Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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Wednesday night marked the 2013 MLS All-Star game that resulted in AS Roma defeating the All-Stars 3-1, but the biggest news that came from the evening may have came off the field. Commissioner Don Garber announced at halftime during the broadcast of Wednesday night’s All-Star Game at Sporting Park that Major League Soccer plans to add another four teams by the 2020 season. There are now 19 teams in the league and New York City FC will join Major League Soccer as the 20th in 2015.
The comments by the commissioner have stirred up a flurry of conversations about which regions and cities should receive the remaining four bids up for grabs. Garber went on to say, “As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”
It has long been stated that Garber wants the MLS to be considered one of the top leagues by that time. Certainly having 24 teams with established fan bases and soccer-specific stadiums will aid in that process.
The process of deciding which cities can support an MLS expansion market will be selected by multiple criteria. Factors taken into consideration include the following per MLS's release:
"Committed and engaged ownership;"
"A comprehensive stadium plan;"
"Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;"
"Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;"
"A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club."
These are the key factors that MLS will look into over the next couple of years, but which cities are in contention? Here is a quick overview of some top candidates.
Orlando City has pushed to reach some of the requirements listed above for a long time and they have made good progress. They have a wealthy owner in Flavio Augusto da Silva who cares about the game, good fan support for playing in the USL Pro (Division III in the US Soccer pyramid) and are already in the early stages of submitting a bid for a soccer specific stadium to be built by 2015. Major League Soccer wants as many regional rivalries as possible. With Miami as another possible site, there is a good chance that if at least one of the Florida locations is chosen, the other will soon follow.
Having already failed once with the Miami Fusion in years past, there are some concerns. Developing long lasting fan bases anywhere in Florida is hard enough, let alone Miami. With the constant nice weather, loads of transplant workers who never grew up following a sports team in Florida and having the beach as an entertainment option will prove as obstacles in proving to MLS a fan base can be developed.
In saying that, lets not forget that David Beckham has an option to buy an MLS franchise and he seems to be targeting Miami as the site. If the infrastructure and support can be proved to MLS, then Beckham may have the connections to bring in a big name player or two that will really get people excited. Still seems like a lot of if’s to me though.
They already have an NASL (Division II) team in the Atlanta Silverbacks and an owner who is willing to offer some support to the cause. Also throw in the fact that Atlanta is one of the biggest markets in the United States without an MLS team and you might have a serious reason to look into this city as an expansion destination. Don Garber will continue to expand down to the Southeast markets and if MLS teams don't materialize in both Orlando and Miami, look for Atlanta to make a strong push at a bid.
Both of these cities have expressed interest in making a bid for an MLS team in the past ten months. I believe that adding an MLS team to either market will be key to the growth of the game in the Midwest, specifically in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Crew's main rivals are the Chicago Fire (over five hours away) and Toronto FC (seven hours away). I believe that if a team was added in Detroit or Pittsburgh then you are really creating that regional battle and tension the Midwest is missing.
Concerns are that the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. Yeah, I also was unaware that an entire city could go bankrupt, but they figured out a way to do so. Not sure how much support people will put behind building an 18,000-seat stadium when they seemingly have bigger issues to work out first.
Which leads me to think that Pittsburgh might be a more realistic option. They just built Highmark Stadium, a 3,500-seat soccer complex, right on the river with plans on expanding the facility to over 18,000 seats. I dislike all things Pittsburgh but we do have to admit they have good sports fans. If they have the facility and a decent team, you would have to believe the support would follow.
Other cities that will be in the running are San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Las Vegas.
This is an extremely exciting time in Major League Soccer. If you consider yourself a "soccer fan" but for whatever reason don't follow MLS, then now is the perfect time to start paying attention. Whether we want to believe or not, soccer is growing in this country and Don Garber has the league on the right track.
Will Major League Soccer be a top league within the next ten years? I don't know, only time will tell. But with the recent announcement of more teams joining Major League Soccer within the next couple of years, I think it is safe to say that soccer is continuing to grow.