Major League Soccer’s expansion program seems to be accelerating, although what that means for Sacramento’s expansion dreams remains to be seen.
One week after MLS said it was in advanced discussions to award a team to Minneapolis, the league said Monday it would make “an important announcement on the future of soccer in Minnesota.” The announcement will be made Wednesday in Minneapolis by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Bill McGuire, lead owner of the minor-league Minnesota United FC team that is on track for the expansion slot.
The timing is startling. A week ago, when it confirmed it was holding talks with McGuire’s group, the league said a decision would take 30 to 45 days.
What’s uncertain, though, is whether MLS is prepared to open the door anytime soon for Sacramento.
Until recently, MLS said it would stop expanding for the foreseeable future once it got to 24 teams. Miami and Minneapolis are in line to become the 23rd and 24th teams, although Miami is in doubt because the would-be owners have been unable to secure a stadium deal.
Last week, MLS said it would consider expanding beyond 24 teams, a move that would enhance Sacramento’s chances considerably. Many observers believe Sacramento is next in line for a team.
“You’ve got to believe Sacramento is right there,” said David Carter, a sports-management consultant and director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
Patrick Rishe, a sports economist and visiting professor at Loyola Marymount University, said the revelation that MLS is choosing Minneapolis this week could prompt Sacramento and other rival cities to speed up the progress they’ve made on their expansion bids. “Maybe some of the other cities – Sacramento, Miami – might feel they need to step it up,” he said.
Sacramento officials have said they’re confident they’ll get a team eventually. After hearing last week that MLS was close to a deal with Minneapolis, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said league officials have indicated that an expansion team in Sacramento is “not a matter of if, but when.”
Officials with Sacramento Republic FC, the minor-league team that’s leading the drive for MLS status, said the accelerated pace of the Minneapolis decision won’t affect their strategy.
“It’s the MLS’ timeline. We want to focus on being ready when the time is right,” said Republic FC spokeswoman Erika Bjork. Among other things, the team is trying to finalize its plans for a new downtown stadium that would be built if Sacramento gains MLS status.
How quickly MLS will decide whether to grow beyond 24 teams is still uncertain. Interviewed Sunday on Fox Sports 1, during the opening game at the new San Jose Earthquakes stadium, Garber said MLS will decide on the size of the league “sometime in the next year or so.”
Yet Garber also made it clear that he thinks there’s room for additional cities. He told ESPN over the weekend that North America “can support more teams than 24, but we’ve got to go through it in a very careful way.”
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.