HECTOR AMEZCUA / Bee file, 2012

Bee file, 2012. Mayor Kevin Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that he'd like to see two potential MLS ownership groups with local ties combine forces in an effort to lure the country's top professional soccer league to the Sacramento region.

Mayor: Sacramento, Elk Grove should join forces in Major League Soccer push

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2013 - 7:50 am

Mayor Kevin Johnson thinks Sacramento is a great fit for Major League Soccer. He apparently thinks Elk Grove would be a great spot, too.

Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that he'd like to see two potential MLS ownership groups with local ties combine forces in an effort to lure the country's top professional soccer league to the Sacramento region.

One of those groups, led by Warren Smith, is the driving force behind the lower-division United Soccer League Pro squad called Sacramento Republic FC that is scheduled to begin playing next year at Hughes Stadium. The other group, led by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, is trying to lure MLS and build a stadium in Elk Grove.

"Eventually I'd like to see (those groups) collaborate and be on the same page, and I eventually think we'll get there," Johnson said.

Davis said "we've always had an interest in combining efforts" with the Sacramento group. Elk Grove officials are negotiating with landowners to purchase property for an MLS stadium and Núñez's group is recruiting a deep-pocketed investor to help finalize its bid for a team.

"I'm really hopeful that we do end up working collaboratively," Davis said. "The offer has been and continues to be there."

The Sacramento contingent appears less willing to collaborate. Smith, who is attending meetings with USL Pro and MLS officials at the All-Star game this week in Kansas City, Kan., said MLS has said it favors "downtown, urban core stadiums" with easy access to restaurants.

"We think we need to find a way to partner (with the Elk Grove interests)," he said. "But if it means sacrificing what's right, then I won't do it."

Smith said there are "literally eight or nine" locations near downtown that could accommodate a soccer facility, including Cal Expo, the downtown railyard, the so-called Docks area along the Sacramento River and West Sacramento. He said he would focus on a stadium next year.

"Right now, I'm just solely focused on developing a brand (with Sacramento Republic FC)," he said. "The No. 1 thing they (MLS) want is a proven market."

Johnson said he would be happy if Sacramento ends up as the preferred spot for an MLS franchise. But, "if it makes even better sense to be somewhere else in our region, we all collectively win."

MLS Commissioner Don Garber told The Associated Press on Monday that league expansion is likely in the coming years.

"The league is going to expand. It's not an 'if,' but a 'when,' and it's a 'how many (teams),' " Garber told the AP. "There's lots of interest among many, many different markets, so we'll get pretty focused on establishing something firmer in the next few months."

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_lillis.

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