.
The stadium plans of expansion teams have often gone awry. Six years after it entered MLS, NYCFC has yet to settle on a site for a soccer-specific stadium.
But MLS has never suffered a setback like what happened in Sacramento. On Friday night, the league announced that lead Sacramento investor Ron Burkle has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team scheduled to begin play in Sacramento in 2023.
Sacramento became MLS's 29th team in October 2019 when a group led by Burkle, who made his fortune in the grocery business and co-owns the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, and Hollywood film producer Matt Alvarez joined lead Sacramento Republic FC owner Kevin Nagle.
Since the success of Sac Republic FC with its launch in USL PRO in 2014, it was tabbed as a hot MLS expansion candidate. An expansion effort in Sacramento quickly picked up speed, and a site for a stadium in the city's Railyards area was identified. In 2016, MLS commissioner Don Garber said it was not if but when Sacramento was awarded an MLS team.
The hang-up: finding an owner with the deep pockets needed to pay for sky-rocketing expansion fees and increased start-up costs and finance the cost of a new stadium. Other expansion groups jumped the line and were awarded teams before Sacramento: Nashville, Cincinnati, Austin and St. Louis.
Garber thought he had found his man in Sacramento, though.
"I am impressed with a guy like Ron Burkle stepping up and not having a lot of experience in soccer to come in and make the commitments he's made," Garber said at the 2019 announcement. "These commitments are totaling $400 million, $500 million. It's a far cry from where we were even just a few years ago."
Burkle's decision pull out puts MLS back to square one in terms of Sacramento, whose mayor Darrell Steinberg, for one, says the city is prepared to move forward with an MLS team.
"Sacramento’s rightful quest for Major League soccer is far from done," Steinberg said in a statement. "It took multiple stops and starts to keep the Kings. We won then, and we will win again. I am very disappointed in Ron Burkle’s decision to step out of his October 2019 public commitment to our city. Despite the difficult past year for our city, we have upheld every commitment to Mr. Burkle, the league, and our community. We took major steps to welcome Major League Soccer to a new stadium in The Railyards, and we remain prepared to move forward immediately."
Photo (L-R): Kevin Nagle, Matt Alvarez, Ron Burkle, Don Garber, Darrell Steinberg and California governor Gavin Newson.