Major League Soccer is nothing if it's not full of surprises, and the expansion decisions of MLS over the past two months have shocked many. Nashville emerged as a dark horse to secure the first expansion spot, leaving fans to wonder which of the other three cities vying for contention (Cincinnati, Detroit, or Sacramento) would receive that coveted second spot.
But then Miami jumped into the spotlight.
Miami finally gets their team
Yesterday, MLS announced in Miami that David Beckham's ownership group would finally be awarded an expansion team. The last time the city had a team was the Miami Fusion (with future Rapid great Pablo Mastroeni on that roster) that folded in 2001.
How did they sneak in? Here’s the explanation:
As part of his original contract with the league from when he joined the Galaxy in 2007, Beckham was given an option to buy a franchise for $25 million at the end of his playing career. A significant figure at the time, it has proved to be a bargain.
Beckham exercised the option in February of 2014 and has been working to get into MLS since then.
The club will officially begin play in 2020 in a temporary stadium, since their brand-new, 25,000-seat stadium won’t be open until 2021. Beckham and the other Miami owners also plan to build a training center and an academy to focus on local player development. Beckham is the first former MLS player to own an MLS team.
Does this leave the other three aforementioned expansion hopefuls out in the cold? No. The main hold-up was waiting for the city of Miami and his ownership group to finalize a stadium plan. When the city of Miami gave the green light, so did MLS.
We can still expect an announcement regarding whether Cincinnati, Detroit, or Sacramento will get the third spot.
Soccer is headed to Music City
Just over a month ago on December 20, 2017, MLS awarded an expansion slot to Nashville. Coming in with the aim to play in the USL in 2018, they will enter MLS in 2019 with a shiny new 27,500-seat stadium. (Having plans for a soccer-specific/soccer-friendly stadium greatly helps the odds of getting an expansion team.)
Nashville will be the third team in the Southeast, but has proven its potential as a soccer city thanks to the 47,000 that showed up for a CONCACAF match in July, and the 56,000+ that attended a Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur match later that month. The city has also drawn crowds of more than 40,000 fans for international matches in 2015 and 2016.
Who will be awarded the next expansion team?
These two surprises make it more difficult to figure out to whom the next expansion slot will go.
Will the amazing attendance with FC Cincinnati be enough, even though Nippert Stadium is their non-soccer-specific confines (their soccer-specific stadium plan has not yet been fully funded)? Does the future of the Columbus Crew play any factor in Cincinnati’s entry?
Will Detroit be considered, even though they plan to play at Ford Field, a trajectory from which MLS wishes to move away (though this did not sway Minnesota United coming into the league)? Do Detroit City FC’s supporters even want to be a part of MLS?
Does Sacramento have enough attendance to warrant consideration? They sell out games in their 11,000-person stadium, but the smallest MLS stadium holds 18,000+ people. They have proven an ability to succeed in their short time in USL, but how much will this sway Commissioner Garber?
I fear a dilution of the product of MLS with this rapid type of expansion. Yes, many ownership groups and investors are lining up, but where’s the tipping point? A goal of 28 teams by 2020 is admirable, given how much the league struggled in its early years.
As Colorado Rapids’ fans we wonder if our ownership be willing and able to keep up with the ever-evolving nature of MLS in 2018 and beyond? Our supporters have great hope with our new coach Anthony Hudson and the players who have joined the roster. While many of us would love to contend for MLS Cup, given the Rapids’ cellar dwelling in the standings for the majority of recent years, being competitive in October for the playoffs would be fine as our boys rebuild.
Who do you think will receive the final expansion slot? Is MLS expanding too quickly, or is this about right? Leave a comment below or send me a tweet (@RapidsSouthStds).