Major League Soccer in Sacramento seems to be a few formalities away from becoming a reality following Thursday’s announcement the league would expand to 30 teams.
It’s good news for Republic FC fans: with three teams being added to the league, Commissioner Don Garber said after Thursday’s Board of Governor meeting frontrunners Sacramento and St. Louis are the only two cities approved to enter formal expansion discussions.
The discussions will involve Sacramento formally presenting the league with its stadium plans and proving that it has the necessary fan base and corporate support to hoist the city from the minors to the major league.
If all goes according to plan, Republic FC could compete in MLS by 2021 or 2022.
The team currently plays in the United Soccer League, which is considered to be one notch down from MLS, with home matches hosted from Papa Murphy’s Park in Cal Expo.
MLS play would require a larger venue.
Here’s everything you need to know about the planned stadium development.
Where would it be?
Sacramento plans to turn 240 acres of the city’s long-abandoned downtown railyard into a new hub of entertainment, commerce and apartment living.
A state-of-the-art soccer stadium would be built on 31 acres in the northeast corner of that parcel.
That stadium proposal came in January, shortly after billionaire investor Ron Burkle bought a controlling stake in Republic FC and signed a land deal to build an MLS-ready stadium.
What would it look like?
Republic FC released updated renderings of the stadium in early April.
The newest additions to the stadium plans include canopy-level seating and lookout points with views of the river and city skyline.
How many fans would it hold?
The stadium’s capacity would be about 22,000.
When would construction start and finish?
Building would start within months of MLS making a Sacramento expansion official, city leaders say.
Garber said Thursday the league hopes to have a decision for Sacramento before the end of July.
Republic FC said in a statement accompanying the renderings that the plan is to have the stadium ready to open before the end of 2021.
What would be nearby?
About eight city blocks of land in the railyard’s northwest corner were purchased by Kaiser Permanente earlier this year, as The Bee reported at the time. Kaiser’s plan is to build a major new medical center there, which would not open until at least 2025.
The stadium, hospital and additional projects by Burkle, the city and the state are all in the works, poised to give the area a major facelift over the next 10 years.
Sacramento County Superior Court is getting a new, 17-story, $490 million courthouse just north of the Amtrak Station. Funded by the state, construction is projected to finish by 2022.
There are also plans for a six-story, 300-unit apartment complex and a new light-rail station near the stadium.
How do fans feel about it?
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Thursday that he’s “over the moon” about the announcement, which comes a little more than a week after Sacramento City Council voted 7-0 to approve a $33 million incentive package for the stadium.
But the Tower Bridge Battalion, Republic FC’s group of ultra-supporters, is surprisingly lukewarm on the possibility of a new stadium and MLS promotion.
Fans are burned out on MLS chatter after so many fits and starts over the years, Battalion board member Matteo Cascio said. Some want the team to move up, some don’t, and most don’t really care. Really, they just want the move to be decided, Cascio said.
Some fans are buying the MLS commitment to Sacramento more than others, noting the process has been marked by frustration since Republic FC opened play in 2014.
Morgan Murphy, who said he’s a “season ticket holder from the beginning,” called the expansion an exciting prospect.
“It’s not official that we’re in, but MLS seems to be taking Sacramento more seriously than before,” he said. “Looking forward to the redevelopment of the railyards. It will help fill in the gap between downtown and the river district.”
But Murphy also raised concerns, wondering what sponsorship deals needed to be finalized and that MLS might want more seats in the Sacramento stadium.
Another fan, Frank Lideros, said in an email to The Bee: “Sac has played by the rules, but every time we get close, the finish line moves. It seems now that we have to compete again with MLS’s request for formal bid ... Don’t be surprised when two other cities get bids before Sacramento. Frankly, MLS has disrespected us by continuing to drag out the process.”
While Cascio did say that the new stadium would be good for the city as a whole, Republic FC’s most ardent fans will show up regardless of where in Sacramento the team plays.
“We’re super excited about our current team. That’s the message from the Battalion,” Cascio said. “We’re here to support our guys on the field. Whether it’s in the USL or at Southside Park or at a shiny new stadium downtown, Tower Bridge Battalion will be there every step of the way.”