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Sacramento Republic execs, mayor make pitch to Major League Soccer commissioner

Sacramento Republic FC fan Dapho Kingman of Sacramento waits for the start of a joint press conference with representatives from the city of Sacramento, Downtown Railyard Venture LLC, Think Big, Sacramento Republic FC and MLS in Sacramento on Sept. 19.
Sacramento Republic FC fan Dapho Kingman of Sacramento waits for the start of a joint press conference with representatives from the city of Sacramento, Downtown Railyard Venture LLC, Think Big, Sacramento Republic FC and MLS in Sacramento on Sept. 19. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Sacramento Republic FC executives and Mayor Kevin Johnson brought their campaign for a Major League Soccer franchise directly to the league’s commissioner Tuesday.

In a two-hour-plus meeting at MLS’ headquarters in New York, Johnson and three Republic FC owners gave Commissioner Don Garber the latest updates on the club’s growing roster of investors and plans for a new stadium.

The meeting “went well,” said Republic FC founder Warren Smith afterward. “A lot of details about what we’re doing.” However, he said Garber didn’t give the Sacramento group a sense of where the city stands compared to other bidders.

“It was an opportunity for the commissioner to meet the Republic FC ownership group and for us to share our vision,” Johnson said in a prepared statement released after the meeting.

It was the first time Garber had met in person with most of the Sacramento crew. The commissioner, who disclosed in April that he’s being treated for prostate cancer, wasn’t part of the MLS delegation that visited Sacramento in mid-September. Nor was he at the league’s All-Star Game in Portland in August, when the mayor and several Republic FC owners delivered a presentation.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting was Garber’s special assistant, Charles Altchek, who visited Sacramento last month with Deputy MLS Commissioner Mark Abbott. Accompanying Smith and the mayor were two of Smith’s fellow Republic FC investors, Kevin Nagle and Larry Kelley, plus stadium-finance consultant Dan Barrett and Benny Aziz of the mayor’s Think Big Sacramento task force.

Based in part on Republic FC’s stunning popularity in its inaugural season in the USL Pro minor-league circuit, Sacramento is widely believed to be running neck-and-neck with Minneapolis for an expansion team. MLS owners are expected to vote on expansion in early December.

While Minneapolis is a larger market, its bid may be hampered by the presence of two competing investor groups. Nonetheless, Garber said over the weekend that “Minneapolis is a big priority for us,” because the league has a scarcity of teams in the middle of the country.

The Minneapolis remark wasn’t brought up in the meeting with the Sacramento group, Smith said. He added that Garber’s comment makes sense geographically, and added: “I don’t think that affects us one way or another.”

The league issued a statement from Garber thanking the group for the meeting.

“They have put a great deal of time and effort into their plans to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, and it is truly a community effort. We look forward to continuing our discussions with Sacramento and other markets regarding future Major League Soccer expansion,” Garber said. Several other cities are bidding for a franchise as well, besides Sacramento and Minneapolis.

Getting an MLS franchise would require paying an expansion fee estimated at roughly $80 million. Republic FC wants to build a privately financed $120 million-plus stadium at the northern edge of the downtown railyard. Officials believe the stadium could open by 2018, which is approximately when a new MLS team would begin play.

In the meantime, Republic FC expects to add roughly 3,000 seats to its temporary home at Bonney Field, raising seating capacity to 11,000.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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