MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Friday hinted the expansion of the league might not stop at 28 teams.
“We will grant the 28th team and make that decision sometime in the next 12 months,” Garber said during his State of the League. “There’s no rush. Then we’re going to have to decide if we want to go forward, beyond 28 teams. That’s a discussion that is taking place. We’ll begin to introduce the subject at our board meeting in the middle of next week.
“I don’t expect or anticipate there will be an announcement coming out of that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we can support having more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer. No doubt in my mind.”
The league will welcome FC Cincinnati next season as its 24th team. A Nashville expansion side will join the league in 2020, along with Inter Miami CF, David Beckham’s long-awaited expansion team in South Florida. It looks like Columbus Crew SC has been saved from relocation, but Anthony Precourt still intends to start a team in Austin, which will be team No. 27.
That leaves just one spot for a host of expansion hopefuls with strong bids, including a newly-revived bid in St. Louis and bids in Phoenix, Sacramento and Detroit — just to name a few places. There are a few USL sides that reportedly have their eyes on MLS, too.
“This is a big country,” Garber said. “I can remember when we first started looking at expansion. I came in at 12, we went down to 10. We went up to 14 in 2005. I don’t think at that time we ever thought we’d be at the size we are now. There’s been so much that’s gone on over the last decade or more in this sport that has been empowering a lot of the interest in cities across the U.S. and Canada.
“Every time that we evaluate how large we want the league to be, it really is in the context of what we think the country can support. We said that we’re not going to expand any further in Canada. So now it’s looking at those cities that we’ve been in discussions with. You know the list. Every time I make that list, I leave one out, I get all sorts calls from those very interested expansion groups that I forgot to mention.”
A huge sticking point for most expansion hopefuls has been the need for a soccer-specific stadium. Garber said there’s the potential for more shared facilities like what Atlanta United has done in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the future, but the league is still committed to building smaller soccer venues.