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Sacramento’s Major League Soccer bid dealt another blow

Jun 20, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Villyan Bijev (20) celebrates with his team after a goal against Los Angeles FC during the second half at Banc of California Stadium. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Sacramento’s bid to land a Major League Soccer expansion franchise was handed a serious setback Friday, when MLS announced it was making progress with an ownership group that would keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio while also remaining committed to launching a franchise in Austin, Texas.

That could mean that one of two expansion spots still up for grabs in MLS would go to one of those cities, leaving Sacramento to compete with Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix and other cities for the final available franchise.

Republic FC has been searching for a lead investor for nearly a year who could lead its expansion effort after being told by MLS officials that its ownership group needed more financial weight.

“We are currently in the last phase in the year-long process of securing a top flight ownership group to deliver the MLS club our fans and community deserve,” Republic FC said in a written statement. “(Friday’s) announcement does not impact our final stage negotiations in any way whatsoever. Republic FC, together with our prospective ownership partners, are in constant communication with the league about next steps. Alongside them, Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the City Council, and the entire community, we remain as committed and confident as ever in achieving our goal of bringing MLS to Sacramento.”

Precourt Sports Ventures has been trying to move the Columbus Crew to Austin for months, citing lagging attendance in Ohio. The league said it remains on track to launch a team in Austin no later than 2021.

“Major League Soccer is excited to move forward in Austin with Precourt Sports Ventures and their vision for Austin FC,” the league said in a written statement. “Regardless of any scenario in Columbus, there is a clear path forward for PSV to operate Austin FC as a Major League Soccer club.”

At the same time, a group including the Haslam family — owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns — announced Friday it was in negotiations to buy the Crew and keep the team in Columbus. That could mean the Austin franchise, with Precourt as the owner, takes one of the league’s expansion spots.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted Friday, “I am as confident as I’ve ever been in our chances to become an MLS expansion franchise.”

“We are working with the @SacRepublicFC to bolster our ownership group and strengthen our bid,” the mayor’s tweet said. “I could not be more committed to finishing the job on behalf of our community.”
(c)2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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