ORLANDO, Fla. — Major League Soccer’s 28th, 29th and 30th franchises have yet to be determined, and MLS commissioner Don Garber is willing to take his time examining potential markets.
Garber provided an update on the expansion process Wednesday in Orlando after the Board of Governors meeting that preceded the MLS All-Star Game at Exploria Stadium.
St. Louis has been one of the prominent expansion bidders in discussions with the league office.
“When we have owner board meetings, we bring in a committee and candidates if it is of that time to talk to our board, and this meeting we had the group from St. Louis come in that had just gone through a recent presentation to our expansion committee just a couple weeks ago,” Garber said. “The group made a very impressive presentation. It was the first time St. Louis met with our full ownership group. We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis and we very much appreciated the detail they provided.
“We look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.”
MLS is having similar conversations with Sacramento. Of the current expansion bidders, Sacramento has been chasing an MLS bid the longest.
“Sacramento, we’re engaged on almost a daily basis with them,” Garber said. “Our owners are well informed of the plan to transform the railyard site. We have work that we need to do. We’re working with the mayor, who has been very engaged there. The city’s pursuit of an MLS team in Sacramento began five years ago and our discussions with them are positive and will continue, though I have nothing to announce here today regarding Sacramento.”
Garber said both St. Louis and Sacramento are aiming for a 2022 entry to the league, which is welcoming Nashville SC and Inter Miami in 2020 and Austin FC in 2021.
“We have plenty of time for them to get their projects finalized and put their plans in place to be able to launch their teams,” Garber said of the potential No. 28 and No. 29 MLS teams.
At least six other prospective groups were slated to attend the MLS All-Star Game. Garber said representatives from Charlotte, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Raleigh and San Diego attended the match.
“I have nothing to announce on our specific plans as it relates to the 30th team at this moment,” Garber said.
Charlotte has made waves of late with a bid backed by Charlotte Panthers owner David Tepper, and Garber noted the enthusiasm the group has shown in a short span.
“Charlotte is a great sports town and I’m very impressed with David,” Garber said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with him and he’s spent a lot of time with our owners the last number of months. He did come in and meet with our expansion committee. We’re going to continue to talk to David and Tom Glick, the president of his club. We’ll engage in ongoing discussions with them to see if Charlotte will be a good MLS team for Major League Soccer and the city of Charlotte.
“David is an aggressive guy. That’s why we love him. He’s very passionate. David came into the first meeting he ever had with us with pictures of him coaching his kids on a grassroots soccer team. He really loves the game and is pitching hard that the Carolinas have got a deep soccer history. We believe that and I’m really excited about his energy and passion.”
The three already announced expansion sides also informed Garber and league officials about their progress this week in Orlando.
“If all of you haven’t seen what Inter Miami is doing, you should dig in on that,” Garber said. “We have an owner that is going to be spending nearly $80 million to build a temporary stadium for two years and then tens of millions on that to create a training ground.
“Nashville made a presentation on their site. Austin gave a full update on what’s going on in their market, including a new, revised rendition of their stadium. And very importantly, they talked about the progress they are making. 34,000 season ticket deposits and they only have 21,000 seats.”