MLS Expansion Update: Miami Still Struggles As Sacramento’s Future Looks Bright

Phoenix is rising, St. Louis had a setback and Miami is well, Miami. As Major League Soccer’s expansion process moves along, there’s been some recent jostling among the cities in contention.

Twelve locations are competing for MLS expansion franchises. Two winning bids are expected to be announced this fall that will bring the league to 26 teams, with two additional teams to be added in the future.

MLS expanded to 22 teams this season with the addition of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. LAFC, which replaces the now-defunct Chivas USA, joins in next year. The Miami bid, led by David Beckham, would bring the league to 24.

That brings us to that Miami effort, which feels like it has been in the works forever and derailed a number of times. Earlier this month, the superstar-led group unveiled plans for a privately financed, 25,000-seat stadium. The ownership group still needs the city to sign off on a part of the land deal, a decision that could come as early as June 6. The stadium would not open until 2021.

While the news coming out of Miami appeared somewhat encouraging, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was ominous when he told reporters: “This is, frankly, I believe our last opportunity here for Miami to have Major League Soccer.”

Meanwhile, expansion efforts seem to be heating up out West.

The Phoenix bid got a boost earlier this month with a visit from MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott. The city is home to the USL side Phoenix Rising FC, which already has a soccer complex that could be expanded – using private financing, again – to big-league standards.

The bid got its own star power with the addition of Didier Drogba as both a player and an investor. Attendance figures have risen this season, another good sign.

If attendance is any indication, a front-runner for expansion could be Sacramento, home of the USL’s Sacramento Republic, which is attracting an impressive average of 11,569 fans to home games.

The hopeful MLS owners, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, earlier this month announced the purchase of the team, which paves the way to the next level.

“No community has worked longer or advanced further than Sacramento to demonstrate our readiness to be a Major League Soccer city. Our record-breaking fan base, shovel-ready stadium plan and committed ownership group are unrivaled,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

A possible team in St. Louis suffered a serious blow last month when voters in that city failed to pass a measure that would have raised $60 million for a downtown stadium. The results were disappointing because the St. Louis area has in the past embraced soccer and there was the potential for a spirited rivalry with Sporting Kansas City.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.

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