It’s Christmastime again, and soon, two cities will be gifted with a bonafide, certified Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. That’s right, on December 6, MLS will hear the plans from four cities as they compete for two expansion spots. The cities are (in alphabetical order): Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento.
I realize that many of you have relished all the offseason news of our Colorado Rapids, but this is a story to which American soccer fans will (or should) pay attention. Next year will see LAFC enter the MLS fold, with Miami still working on, well, whatever FC Beckham needs shoring up down there (the Miami and ‘shoring up’ comments were an unintended pun).
Rapids fans should be especially intrigued. Clearly, the new MLS and their new franchises are bringing in the fans, and with that, the money that comes from ticket sales and merchandising. Atlanta, Orlando, Minnesota—absolutely amazing stories, but they should also give Rapids fans pause. Our 20+ year old franchise is not keeping up, and if these new teams come in for what many are calling MLS 3.0, our Rapids had better strategize in finding ways to compete.
Let’s go down this very impressive, very scary list of potential expansion teams that could give MLS a run for their money in 2018:
After attending a Louisville City (that USL Champion Louisville City FC) match in July against FC Cincinnati in Louisville, I had a number of surprises hit me. First, that soccer would take hold in the Midwest like it did in Louisville and Cincinnati. Secondly, that the supporters of FC Cincinnati travelled so well (granted, it was only 85 miles, but they brought between 2,000-3,000 fans).
Plus, have you watched an FC Cincinnati home match at Nippert Stadium? If so, you’ve walked away as a Rapid fan scratching your head saying, “Why can’t we have just half of that atmosphere?” (You know you’ve thought it!) They averaged 21,199 for their USL home matches. They showed their full fury by making it to the US Open Cup Semifinal when they advanced all the way to the semifinals after beating the Chicago Fire in penalties, only to lose to the New York Red Bulls 3-2.
I know Nashville (more on them later) has made some noise of late, but I do not see how on earth MLS would refuse to give FC Cincinnati entry.
Detroit has a rabid fan base in their fourth tier NPSL Detroit City FC, and have made it clear that they have no interest in being a part of MLS. Even so, Dan Gilbert (owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder and chairman of Quicken Loans) along with Tom Gores (owner of the Detroit Pistons and Founder and Chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity) head an effort to bring an MLS team to the Motor City.
They insist that their squad will play at Ford Field, sharing a home with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. On the surface, this seems a mark against them, with MLS desiring to move away from sharing facilities and encouraging soccer-specific stadiums. We shall see.
Off the four on this list, I cannot see Detroit making the medal stand. They are the least likely in this list to gain entry.
And out of nowhere comes Music City vying for an MLS club. In 2018, they will debut in the USL. Rapids fans will immediately notice some ties from our club’s past: Gary Smith was tabbed to be the head coach, who then made his first ever pick for goalkeeper Matt Pickens, most recently with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Being so new, they apparently have impressed MLS officials in being in the final four. Given Cincinnati’s and Sacramento’s proven success, I cannot imagine Nashville gaining entry before they’ve even played a game of competitive soccer.
The austere Sacramento Republic FC, founded in 2012, began play in 2014 and won the USL Cup that first year. They remain perennials in the Western Conference playoffs. The Tower Bridge Battalion gives the club proper support, making Papa Murphy’s Stadium come alive with chants and drums all game long. Their current stadium seats just under 12,000 fans, but plans are in place to build a 20,000 seat soccer-specific stadium in Downtown Sacramento.
This club has shown they have the structure in place to succeed and could make some noise right off the bat, much like Cincinnati would. I can see MLS bringing them into the fold.
So there you have it. My prediction is: Cincinnati and Sacramento.
What do you think?Will Nashville sneak in? Am I wrong about Detroit? Do these teams cause you concern for MLS or for the Rapids standing as an organization in MLS for 2018 and beyond?