City Beat

Sacramento named as finalist for Major League Soccer

Sacramento’s long and anxious path toward Major League Soccer may now be in its final stretch.

The city was named Wednesday by Major League Soccer as one of four finalists for an expansion spot in the nation’s top professional soccer league. Sacramento has long been considered a front-runner for one of two spots up for grabs this year. But the news that it has made the final cut – and that a contingent representing the city’s bid will present its case to league owners next week in New York – marked a major step in a journey that began nearly four years ago.

“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” said Kevin Nagle, the chairman and CEO of Sacramento Republic FC and the lead investor in the city’s expansion bid. “After four years of demonstrating unparalleled passion, tenacity and hard work, Sacramento is ready to secure our destiny as a Major League Soccer city.”

Sacramento is joined by Detroit, Nashville and Cincinnati as expansion finalists. Representatives from all four cities are scheduled to make presentations to Commissioner Don Garber and a committee of six MLS owners on Dec. 6 at the league’s headquarters on Fifth Avenue. That committee will likely recommend two cities for expansion to the league’s Board of Governors, which is comprised of current team owners. The board is expected to vote on the winning bids Dec. 14.

MLS plans to announce the winning cities by the end of the year. Two additional expansion spots will be handed out in the future, eventually bringing the league to 28 franchises.

Nashville has emerged as a serious contender for an expansion spot, especially after the city approved a financing deal this month for a 27,500-seat soccer stadium. Detroit’s bid is led by the owners of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, and Cincinnati’s lower-division soccer team drew huge crowds this year.

“The leaders of the Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento MLS expansion ownership groups have bold visions and innovative plans for their clubs, stadiums and their involvement in their respective communities,” Garber said in a statement. “We are pleased these highly-respected business and sports leaders have been so determined to bring Major League Soccer to their cities. We have been greatly encouraged by the progress that all four of these groups have made and we are looking forward to their presentations.”

Nagle will be joined by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other team representatives in making Sacramento’s case next week in New York.

“It’s time for Sacramento to shine,” Nagle said. “It’s time to bring it home.”

Sacramento jumped ahead in the expansion race last year, when Garber visited the city and proclaimed it had “been able to check the boxes that are required.” Republic FC draws regular sellouts in the second-division United Soccer League and the team has begun pre-construction work on a privately financed soccer stadium in the downtown railyard. In addition to Nagle – who made his fortune as a pharmaceutical executive and is a part owner of the Sacramento Kings – the ownership group includes San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and local developer Mark Friedman.

“We’re going in in a very strong position,” Steinberg said. “We’re well prepared. We have addressed every single issue. We have the right market, we have the right fan base, we have the right ownership group, we have a commitment to a privately financed stadium, we have huge civic support and the support of the city’s leaders. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be successful.”

Republic FC plans to add new investors to its roster of owners. Meg Whitman, who announced in November that she is retiring from her post as the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, recently opted not to move forward with an investment in the team after agreeing to join the ownership group earlier this year.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis