NASL, USL, MLS & CanPL Expansion News & Rumors Tracker – July 2016 Edition
League expansion news and rumors pop up regularly and it is hard to keep track of who said what, where and when. Midfield Press has created the News & Rumor Tracker as a monthly installment following the word on the web about possible future NASL clubs. As bonus content, we also provide rumors on USL, MLS and the proposed Canadian Premier League since much of that information comes up during our research. You can find the league expansion rumors below in that order, with the logos indicating the start of that league’s section.
June was an interesting month for expansion rumors. The North American Soccer League was quieter than expected considering the buzz around the June Board of Governors meeting potentially being the formal induction of Chicago NASL into the league. Instead we saw more activity in the Major League Soccer and United Soccer League expansion rumor mills. The potential Canadian Premier League remains shrouded in mystery.
With a NASL Board of Governors meeting taking place in early June around the time of the USMNT’s Copa America victory over Costa Rica in Chicago, more NASL news and rumors were expected than we received last month. However, we did get a clear picture of the league’s direction through several interviews with Bill Peterson. Peterson provided a summary of league expansion status in an interview with the BBC, reiterating that NASL is in discussions with six investor groups.
“These people are very serious, and we have half a dozen instances of potential owners wanting us to go through and outline with them the processes involved in being admitted,” the NASL commissioner shared.
“We have explained to them exactly what is needed to become involved, about how we expect our clubs to engage with their local communities, local business and politicians.”
“Of those six instances of interest that I mentioned, four would be also considered West Coast. So before the end of the year we could have another club out there. That would help with our national footprint, and also help attract potential sponsors.”
Peterson told Bob Williams of the Telegraph that we may see a few of those aforementioned six investor groups backing new clubs announced by the end of the year. “There’s more than a half-dozen conversations happening right now. I can’t predict how many of those will be admitted – we’re hopeful that a few of them will be. Maybe by the end of the year, we’ll have admitted a few more teams.”
In an interview with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast, Peterson said that the hour was drawing late for clubs to be announced for 2017. Morris asked Peterson if any teams were approved at the June BoG meeting.
“We didn’t address any specific teams in that meeting. We’re in a half dozen serious discussions. I won’t handicap it or predict what is going to happen. But we’re in a half dozen really deep conversations with great ownership groups in great cities that will create a nice footprint for us in North America. We’re evaluating what it takes to close out the expansion process. After Minnesota leaves we’re at net 12 next year. We’re going to go to 18-20. We added three this year, can we add six next year? That’s the question. We have six groups and we have some other candidates that we would like to talk to. So we are going to look at what situation are we in today, let’s not make any mistakes by rushing into something, but can we start to look at the finish line for expansion? We’ll see. You have to be careful. You have to get the right owners and the right cities and make sure everything is in place before you go forward.”
Morris asked Peterson when the latest date is that a team could be admitted to the league and be ready for next year. “The window is closing quickly. There are some groups that we have already transitioned from ‘17 to ‘18. There are one or two that have some unique circumstances with people in their group that you would be confident that they can get it done, but the window is going to close pretty quickly.”
Peterson told Morris that only one of the six potential ownership groups is from outside the United States. “We had a couple teams that came in with foreign owners, we might have a couple more that come in with foreign owners, but we also have a number of people who are U.S. citizens based here in the United States who are now interested as well.”
Peterson mentioned a 18-20 team goal for the league to the BBC, the Telegraph and the Inverted Triangle Podcast. But will that be that really be the end? Not necessarily. Peterson touched on promotion and relegation with the Telegraph. “There is a lot of promotion and relegation in football around the world. But for club owners in the US that can be a scary prospect,” said Peterson.
“There are advantages and disadvantages, and we are in discussions about it, which would not have happened a couple of years ago. If it is not for today then it might be for the future.”
Debuting NASL Teams
Puerto Rico FC
Summary: Puerto Rico FC became the newest club to debut in the North American Soccer League on July 2nd, earning a draw against Spring Season champions Indy Eleven in front of a crowd of 6.474 at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel in Bayamon. Hector “Pito” Ramos notched the club’s first ever goal, only to have it matched by a stoppage time equalizer from Indy.
As a team that has debuted in NASL, Puerto Rico FC will no longer appear on this list.
More on Puerto Rico FC: http://www.puertoricofc.com/
Announced NASL Teams
San Francisco Deltas
Summary: Led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Brian Andres Helmick, the San Francisco Deltas will debut in the 2017 Spring Season, playing out of Kezar Stadium. The club will invest several hundreds of thousands of dollars to make improvements at stadium. The Deltas have started to collect season ticket deposits on their web site.
July 2016 Update: Brian Andres Helmick spoke to the Huffington Post about the San Francisco Deltas project, and provided a status update on the club’s search for a head coach. “We are aiming to have a head coach in place by September 2016. Once a head coach is in place we will share further details about tryouts – we expect tryouts to be held beginning in October.”
“Now that we have secured Kezar Stadium as our home field, our team is working diligently to get everything in place so that we can offer fans a great game day experience when our team takes the field in 2017. The inaugural season is quickly approaching and we have a lot of work to do. Our priorities are selling tickets, stadium improvements, and continuing to build out our team.”
More on the San Francisco Deltas: http://sfdeltas.com/ and Midfield Press’ interview with Helmick.
Public NASL Efforts
Summary: Peter Wilt is leading a group including Club9 Sports set on bringing a NASL team to Chicago. Chicago NASL has identified Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field as its ideal places to play. The team solicited fan suggestions for its official name and colors on its web site, and they will narrow down the finalists and allow fans to vote on the name. The classic NASL moniker Chicago Sting is likely to be one of the options, having received a plurality of votes in the initial survey. Other fan suggestions included Chicago City SC, Municipal Chicago and Wild Onion FC.
July 2016 Update: Peter Wilt provided a status update to fans on the Big Soccer forums. When a poster stated that things were not looking likely for 2017 at this rate, Wilt replied, “Yeah….not for Spring season….and i’d prefer not going with a Fall launch if possible, which means Spring, 2018 is more likely. Lack of a venue agreement is causing the delay.”
More on Chicago NASL: http://www.chicagonasl.com/, Peter Wilt’s February 2016 AMA and Midfield Press’ interview with Peter Wilt.
Summary: Jonathan Tannenwald broke the story that the owner of the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Fury, which plays in the South Jersey suburb Glassboro, is looking to partner with investors including a La Liga club to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market. The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand. Their potential investor group reported includes members from the Dubai and Las Vegas. SD Eibar’s friendly against the Fury at Rowan University was said to be related to these efforts. While Rowan University may not be an ideal location for a Philadelphia market team, it is one that the Fury are comfortable with.
Empire of Soccer added that Fury owner Matt Driver has not yet secured the investment necessary to move to NASL and that as of their report had not been in touch with the league office about their plans.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
More on the Philadelphia Fury: http://www.furyasl.com/
NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary
Summary: Nashville is the subject of pro soccer efforts by both USL and NASL groups. USL has announced Nashville FC as a 2018 expansion team. The NASL group is being led by former Tennessee Economic and Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. “Nashville has reached the point as a sports market where it is ready to support a high-level professional soccer team,” Hagerty said. “We are engaged in discussions to create an ownership group to bring top-tier professional soccer to Nashville. I look forward to an ongoing discussion about what is best for Nashville and its professional sports future.”
NASL has officially come out in support of expansion to Nashville. “We absolutely believe Nashville would be a great fit for the NASL,” NASL spokesman Neal Malone said. “It’s home to a robust soccer community and it has a reputation for being an excellent sports city. We feel that there would be a lot of support, and you see that already with Nashville FC.”
Ultimately who wins the USL-NASL battle for Nashville may come down to who the city supports in terms of stadium funding. “The mayor supports the growth of soccer in Nashville and is supportive of all groups that want to bring a team here,” Mayor Barry spokesman Sean Braisted told the Tennessean. “It will ultimately be up to the private sector to bring their proposals to Metro. The United Soccer League is clearly moving in that direction, and we’ll see over time if there are others interested in coming to Nashville.” USL requires a soccer-specific stadium, while NASL does not, which may allow a NASL team to beat a USL team to market.
July 2016 Update: The USL group is out in front of the PR battle for Nashville. The ownership group has acquired the brand of the local grassroots NPSL team Nashville FC and will use it moving forward. They provided the community owners of Nashville FC a 1% equity stake in the USL club and a board seat in exchange for the identity.
The mayor of Nashville spoke at the official unveiling of Nashville FC as the USL brand. “This is a great day for Nashville because we are a sports city and we love soccer,” Barry said, according to the Tennessean. “It’s a beautiful game that supports teamwork, skill and endurance. It’s also an international sport. For many people in the South it’s the other football, but for most of the people in the world it’s the only football.”
The Tennessean report said that the status of the Nashville NASL bid was “unclear.”
Summary: British tabloid The Sun reported that Celtic FC looked at putting a team in NASL. Boston, Detroit and Hartford were cities Celtic FC considered according to an in-the-know Big Soccer poster. Boston may be blocked due to a marketing agreement between Celtic FC and the Boston Celtics. Celtic Underground recently reported the club executive Peter Lawwell will be traveling back to the USA this summer to re-engage NASL talks. Celtic Underground’s @celticrumours twitter account mentioned hearing talk of Philadelphia and the West Coast as locations the club was eyeing.
July 2016 Update: June was a remarkable month in the history of the United Kingdom, with a majority of the voting population electing to leave the European Union. The impact of the “brexit” on Celtic’s plans to launch a NASL team are unknown. One brexit related factor that will certainly hurt is that the pound sterling dropped in value against the U.S. dollar, making the costs more expensive.
More on Celtic USA: Midfield Press’ article on the most likely landing spots for Celtic USA.
Summary: Bill Peterson confirmed in a Big Apple Soccer report that the league is in discussions with two groups in Atlanta, despite the recent demise of the NASL Silverbacks and the impending launch of MLS’s Atlanta United FC. “We have two groups interested in Atlanta,” said Peterson. “They are trying to develop a game plan and build on what occurred the last several years.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a NASL team may be coming to DeKalb County, just east of Atlanta. A group is looking at building a soccer complex that would host both a NWSL team, referred to as the Atlanta Vibe, and a NASL team, referred to as the Atlanta Chiefs. While the Chiefs brand is from the classic NASL era, its use is inadvisable in a contemporary context.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Empire of Soccer reported in their January 21, 2016 piece on Bill Peterson that several sources are telling them that Orange County is one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups. NASL Orange County rumors circulated prior to that report suggesting the musician Sting was involved with the bid, first reported on Big Soccer by a poster known to get scoops and then backed by reporter Evan Ream. However Bill Peterson denied Sting’s involvement with a NASL bid on a podcast interview with Neil Morris on WRAL.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Empire of Soccer reported in their January 21, 2016 piece on Bill Peterson that several sources are telling them that Las Vegas is one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups. A later EoS article dated January 27, 2016 includes a comment from Bill Peterson that an attempt to move the Scorpions brand to Las Vegas this past offseason was rejected by the NASL Board of Governors: “All the pieces weren’t in place,” he said. Since these comment appears to be from the same interview, it would seem Las Vegas is still in play but the Scorpions brand there may or may not be. Cosmos Country Podcast previously reported that a Las Vegas investor group was at the Board of Governors meeting in New York prior to the Soccer Bowl. Recent rumors on Big Soccer from an in the know poster suggest that USL may also be trying to bring a team to Vegas.
July 2016 Update: The most recent NASL related activity in Las Vegas was the New York Cosmos friendly versus SD Eibar of Spain in Sam Boyd Stadium. The friendly was sparsely attended, which might call into question the suitability of Sam Boyd as a NASL venue.
Single Source NASL Rumors
Summary: San Diego is one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups, according to Empire of Soccer’s January 21, 2016 article on Bill Peterson. San Diego is also the subject of MLS expansion rumors, with former San Diego Padres owner John Moores linked with a MLS bid. San Diego has also been the subject of USL rumors, with NBC San Diego reporting that a group is close to securing a USL team for 2017 to play out of Torero Stadium.
July 2016 Update: There is no news on a specific NASL bid for San Diego, however there is plenty of pro soccer expansion news in the city mostly focused on MLS and USL. Another group emerged looking to bring pro soccer to San Diego. San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler is involved in a MLS effort along with Qualcomm executive Steve Altman and FS Investors’ Mike Stone. Landon Donovan, who previously denied involvement in a USL bid on Twitter, acknowledged discussions with groups looking to bring pro soccer to San Diego. Donovan said he would love to see the city get an MLS or USL team.
NASL Rumors On Life Support
Summary: Detroit has come into focus as a target of MLS, with Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert teaming on a bid. In September 2015, a Detroit expansion group presented at the NASL Board of Governors meeting alongside San Francisco and OKC,according to reporter Sulaiman Foralin. Neither group appears to include the successful NPSL side Detroit City FC, which previously made its desire to move up to the pros known as exemplified in this article by Crain’s Detroit Business. Prior to launching his MLS bid, Tom Gores was reported by Detroit News to have discussed helping Detroit City FC make the leap to pro soccer. The power of the Detroit City FC movement is demonstrated by the club’s fans raising over $740,000 for the refurbishment of Keyworth Stadium to serve as a new home that will support the team’s continued growth. It remains possible that if the MLS bid succeeds and excludes Detroit City FC, that the NPSL club could still go pro in the NASL.
July 2016 Update: Detroit City’s Northern Guard supporters group made its feelings on the club’s pro soccer options known in a Facebook post in May responding to the emergence of Gores-Gilbert MLS bid: “The NASL is probably the least-bad option, since at least it’s a collection of actual clubs that seems to be more open to our particular brand of supporter & club culture. But the MLS has begun to snap up the under-served major media markets that the NASL used to thrive on. If it can survive until cord cutting makes the concept of “media markets” obsolete it might have a chance, but we’d hesitate to be the drowning man who grabs an anchor, hoping it will keep him afloat.
“So, our ‘We’re fine in the NPSL, thanks’ mindset isn’t hipsterism or reverse snobbery. It’s an honest appraisal of where things stand in American soccer leagues…”
No Longer Appearing On The NASL Rumors List
- Graduated: Miami FC. Rayo OKC. Puerto Rico FC.
- Transferred: Hamilton, Ontario (to CanPL).
- Flunked Out: Hartford City FC*. New York United FC. LA Aztecs.
*It is worth noting that Hartford City FC has a new owner with intentions of launching the team. It is more likely that launch will be in a lower level league such as NPSL, PDL or ASL. We will keep an eye on this development in case it becomes something more.
The United Soccer League continues to expand at a pace that puts the original North American Soccer League to shame. The league presently sits at 29 teams and seemed poised to end up in the mid-to-high 30s next season. With Reno 1868 already on deck for next year and the Austin Aztex looking to return, Nashville was the first in what may be a series of USL expansion announcements in the coming months. Beyond those, you will find 10 other possibilities for USL expansion below.
However the most interesting USL rumor pertains to Boise. The implications of the article on USLsoccer.com are that Portland may be looking at a second USL affiliate based in Boise. Portland already has T2, playing in the same city as its parent. No MLS team has two USL affiliates at this time. There has been talk of USL seeing Division Two status with the USSF. Could we be seeing the beginnings of a multi-tier minor league system similar to baseball, where MLS teams might have one D2 affiliate and another D3 affiliate across two tiers of USL? Stay tuned.
Announced USL Teams
Summary: Reno 1868 will start play in 2017. The club is owned by billionaire Herb Simon, who also owns the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Sacramento Republic FC recently played a friendly in Reno against the Liverpool FC U-21s before a crowd of 6,287 at 1868’s future home of Greater Nevada Field.
July 2016 Update: Reno signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose will run all aspects of Reno’s soccer operations, making the partnership look more like Houston Dynamo’s arrangement with Rio Grande Valley than a traditional MLS-USL affiliation. Reno will still handle the business side of its operation.
More on Reno 1868.
Summary: Technically not an expansion team, the Austin Aztex are on-hiatus from USL for 2016 due to flood damage to House Park. The Austin Aztex continue to work on their 2017 USL return, eyeing a potential stadium partnership with the rugby team the Austin Huns.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
More on the Austin Aztex.
Summary: DMD Soccer has been awarded a USL franchise for 2018 contingent on acquiring a soccer specific stadium. The DMD group includes investors with ties to health care companies including Marcus Whitney, chairman of Nashville FC, David Dell president and COO of LifePoint Health and Christopher Redhage, co-founder of ProviderTrust. A NASL group is also looking at placing a team in Nashville (see NASL Nashville entry above).
July 2016 Update: The Nashville USL group acquired the brand of NPSL team Nashville FC in exchange for a 1% stake in the club and a seat on the club’s board. Chris Jones will serve as the GM of the Nashville FC USL club.
Nashville FC previously indicated an interest in moving up to pro soccer in a recent interview with Midfield Press.
More on Nashville FC.
Rumored USL Teams
Birmingham: Scratching The Pitch reported Birmingham, Alabama as a potential USL city along with their own rumors on Nashville and San Diego USL teams. The site reported that a link between the Birmingham Hammers NPSL team and the USL bid is not evident.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Boise: Boise is another spot rumored for USL by a Big Soccer source that reported USL’s Nashville interest before the Tennessean story broke.
July 2016 Update: The truth to that rumor revealed itself in an article on USLsoccer.com covering a match between T2 and Swope Park Rangers in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise.
Idaho is considered Timbers “territory” in MLS terms, and the club already has partnerships with youth programs in the state. Portland executive Gavin Wilkerson shared the club’s plans to develop the Idaho market further: “We want to look at a way to eventually have more games in Boise and in Idaho and then eventually will the league, will USL, allow us to have another team there? Is it a viable business decision? These are questions that we’ll be asking ourselves. This is definitely a trial match. It has many, many purposes and we’re very happy with the initial response.”
“We’re at the exploratory phase of going down this path,” Wilkinson said. “There’s conversations with the USL. There’s conversations about how we could be involved if we weren’t able to run the USL team in Idaho. What we’re looking at, in all honesty, is we’re exploring all avenues and all options.”
Cleveland: Message board rumors should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Cleveland could follow on Cincinnati’s heels in USL, if rumblings from two local area posters (1, 2) on Big Soccer are to be believed.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
El Paso: MountainStar Sports Group is reportedly working to bring a USL team to El Paso. MountainStar owns the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team as well as FC Juarez across the Mexican border.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Fresno: “I really think Fresno is ready for professional soccer,” said Scott Alcorn, former coach of PDL Fresno Fuego told the Fresno Bee in July 2015. “It’s something that has never been done in the Valley. Pro soccer would be something that’s totally new, and I think we’re ready for that.”
“The USL has asked us for the last eight years if we want to move up to the next level, but it hasn’t been in our best interest given the economic challenges of 2008 through 2012,” Fuego GM Jeremy Schultz told the Bee. “It wasn’t time for us to make that move. But over the last couple years the Fuego has been profitable, which is a great accomplishment.”
“You look at some of the cities where soccer is flourishing, and I really believe Fresno has the fabric of a soccer town,” Schultz said.
“It’s ingrained in us. We kind of grow up with a little chip on our shoulder how we’re viewed in this state, and I think that mentality is perfectly suited for soccer.”
The article stated that the hold up over a potential move to USL is the club’s ownership structure.
Las Vegas: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March that the USL was interested in bringing a team to Cashman Field in Vegas. USL spokesperson Brett Lashbrook told the Review-Journal that there was a precedent of minor league baseball and USL sharing a stadium. The Las Vegas 51s AAA team is looking to move out of Cashman into a new stadium.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
LAFC2: Scratching The Pitch suggested the Orange County Blues might turn into LAFC2. LAFC2 was also reported by an in-the-know Big Soccer poster. Whether they are a new team or a rebranding of the OC Blues, LAFC2 could start next year, ahead of the parent club’s debut in MLS.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
San Diego: NBC San Diego reports that USL is close to awarding a San Diego franchise to start in 2017 playing out of Torero Stadium. Scratching the Pitch and an in-the-know Big Soccer poster previously reported recent USL’s interest in San Diego.
July 2016 Update: The idea of a USL team in San Diego received a vote of confidence from Landon Donovan. “If I can be a part of that, it would be tremendous,” he said to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I would love to see this area have a USL (United Soccer League) team or MLS team. This is a crazy soccer market.”
Donovan was previously linked to an ownership role in a San Diego USL team, but then denied those rumors on Twitter. Donovan recently acknowledged discussions with groups that want to bring MLS to San Diego. The US soccer legend recently acquired a small ownership stake in EPL club Swansea City.
Tacoma: The Seattle Sounders are exploring the possibility of moving Sounders 2’s home to Tacoma. The club is working with the AAA baseball Tacoma Rainiers on a plan that would see the B side relocate from Starfire Soccer Complex to a new stadium.
“There’s a group of individuals working on a soccer complex and possibly a soccer stadium,” Hanauer told Sounder at Heart. “The team is a separate issue. We’ve been working with the Rainiers, with whom we would theoretically have some sort of partnership. We haven’t talked about how equity would work. Notionally, we like the Major League Baseball model where we’d run and pay for the technical side and they’d run and pay for the business.”
“We were very curious about what would happen to the soccer market there,” said Hanauer. “We did that game down there and I remained in contact with the folks from the Rainiers. We check in every six months or so. I think we concluded at that time that Cheney [Stadium] wasn’t a good long term location, but if there was ever a possibility for a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma that it would be very interesting.”
The Sounders seem focused on Tacoma, but have also considered moving their 2 side to Boise, Everett and Spokane, according to the Sounder at Heart report.
Tucson: “We believe the time is right for the Tucson market to move up to the USL,” FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place.”
Foster told the publication that FC Tucson’s ownership has formed a steering committee to find investors to back the move to USL. “We’ve been running our PDL team like a USL team,” said Foster. “We believe we can significantly increase our footprint.”
“A USL team often has as many as four or five MLS players at a given time,” said Foster. “If we get a wholly owned affiliation, it would be a merger of our brand with an MLS franchise.”
Previously Midfield Press spoke with Rick Schantz, who signaled FC Tucson’s future intent on pro soccer.
Lower League Teams Looking To Move Up To The Pros (NASL/USL)
USL is a more likely landing spot than NASL (or MLS) for any lower league teams looking to make a move to the pros. The reasoning was explained by Chris Jones of Nashville FC (NPSL) and Rick Schantz of FC Tuscon (PDL) during our interviews with them. USL offers a lower cost of doing business, and that makes it easier to get investors capable of supporting a USL team. While some may admire NASL’s business model more in principle, the practical reality means USL is simply an easier place to launch a pro effort.
The drivers behind this lower cost model are the USL’s regional format reducing travel costs, as well as the partnership with MLS offering the potential for MLS sides to pick up some of a team’s costs by providing players on loan and operational support that can come along with an MLS affiliation.
FC Buffalo: In an interview with Midfield Press, FC Buffalo indicated that they are actively pursuing investors to help them take a step up to professional soccer, though they did not indicate whether they were interested in USL or NASL.
Albuquerque Sol FC: In an interview with Midfield Press, Albuquerque Sol FC set a target of 2018 for a move up to professional soccer. Albuquerque is more likely to go to USL than NASL due to their status as a PDL team, a league which is owned by USL. However they would not rule NASL out.
Lansdowne Bhoys: Celtic-affiliated Lansdowne Bhoys of the Bronx/Yonkers area of New York indicated an intention to go pro by 2018 amidst their US Open Cup run.
San Francisco City FC: San Francisco City FC has new investors that intend to take the team to a professional league by next year or 2018, reports Evan Ream. That league would likely be USL.
Detroit City FC and Nashville FC were covered above.
Major League Soccer’s official line is that it will continue to expand until it reaches 28 teams. We suspect MLS will top out somewhere between 28 and 32, putting it in line with the other major US sports leagues. Atlanta is set to join in 2017, with Minnesota likely accompanying them. Los Angeles FC will debut in 2018, with Miami potentially arriving at the same time. Should the Miami Beckham United group’s series of unfortunate events continue, MLS may look at have another bid replace them for 2018. Sacramento Republic FC would seem to be the most ready. This would buy Beckham two more years, as Garber has identified 2020 as the year for another round of teams.
MLS expansion announcements often come during the league’s All-Star Game, which is scheduled for July 28th. It is possible we will know the firm dates for Minnesota and Miami at that time. We could potentially see announcements for the 2020 round as well.
According to the Associated Press, Garber offered a priority ranking of MLS expansion efforts. St. Louis and Sacramento lead the hunt for the 2020 pair of berths, with Detroit, San Diego, San Antonio, Austin and Cincinnati following in that order. One would think that San Antonio and Austin would be mutually exclusive.
Announced MLS Teams
Atlanta United FC
Summary: Set to debut in 2017, Atlanta United FC is owned by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank and will share Mercedes-Benz Stadium with Blank’s NFL Atlanta Falcons. They have already signed several players including former Atlanta Silverback Junior Burgos, who is on loan to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Atlanta has setup an affiliation with the Charleston Battery of USL.
July 2016 Update: Atlanta United is ramping up to its first season in MLS and is looking to make a splash. The new MLS franchise has reportedly approached Mexican national team star Andres Guardado about becoming its first designated player.
More on Atlanta United FC.
Minnesota United FC
Summary: Minnesota United will switch from the NASL to MLS in either 2017 or 2018, with 2017 looking more likely. The club may have to change its name in deference to DC United and Atlanta United FC. The team is working on plans for a soccer-specific stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota, aimed to be ready in 2018. Minnesota may play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for a season in the likelihood it joins MLS in 2017.
July 2016 Update: Minnesota United’s St. Paul stadium was supposed to break ground in June, but the failure to secure $3 million per year in property tax exemptions has delayed the project. TwinCities.com reports that team owner Bill McGuire is unlikely to proceed with construction until the tax issue is settled. If the dispute over a tax bill between the state governor and legislature is not resolved this year, it could mean that the stadium will not be ready in time for 2018 as planned. A stadium delay would not necessarily impact Minnesota’s debut in MLS, as the club could play two seasons at a temporary venue such as TCF Bank Stadium instead of a single season as previously proposed.
More on Minnesota United FC.
Los Angeles FC
Summary: Set to debut in 2018, Los Angeles FC’s ownership is led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen, entrepreneur Peter Guber and NBA exec Tom Penn, and includes famous names such as Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, Will Ferrell and Tony Robbins among its investors. The club is building its stadium in downtown Los Angeles, on the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. A venue it controls in a location away from the Carson-based Galaxy will give LAFC a distinct advantage that Chivas USA never had as the second MLS team in the LA market.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
More on LAFC.
Summary: David Beckham’s star crossed saga to bring Major League Soccer to Miami may have had a breakthrough. Beckham’s investment group includes media mogul Simon Fuller and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. The Beckham group identified a piece of land in the Overtown section of Miami, but have balked at demands from Miami-Dade County. Previous talks with the Qatari owners of Paris Saint Germain reportedly broke down, but it appears that new investors have emerged to help Beckham achieve his long delayed goal of bringing MLS to Miami.
July 2016 Update: Sprint CEO and Miami MLS co-owner Marcelo Claure assured fans on Twitter that the Miami MLS team is getting close: “It’s coming. Final stretch. We have waited so long that now we are ironing final details.”
Don Garber also sounded positive on Miami’s chances of entering MLS in 2018 when speaking with Rob Stone on Fox Sports 1. “This is the never-ending Miami saga, Rob. But hey, as you probably read, a new investor has been engaging with David Beckham and his partners,” said Garber. “They have secured land. I think, morose than ever before, Miami is really looking like it’s going to be in our league, playing in 2018. We’ve been feeling good about it for a while, and now we’re feeling better about it than ever before.”
Sacramento Republic FC
Summary: Sacramento is the MLS bid that has it all. They have a strong fan base in USL, support of the local government, a downtown stadium plan and an investor group that includes NFL (49ers) and NBA (Kings) owners. Sacramento is the odds-on favorite for the 25th MLS expansion spot, and could debut earlier than Miami if Beckham’s group cannot get their stadium situation nailed down.
July 2016 Update: The San Jose Earthquakes’ decision to partner with Reno 1868 as its USL affiliate moving forward is seen as a prelude to Sacramento’s ascension to Major League Soccer. Sacramento would have preferred to keep the partnership going until its MLS debut, but team president Warren Smith says that they understand the move by San Jose. “I would have loved for it to continue,” Smith said. “But they’ve got needs of their own, and we’ve got to be respectful of that. They want to grow a USL team in their own way.”
Smith told the Sacramento Bee that the Republic may look to field its own USL team once it joins MLS. “Everything is contingent upon when we come into the league, if we are that fortunate,” Smith said. “Then we will evaluate at that point.”
“Ideally the best for us is to have the USL team play in a place where we could sell out the new facility (in the downtown railyards) and hopefully sell out the facility for the USL. Does that mean in the market? Does that mean in a different market? Or does that mean an affiliation?
“Right now we own an asset (Bonney Field) that doesn’t make sense for us to dispose of. So we’ll want to see how we use this to our best advantage.”
More on Sacramento Republic FC.
Saint Louis FC
Summary: When the NFL Rams departed St. Louis for Los Angeles, Major League Soccer perked up about the opportunity to bring MLS to St. Louis. The city has long been a target of MLS, dating back to when the Philadelphia Union beat out a Jeff Cooper-led St. Louis expansion bid. The MLS2STL group exploring a potential MLS bid includes the Jim Kavanaugh of the USL Saint Louis FC club, former Anheuser Busch president Dave Peacock and St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III.
July 2016 Update: The MLS2STL group has identified what they consider to be a strong ownership candidate who is currently in due diligence on starting up an MLS franchise. “I wouldn’t take the lack of fireworks to be misunderstood as a lack of activity,” said Jim Woodcock, spokesman for MLS2STL. “We’ve had a lot of discussions, a lot of progress. There’s a long, long way to go but the arrows are pointing positively. We hope that will continue in the short term.”
Woodcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the potential owner “very strong, viable candidate. That doesn’t discount the potential of other candidates coming forward or groups coming back stronger.”
“This particular ownership candidate is still in a period of due diligence,” Woodcock said. “There’s no timetable for this candidate or any candidate. … This particular ownership candidate is very financially viable, has a strong personal and professional interest. One thing that’s fair to say is this particular candidate has connections with other league owners in Major League Soccer and has some professional sports experience.
“We’re keeping the league up to date. Everything to this point is very encouraging. It wouldn’t be the wisest move to prematurely, for this candidate or anyone, get something out for keeping pace with other cities.”
More on Saint Louis FC.
Summary: Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are teaming up on a bid to bring MLS to the Motor City. The fact that Detroit is one of the largest US markets MLS is not in today and its impressive investor group means it joins Sacramento, St. Louis and San Antonio as MLS expansion frontrunners.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Former San Diego Padres owner John Moores showed interest in bringing MLS to San Diego. Moores was recently involved in a bid for Everton FC. Like St. Louis, San Diego becomes a very appealing opportunity for MLS should the Chargers leave San Diego for LA, despite MLS already having two teams in Southern California.
July 2016 Update: A new group with interest in bringing MLS to San Diego has emerged. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler is partnering with retired Qualcomm executive Steve Altman and private equity investor Mike Stone on an MLS bid.
“My interest flows from the fact that I have a lot of respect for Mike Stone because of his approach and his leadership qualities and his analytical view of things, and because we look at the sports world from a similar perspective,” Seidler said.
“It’s a public-private partnership and owners have an obligation to the fans and the community. There’s a civic component that I believe in and Mike shares and an effort to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to San Diego I think if done right could be great for the city.”
US Soccer legend Landon Donovan, who recently purchased a minority stake in EPL club Swansea, acknowledged discussions with investors interested in bringing pro soccer to San Diego. “If I can be a part of that, it would be tremendous,” he said to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I would love to see this area have a USL (United Soccer League) team or MLS team. This is a crazy soccer market.”
In terms of where the team would play, there is talk of partnering with San Diego State University on a stadium in Mission Valley.
San Antonio FC
Summary: Spurs Sports & Entertainment launched the USL San Antonio FC franchise with the express intent of bringing the team to MLS. San Antonio FC essentially replaced the San Antonio Scorpions of NASL when the county bought the rights to Toyota Field from Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman. As part of the deal SS&E made with the city and county, it will have to pay them a penalty if the team is not in MLS after six years.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
More on San Antonio FC.
Summary: Aztex owner Rene van de Zande and Bobby Epstein, CEO of the Circuit of the Americas, have been working to bring a MLS team to Austin. Austin’s inclusion in Don Garber’s recent list of MLS expansion candidates is somewhat surprising, since the city is located so close to San Antonio. Austin has struggled to keep their USL team afloat while San Antonio has a strong track record of success dating back to the Scorpions in NASL.
July 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Successful new USL franchise FC Cincinnati reached out to MLS to inquire about expansion, but was told it may take a few years. Their impressive box-office success has forced Cincinnati into the conversation for the 24-28th MLS franchise berths.
July 2016 Update: Some around Louisville City FC are starting to discuss whether FC Cincinnati may have pre-empted their MLS dreams. The league is unlikely to admit both cities. “They’re definitely in front of us in line,” said Ken Luther of the Louisville Coopers supporters group to WLKY. They have the things that the MLS are looking for. They’re a huge metropolitan market almost twice the size of ours.”
Louisville president Amanda Duffy was not as quick to concede ground to Cincy. “Well, I think there are challenges they have just as there are challenges we have,” Duffy said.
“We have to control what we can control here in Louisville. We have an exciting product, a very good product on the field and off the field and this city has really shown the loyalty that we need to have to prove it’s a professional sports market.”
For their part, FC Cincinnati remains focused on being the best USL club they can be while they wait on MLS. “We’re respectful of their process,” Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding told WCPO last month. “We wanted to state our ambitions as we launched and let it be known what our goals are, but every day since, we’ve been focusing on being the strongest USL franchise we can be. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves, but we believe if we do everything we can to be the best USL team we can, in that process, we will have established ourselves as worthy of consideration during expansion talks.”
More on FC Cincinnati.
Summary: David Beckham turned up in Las Vegas to speak in support of a Las Vegas stadium to lure the NFL Oakland Raiders, leaving one to wonder if Sin City is emerging as a backup plan to Miami. “I’m excited about what we’re doing in Miami,” Beckham said. “It’s something that I’m very committed to, something that as an ambassador of the league now, as an owner of a franchise that is going to be very special for the people of Miami, I’m excited. I’m excited for the chance of an MLS team to be able to come to Vegas, it’s special.”
Las Vegas Sands Group board member Jason N. Ader is interested in investing in a Las Vegas MLS team. MLS rejected Las Vegas bid supported by Mayor Goodman and Findlay Sports and Entertainment previously. It may be telling that Las Vegas did not appear on Garber’s prioritized list of expansion locations reported by the AP.
July 2016 Update: The National Hockey League awarded Las Vegas a new franchise to start in the 2017-2018 season. The significance of this move for MLS is that the NHL has become the first league to make the leap to Vegas. With the unspoken taboo around major league sports in the nation’s gambling hub broken, other leagues may follow. The Oakland Raiders NFL team is seriously flirting with Vegas, and mayor Carolyn Goodman is confident the city will have three “major league” teams within 10 years, according to Fox Sports.
The Rest of the Field: While Louisville City FC’s unlikely bid for MLS has gotten less likely due to the success of nearby FC Cincinnati, the club remains optimistic on USL. Louisville City chairman Wayne Estopinal shared with the Courier-Journal that Louisville rejected overtures from the NASL… Local reporters have connected the Carolina Railhawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies to MLS moves as part of articles on their stadium efforts…. The Charlotte Independence have expressed interest in a move to MLS, though unlike Cincinnati their attendance track record is hurting, not helping… Arizona United SC also has MLS ambitions, and Phoenix is one of the largest metro markets not in MLS.
Canadian Premier League
Summary: NASL seemed close to announcing a Hamilton expansion team in May 2015, but the bid disintegrated in the face of the Traffic Sports scandal. The Hamilton group has announced it will join the forming Canadian Premier League. “Basically it will be a CFL-NHL mix of ownership,” John McGrane, a minority partner in the Hamilton soccer team, told The Hamilton Spectator. The Canadian Premier League is expected to start play in 2018.
Duane Rollins reports the CanPL will likely look like the Canadian Football League minus Edmonton, meaning that in addition to Hamilton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, as well as placing “second” teams in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are likely out as options for NASL. Rollins also reports that the Ottawa Fury is expected to defect to this league, while FC Edmonton plans to stay with NASL. Toronto FC II, FC Montreal and Whitecaps FC 2 are expected to stay in USL.
July 2016 Update: CFL.ca writer Carlos Verde reported on Twitter: “Source: Canadian Premier League wants “Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, (GTA), Ottawa, Quebec, (Maritimes)” as founding eight.” In follow up tweets, Verde said his source told him the Canadian Premier League will “largely steer clear of MLS markets.” Verde seemed more optimistic than Rollins about Edmonton joining the CanPL, despite the Fath’s ownership stake in NASL.
Good work as always, Chris. I wonder what USL’s goal is, an 80-team league? I wish the US Soccer Federation would help regulate expansion to prevent what happened in the first incarnation of the NASL, to have smart expansion and prevent the three pro leagues from raiding each other’s markets.
My guess is the USL intends to split into more than one tier at some point. They have D2 aspirations but some of their clubs don’t make sense as D2, and it would reduce the size of the league. So I could see the D2 tier of USL being a smaller group of the top independent clubs in USL.
The CanPL and all its rumpurs have absolutely no credibility. The CFL and NHL are both well established leagues. Both have more than reliable revenue sources and the infrastructure to operate and run CanPL teams. The operating budget for a 8 CanPL league would be significantly lower than the CFL’s, so the question is….what is the hold up and why no substantive news? In my opinion this is a pie dream and the issue is neither league obviously has bought in and secondly, finding 8 suitable investors/owners outside of the CFL and NHL is proving nearly impossible. So Rollins, McGrane and any other person reporting on this fictitious league need to come clean or provide facts, figures, dates, contacts information. Until then, stop reporting on this non league and focus on developing a Canuck division within the NASL which is viable, appropriate, suitable and established.
KY, the CSA is being very careful about how it disseminates information about the league. They know that previous incarnations of such a league have repeatedly failed in the past and many observers expect this adventure will end up no differently.
We’re probably not going to hear anything about this until they have an absolutely rock-solid operational plan in place. If the CSA is bidding on the WC2026 bid, one of the stipulations is that bidders have to have their own domestic leagues operating. The deadline for WC bid entries is December 2018, So I imagine that we’ll hear a formal announcement about the start of a league in 2017, with first kick to be sometime in Spring of 2018.
Canada hosting a WC would be embarrassing. Stadia are too small, too inadequate, indoors and majority have plastic grass, but biggest black eye of all is the MNT qualifying as host, brings back memories of the Olympic team in 76 losing every game…..creating a 8 team league is hardly a national league in any country, especially at the Div 1 level.
CSA needs to focus on developing the grassroots to support a MNT through a credible league like the NASL. In other words, create the national third division with either a pacific and western division or one western division of at least 16 clubs along with the Ontario and Quebec leagues.
Hopefully a 48-64 team national 3rd tier will support a div 2 league whether which could be the alleged CanPL. The CSA’s inability or unwillingness to provide any concrete details leaves a lot to be desired and as stated earlier, the lack of statements by the CFL or NHL clubs allegedly involved, just brings this league much more into question.
I can see the CanPL being a Div 2 league that supports a NASL Canuck division(Div 1) thereby establishing pro/rel with the NASL clubs and the national 3rd div. With the addition of the NPSL, the NASL would encompasses Div 1-3 in both countries allowing for pro/rel throughout….this makes a lot more sense than the secretive CanPL…
The CanPL is a pipe dream so far and appears to have no legs. IT is time to provide an update CSA!
San Francisco Crabs. Better than Deltas.