Soccer chief does not mention Sacramento as an expansion site

Major League Soccer has a long list of cities seeking to join its ranks. Sacramento and its emerging professional franchise apparently have some work to do before making the roster of serious contenders.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber did not mention Sacramento as one of the cities competing for an expansion team during his State of the League address Tuesday from New York’s Google offices.

What’s more, a map that appeared during Garber’s speech showing current MLS cities – as well as a handful of cities that have been mentioned as potential future MLS markets – did not include Sacramento.

Warren Smith, the president of the newly formed Sacramento Republic FC, has said it is his goal to be awarded an MLS expansion franchise here in 2016. Republic FC will begin play next spring in the USL Pro league – the league that has produced five of the last seven MLS expansion teams.

Smith said he wasn’t surprised or discouraged that Sacramento wasn’t mentioned by Garber.

“If I were them I wouldn’t mention us, either,” Smith said following an event at midtown’s Hot Italian restaurant during which the team’s first signed player, midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, was introduced. “We haven’t played a game. Talk is cheap.”

Orlando, Fla., and New York City have recently been awarded new franchises, pushing the league to 21 teams by the 2015 season. Garber said he wants MLS to expand to 24 teams by 2020 and said the league is in discussions with groups in Atlanta and Miami.

Should Atlanta and Miami be awarded teams, that would leave Sacramento to compete with at least five other cities trying to attract what might be just one remaining expansion franchise. Garber did leave the door open to the league expanding beyond 24 teams.

During a question-and-answer period with reporters, Garber talked about the possibility of placing teams in Minneapolis, San Antonio, Austin, Texas, and St. Louis. Indianapolis and Pittsburgh have also been mentioned as potential suitors.

“It needs to be proven that this is a market that can support (pro soccer),” Smith said. “I know we can compete with all those cities that are in a dialogue. The best way we do that is to play on a full pitch (a 120-by-80 yard field), get 6,750 fans per match and just have a lot of fun doing it.”

Republic FC’s stadium at Cal Expo, which has yet to be built, will include a 120-by-80 yard field and room for 8,000 fans. The team has signed up 2,500 fans for season tickets and has set a goal of averaging 6,750 fans per match for its 14 league home games and other “friendly” matches.

Garber did provide an indirect boost to Sacramento Republic FC’s effort by saying the “downtown formula” for stadiums has worked well for MLS. “It’s hard to imagine that we would go into a market where we don’t have that scenario,” Garber said.

Currently, a group headed up by former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has been in discussions to build a stadium in Elk Grove in an attempt to lure MLS to a facility 20 miles south of downtown Sacramento.

Smith has said he wants to build a stadium in the urban core and has eight potential sites in mind, including the vacant downtown railyard and land along the Sacramento River.

“Downtown facilities work for multiple reasons,” Smith said. He said downtown stadiums are particularly attractive to 18- to 34-year-olds, a key demographic of professional soccer supporters.