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Don Garber: Charlotte at “front of the line” for expansion as MLS eyes 30th team

Garber also pushed back his deadline for MLS to become one of the world’s best leagues.

SEATTLE — An announcement on the next MLS expansion team could come in a few months, and Charlotte is leading the race to land that spot.

Don Garber held his annual state of the league address on Friday afternoon ahead of the MLS Cup, and in it the commissioner said Charlotte the leading candidate for an expansion team in a race that includes Las Vegas and Phoenix as other contenders.

“It’s fair to say that Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid really to the front of the line,” Garber said. “It starts with David Tepper, the owner of the (NFL’s Carolina) Panthers who is a very passionate guy about sport, very passionate about Charlotte. He’s reminding us that the league didn’t really see what Atlanta would become and I would be the first to admit that.

“There’s a lot of things happening in Charlotte that are very similar to things that are happening in Atlanta in terms of the diversity of their fanbase and a lot of the corporate energy that is going on down there.”

MLS fielded 24 teams this season, and has another five expansion teams set to debut over the next three years. Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC will join the league next year, Austin FC will follow in 2021, and both Sacramento Republic and a team in St. Louis are scheduled to enter in 2022. MLS announced back in April that it had plans to expand to 30 franchises.

When the 30th team will begin play is uncertain as of now, but Garber said an expansion announcement may come in a few months’ time. For Tepper and fans in Charlotte, that is surely music to their ears.

“We’ve been engaged with them and will continue to do so,” said Garber. “There’s nothing for me to report. I think the Carolinas (are) a good (area) for soccer. You know that from a woman’s soccer perspective and from a youth soccer perspective. Should we be able to move forward and end up with a team in Charlotte, I’m confident it will be successful.”

As MLS expands its footprint, Garber is equally as confident in MLS’s ability in becoming one of the top leagues in the world. He named the following four metrics as barometers for gauging that:

  • Quality of play
  • Relevance of teams in their markets
  • Relationship with the community
  • A rational business model

MLS has some work to do in that regard, but Garber believes the league is well on its way.

“We’ve got to click off those four points one at a time or four consecutively,” said Garber. “I’m feeling pretty good about how we’re doing on that path.”

So much so that Garber is confident that MLS can become one of the world’s best leagues in the relative near future. He had stated years ago that the initial target date was 2022, but Garber pushed back the self-imposed deadline on Friday.

“We established that (initial goal) in 2010 as part of a vision when we were trying to get the World Cup in 2022. That didn’t happen,” said Garber. “Now the World Cup is coming in ‘26. We haven’t announced any change in that date. I’m announcing it now, so we have a couple more years to try to achieve that goal.”

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