Soccer

MLS still has questions about Sacramento, other possible expansion teams

Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott answers questions during a September news conference in Sacramento with representatives from the city, Downtown Railyard Venture LLC, Think Big and Sacramento Republic FC.
Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott answers questions during a September news conference in Sacramento with representatives from the city, Downtown Railyard Venture LLC, Think Big and Sacramento Republic FC. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Major League Soccer owners spent hours discussing the possibility of awarding an expansion team to Sacramento or some other city Saturday, but concluded that they still have unanswered questions about each candidate.

The MLS board of governors, meeting in Hollywood on the eve of Sunday’s MLS Cup championship game, got its first extended briefing from its expansion committee on the candidacies of Sacramento, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. Emerging from the meeting, Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said the league wants to meet again with each of the bidders in the next few weeks to answer “questions and issues that we identified with each of the proposals.”

Although the league had already said it wasn’t going to make a final decision on expansion at Saturday’s meeting, the announcement of additional meetings with investors from each city indicates MLS officials still have a ways to go before making up their mind.

Abbott said MLS still intends to stick to the timetable set out Tuesday by Commissioner Don Garber: to make a final choice in the first six months of 2015. The league said it expects to announce “a final selection process for this expansion round” before too long.

Abbott confirmed earlier reports that two teams, not one, could be awarded. That depends on what happens with soccer legend David Beckham, who has been awarded a franchise for Miami contingent on building a new stadium. Beckham’s efforts have stalled, and Garber said last week he was growing impatient with the Miami situation.

“If we cannot move forward in Miami, does it create another opportunity? While it would, we’re not contemplating not getting a deal done,” Abbott said. He added that MLS hasn’t given Beckham “a firm deadline.”

None of the representatives from Sacramento, Minneapolis or Las Vegas made presentation to the board of governors. Owners of Sacramento Republic FC, the minor-league club that's bidding on the city’s behalf, arrived in Los Angeles late Saturday and pronounced themselves ready to entertain more questions from MLS officials.

“They’re going to continue to do due diligence, like any business would,” said Republic FC lead investor Kevin Nagle, who chatted briefly with Abbott in the lobby of the MLS headquarters hotel in Hollywood. “We’re prepared to answer any question that they have for us.”

Nagle and team founder Warren Smith planned to chat up team owners and league executives at Sunday’s game, where they will be joined by Mayor Kevin Johnson. Their goal is to describe Republic FC’s first-year success while expanding on the team’s plans to build a privately financed stadium at the downtown railyard.

“These are the people we hope to do business with for a long time,” Smith said. “It's a great opportunity.”

Republic FC fans were well represented in Hollywood: 40 members of the Tower Bridge Battalion in full Republic regalia showed up at the MLS hotel in the early evening and exchanged high-fives with Nagle and Smith.

“We want to make sure (MLS executives) know there are fans behind the Republic,” said Battalion member Juan Aguayo. “I don’t see anybody here from Minnesota or Las Vegas.”

Bill McGuire, owner of the one of the competing groups from Minneapolis, was in the lobby but declined to speak to The Bee. The other Minneapolis group, led by the owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, was expected in town, as was the lead investor from Las Vegas.

MLS officials said the board of governors also heard an update from a fourth city seeking a team, San Antonio. But it seems clear that Sacramento, Minneapolis and Las Vegas are in the lead.

Abbott declined to label those three cities as “the finalists,” but he said, “Clearly they’re the markets and the ownership groups that we’ve spent the most time with.”

The championship game, to be held at noon at StubHub Center in suburban Carson, features the Los Angeles Galaxy against the New England Revolution.

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

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