In a startling move that could accelerate Sacramento Republic FC’s entry into Major League Soccer, the league announced Saturday that it plans to add four more teams.
Although the league didn’t establish a schedule for expansion, the announcement that it plans to grow to a total of 28 teams would appear to strengthen Sacramento’s bid for a slot.
Just two days ago, MLS Commissioner Don Garber in effect announced that Sacramento would have to be patient. He said Republic FC would have to wait for Miami, which has been awarded the league’s 24th spot, to put together a plan for a stadium before the league would consider applications from other cities. Miami and its lead investor, retired soccer legend David Beckham, have struggled for two years to get a stadium development going.
The situation began to change radically Friday. Beckham’s group announced that, after three unsuccessful tries, it had signed a contract to buy land for a privately financed MLS stadium. MLS owners, meeting the day before the MLS championship game in Columbus, Ohio, announced their support Saturday for the Miami site.
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With Miami finally getting on track, league owners turned their attention to the next phase of expansion. The league’s board of governors, consisting of team owners, voted Saturday to expand to 28 teams “with a process and timeline to be unveiled at a later date,” the league announced.
The league announced last spring that it would consider expanding beyond 24 teams, but Saturday’s decision by the board of governors is the most definitive statement yet about the league’s growth plans.
The “path to MLS became clearer today,” Republic FC managing partner Kevin Nagle said on Twitter. “More to do but we are one step closer to reaching our goal.”
Garber has been clear that Sacramento, thanks to the remarkable fan support for minor-league Republic FC, was a serious candidate for a spot once the Miami situation was clarified.
“Sacramento will be very high on our list of next clubs to come into the league” when the next phase begins, he said during a conference call Thursday with reporters.
Saturday’s announcement made no mention of Sacramento or any other cities that have expressed an interest in a team, such as St. Louis and San Antonio. But Sacramento is widely considered to be a top candidate. The City Council last week approved a nonbinding term sheet on a $226 million privately financed stadium in the northeast corner of the downtown railyard. The parcel is controlled by developer Larry Kelley, a Republic FC minority partner.
“There is no shortage of demand for MLS expansion teams and we believe the opportunity exists to grow beyond our current plans,” Garber said in a news release Saturday. “We will evaluate how to grow the league to 28 teams and establish a process and timeline for future expansion.”