MLS Names Four Finalists For Two 2020 Expansion Team Spots

It’s a December 6 battle royal between Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento franchises.

On December 6 in New York City, four Major League Soccer expansion hopefuls will stand in front of the league’s expansion committee and commissioner Don Garber and make their case to be one of two new sides slated to begin play in 2020. They’ll talk about things like business metrics (“F*ck that,” says Columbus), stadium plans and making bank. The contenders are *sound the vuvuzela klaxon please*: Mitch Hildebrandt’s Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento!

The winners could be revealed as early as Dec. 14 following a meeting between the MLS Board of Governors, but the decision is ultimately expected to come sometime before the end of the year. The two franchises selected will each pay an expansion fee of $150 million.

Nashville is considered a near certainty with the financial clout of their owners (John R. Ingram, a giant in Nashville’s business world, and the Wilf family, the owners of the Minnesota Vikings) and an approved plan for a $275 million stadium on the city’s fairgrounds.

The Wilfs had previously competed with the owners of Minnesota United FC in bringing MLS to Minnesota, but their hopes of housing the team inside the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium ultimately lost out to a ownership group that promised and delivered on an outdoor, soccer-specific stadium in St. Paul.

While the Wilfs have remedied that problem in Nashville, the same situation will probably be the doom of Detroit’s bid. Detroit’s group is led by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, but they recently announced that Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, would serve as the venue for a possible expansion franchise. With a capacity of 65,000 and a FieldTurf surface, a decision to award Detroit with an expansion franchise would go against recent wisdom from the league.

The problem for FC Cincinnati, despite all the club’s success in the USL (they had an average gate of 21,200 per match) and the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, is that they’d be the smallest market in MLS. However, the seemingly inevitable departure of the Columbus Crew to Austin, Texas, would make them top dogs in Ohio. But there’s still a lingering stadium issue with FCC, so that gives Sacramento a slight advantage. 

Sacramento Republic Stadium

Sacramento will toil the soil until it bears the fruit of soccer. Photo: @mandersonsacbiz | Twitter

Like FCC, Sacramento Republic has had huge success in the USL, averaging nearly 12,000 spectators per match this season. They’ve also got a downtown stadium plan that’s raring to go. The only real strikes against Sacramento are the existence of three MLS clubs in California already (Galaxy, Quakes and LAFC) and the fact that their ownership group is rich but not stonking rich.

With Los Angeles FC joining the league next season and David Beckham’s Miami Vice still aiming to be the league’s 24th team, December’s winners will be clubs 25 and 26 in MLS. Garber has confirmed that the league plans to expand to 28 teams in the near future.

Candidates for spots 27 and 28 include Charlotte, Indianapolis, Didier Drogba’s Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, San Antonio, The San Diego Footy McFooty Faces and Tampa/St. Petersburg. MLS has also told Columbus that they can get in line for an expansion franchise when the time is right.

We’ll see what happens in December, but remember, the real expansion team was the friends we made along the way.    

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