Sacramento is maintaining its place as a front-runner for Major League Soccer expansion.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber mentioned Sacramento in a group of four cities that “have really been energized” in recent months as they fight for a spot in the nation’s top professional soccer league. Nashville, Tenn., Cincinnati and Detroit are also making gains, Garber said.
Speaking at a press conference before Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game in Chicago, Garber also complimented Republic FC for beginning pre-construction work at the site of a planned 20,000-seat soccer stadium in the downtown railyard.
“Sacramento putting a shovel in the ground this week was a great move on their part,” he said. “We’re all very pleased they made that commitment.”
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Garber said the league remains on track to name the next two expansion cities by the end of the year. He said the league’s owners are expected to vote on the matter at their annual meeting following the MLS Cup in mid-December.
Two more expansion slots will be awarded later and Garber said he expects the league may stop expanding at that point.
Republic FC Chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle said “the path to MLS has never been more clear.”
“We appreciate Commissioner Garber’s comments today in support of Sacramento and are now laser focused on the expansion vote at MLS Cup this December,” Nagle said. “It’s time to bring it home and deliver the MLS team our fans and community deserve.”
A committee of owners is reviewing 12 applications from cities seeking to join MLS. Garber said representatives from all 12 cities attended the All-Star Game festivities this week.
“We will conduct lots of meetings and have an enormous amount of work over the next few months to get to the next two (teams),” he said.
Sacramento has long been considered one of the front-runners for expansion, with an advanced stadium plan, a deep-pocketed ownership group, and an already large and loyal fan base following Republic FC in the second-division United Soccer League.
The team began leveling out the soil at the railyard stadium site last week, a move officials said was necessary now to finish the stadium in time for the 2020 MLS season. But the ceremonial groundbreaking event was also considered a message to the league and MLS team owners that Sacramento’s expansion bid – at least in terms of its stadium plan – is more advanced than the 11 other cities vying for a spot.
Some cities, including St. Louis and San Diego, have had stadium plans falter since submitting applications in January to join MLS. Garber said he was not concerned that more stadium plans would stumble.
“We only need two when we make that decision in December,” he said.