Expansion of Major League Soccer
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Expansion of Major League Soccer

Expansion of Major League Soccer has occurred several times since the league began play in 1996. Major League Soccer was established as the top level of professional soccer in the United States in 1993 with 10 teams and began play in 1996. It has expanded several times since 1998 into new markets across the United States, and since 2006, into Canada.

MLS is currently at 23 teams, with plans to expand to 28 teams. The league added its 21st and 22nd teams for 2017: Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. In 2018 Los Angeles FC became the 23rd team, and a Miami team is also planned pending a finalized stadium plan. Expanding and establishing a bigger national reach is seen as essential to securing television rights fees needed to reach MLS's stated goal of becoming one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.[1]

MLS announced ten expansion candidates in January 2017,[2][3] before announcing in November 2017 that the four finalists for the 25th and 26th expansion teams were Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento.[4] The winners in this current round of bidding are planned to join in 2020, with expansion fees of $150 million.[2][5]Nashville was announced in December 2017 as one of the two expansion franchises, with the other winning bid expected to be announced in early 2018.[6]

Major League Soccer considers several criteria when determining where to award expansion franchises:

  • owners that are committed to MLS and have the financial wherewithal to invest in a team,
  • a stadium or approved plans for a stadium (preferably a soccer-specific stadium) that allows the team to control revenue streams such as parking and concessions,
  • the size of the market of the metropolitan area, and
  • an established local fan base.[7][8]
Progression of MLS Expansion
Season No. teams
1996 10
1998 12
2002 10
2005 12
2007 13
2008 14
2009 15
2010 16
2011 18
2012 19
2015 20
2017 22
2018 23

Early history: 1993-2003

MLS expansion got off to a mixed start in its initial years. MLS began playing with 10 teams in 1996, grew to 12 teams in 1998, but put expansion plans on hold and then eliminated two teams following the 2001 season to return to 10 teams.

Foundation (1993-1996)

Major League Soccer was established in 1993, as part of an agreement with FIFA that the United States set up a professional first division to gain the right to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[9] No successful professional outdoor soccer league existed since the North American Soccer League folded in 1985. Due to rapid over-expansion and poor franchise placement, the NASL collapse led future MLS leaders to be extremely cautious of establishing new franchises.

Initially twelve new teams were to be placed in carefully selected cities where a strong soccer market was thought to exist. This was scaled back to ten after potential backers could not be found.[10] Eventually 22 communities submitted formal bids to host an inaugural MLS franchise.[11]

The initial ten teams created were the Columbus Crew, D.C. United, the New England Revolution, the NY/NJ MetroStars, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, the Colorado Rapids, the Dallas Burn, the Kansas City Wiz, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Clash. While New York City and Los Angeles were awarded franchises, the next four largest American cities--Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Detroit--were all without a team.[10] Using American football stadiums, the new league kicked off in April 1996.

Expansion: Chicago and Miami (1998)

In 1998, the league expanded for the first time, rising from ten teams to twelve. The new teams were the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion. Miami owner Ken Horowitz paid a $20 million expansion fee for the right to join MLS.[12]

Contraction from Florida (2002)

Major League Soccer had reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years.[13][14] The league's poor financial condition forced MLS to stop the bleeding. During the winter break between the 2000 and 2001 seasons, reports began circulating that MLS was considering trimming the league from 12 teams back to 10 teams.[15] MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the two Florida franchises, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion.[16] Both teams were withdrawn from the league and folded. The league had chosen to fold the Miami Fusion, in part because the Fusion's ownership reportedly lacked financial resources, had been trying to run the Fusion on a bare-minimum budget, and had asked the League to pay some of the club's expenses.[15] Miami ownership had reportedly experienced $15 million in operating losses since Miami joined the league.[12] The League chose to fold the Tampa Bay Mutiny, in part because the team was operated by the League instead of by an individual owner, meaning that the League had to absorb 100% of the team's operating losses.[12] This contraction left the league with 10 teams, the same number as when MLS began.[17]

Growth phase: 2004-present

In 2004, MLS began a significant expansion phase, more than doubling in size from 10 teams in 2003 to 23 teams by 2018.

Los Angeles and Salt Lake City (2005)

Dave Checketts, owner of Real Salt Lake, who kicked off in 2005

The performance of the US national team at the 2002 World Cup, where they reached the quarter-final,[18] sparked a recovery in the league's fortunes, and attendances once again began to rise. MLS began looking to expand once more with a number of cities interested in hosting new teams. The demand for an expansion team grew.

In 2004, MLS awarded a second franchise to the Los Angeles area, Chivas USA. The team was owned partly by C.D. Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara, and took the name and colors from the Mexican club with the aim of appealing to the Hispanic community in Southern California.[19] Chivas and the Los Angeles Galaxy shared The Home Depot Center (now StubHub Center) and played in the league's first local derby game.[20]

The league also announced Real Salt Lake in 2004. The franchise received permission to use the "Real" name from Real Madrid as part of a business agreement between the Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts and the Spanish club.[21] Real Salt Lake initially played its home games at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus before moving to Rio Tinto Stadium in the suburb of Sandy in October 2008.[22]

Relocation: Houston (2006)

In 2005, the San Jose Earthquakes were put on hiatus because of a failure to secure a soccer-specific stadium. The players and the coach were moved to an expansion team in Houston, Texas, where they became the Houston Dynamo playing out of Robertson Stadium.[23] The number of teams in the league did not change.

Toronto (2007)

Toronto began play at BMO Field in 2007, the first time an MLS expansion club played its inaugural season in a soccer-specific stadium.

In November 2005, Major League Soccer announced that it had approved an expansion franchise in Toronto to be owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. The Toronto City Council had previously approved $9.8 million in funding for a $62.8-million stadium, with the rest of the money coming from MLSE, the federal government, and the provincial government.[24] The team name Toronto FC and logo were announced in May 2006.[25] The club played their first season in MLS in 2007, finishing at the bottom of the table. The introduction of MLS into Canada took MLS into a separate country for the first time.

San Jose (2008)

After a two-year hiatus, the San Jose Earthquakes were reactivated in 2007 and resumed play in MLS in 2008.[23]

Seattle (2009)

Seattle was awarded a franchise in 2007, and following a write-in vote by supporters,[26] the team chose the name Seattle Sounders FC, after the Seattle Sounders that played in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and '80s.[27] The city did not have a soccer-specific stadium or any plans to construct one,[28] and instead, it shared Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League who, like the Sounders, are owned in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.[29] The stadium was built as a combined football/soccer stadium with an MLS team in mind, including soccer-specific features.[30]

Philadelphia (2010)

On February 28, 2008, MLS announced that the sixteenth franchise would be awarded to Philadelphia.[31] Philadelphia was appealing to MLS because Philadelphia was the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without an MLS franchise, and it had a strong ownership group.[32] There had been a strong campaign to bring a team to the city, with intense lobbying by supporters groups such as the Sons of Ben.

Philadelphia won the bid over a competing bid from St. Louis that was led by St. Louis investor Jeff Cooper. St. Louis had a stadium deal in Collinsville, Illinois, but lacked sufficient financing.[32][33]

On May 11, 2009, it was announced that the team name would be Philadelphia Union.[34] The new team announced their intention to construct an 18,500 seat stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, which opened as PPL Park and is now known as Talen Energy Stadium.

Vancouver and Portland (2011)

One of three Canadian cities in the running for 2011 MLS expansion, Vancouver's bid was led by local businessman Greg Kerfoot, at that time owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in USSF D2 Pro. NBA star Steve Nash was also involved as a minority stakeholder. The city's bid was boosted by the proposed construction of the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium, with an initial capacity of 20,000 and the potential for further expansion.[35] Don Garber called the bid presentation by Vancouver "one of the best I've ever seen."[36] On March 18, 2009, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that Vancouver had been awarded one of the two 2011 expansion spots. Vancouver continued to field the second-tier Whitecaps until the MLS team made its debut in 2011.[37] The MLS Whitecaps began the 2011 season at Empire Field, sharing it with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, before both teams moved into the renovated BC Place in October 2011.[38]

On July 31, 2008, Merritt Paulson announced that he would apply for an MLS franchise for Portland as an MLS continuation of the Portland Timbers.[39] Paulson further outlined his plan by launching a website.[40] The MLS Timbers would play in a renovated PGE Park, which was renamed to Jeld-Wen Field by the time the team made its MLS debut in 2011 and is now known as Providence Park, sharing with the Portland State University football team. On March 20, 2009, commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a news conference that Portland would receive the 18th franchise.[41]

Montreal (2012)

The city of Montreal had been in consideration by Major League Soccer for a club since the league's founding and planning stages in 1993. In the fall of 2008, the Joey Saputo group was on a short list for the next round of expansion. On May 7, 2010, Commissioner Don Garber announced that Saputo and the Impact group would join the league as its 19th club for the 2012 MLS season with Stade Saputo being renovated to increase the seating capacity to around 20,000.[42]

Dissolution of Chivas USA (2014)

Chivas USA was dissolved following the end of the 2014 regular season, after the league bought the franchise and took over the operations from Jorge Vergara and Angélica Fuentes in February that year, leaving the league with 20 teams for the 2015 season. The club had suffered poor performance on the field, low attendance and a series of discrimination lawsuits against the ownership.[43] Commissioner Garber cited the "brand that was targeted specifically to the Hispanic market" and the belief that "the club could coexist with the Galaxy and share the StubHub Center" as mistakes.[44]

Later the same week, the league announced the formation of a new Los Angeles-area team that begins play in 2018 with the working name, "Los Angeles Football Club".[45]

New York City and Orlando (2015)

In May 2010, league commissioner Don Garber announced the league's desire to place its 20th team in New York City[46] On June 27, 2012, MLS announced plans to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Queens, New York, with a seating capacity of 25,000 and located near the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.[47] On May 21, 2013, MLS announced New York City FC as the next expansion team. The team's expansion rights were purchased by the English Premier League club Manchester City and the New York Yankees baseball team for $100 million, and the team began play in 2015.[48]

On October 25, 2010, Phil Rawlins and his investor group of Orlando City SC, announced their intentions of joining Major League Soccer within the next 3 to 5 years.[49] In March 2012, Garber met with Orlando city and county officials, and said, "It's not a matter of if, but when", when addressing Orlando's chances of joining MLS.[50] In April 2013, the City of Orlando purchased downtown land to be used towards the construction of a $110 million MLS soccer stadium.[51] Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reached an agreement on a deal to provide financial support for a variety of Orlando projects including the new MLS soccer stadium on August 8, 2013.[52][53] The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 on October 22, 2013 to approve the use of $20 million in tourist development tax funds to build an $84 million multi-purpose soccer stadium in downtown Orlando.[54][55] On November 19, 2013, Orlando was officially announced as the league's newest team, and began play in MLS in 2015.[56]

Atlanta and Minnesota (2017)

The league announced it was awarding an expansion franchise in Atlanta to Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank on April 16, 2014, with plans to begin play in 2017. The team shares the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was completed in 2017, with the Falcons.[57] Discussions between Blank and MLS had "accelerated" following approval of the stadium plans in late 2013.[55]

Atlanta became the third city in the southeastern United States in five months to announce an expansion team, following Orlando City in late 2013 and Miami, whose tentative approval was announced earlier in 2014.[57] The Atlanta metropolitan area was at the time the largest media market without an MLS franchise.[58] Previously, in October 2008, Arthur Blank's AMB Group had submitted a bid for an expansion franchise,[59] but withdrew its bid in early 2009 due to its inability to have a stadium built.[60]

On March 25, 2015, the league announced that it had awarded the 23rd MLS team to Minneapolis (later changed to Saint Paul) to an investor group led by Bill McGuire, owner of the NASL team Minnesota United FC.[61] Club president Nick Rodgers said he expected much of the team, including the name, logo, coach and some players, to remain intact.[62] The team had been expected to begin play in MLS in 2018.[63] However, Minnesota did not meet its July 1, 2015 deadline to present stadium plans to MLS after the Minnesota state legislature did not take up the club's proposal by the end of its session in May 2015.[64]

In October 2015, the team announced it had selected a stadium site in St. Paul, and that the team hoped to begin play in MLS in 2017.[65] As of November 2015, the team expects the stadium to be completed during 2018.[66] The league later announced that Minnesota United would join MLS in 2017, and would play that season in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota's football home of TCF Bank Stadium.[67]

In addition to the Minnesota United bid, a group led by the NFL's Minnesota Vikings owners had also been vying for a franchise, to play at the Vikings' new U.S. Bank Stadium, but were unsuccessful.[68]

Los Angeles (2018)

On October 30, 2014, the league announced the formation of a new Los Angeles-area team to replace Chivas USA, which shut down operations following the 2014 season. The new team was announced with the working name, "Los Angeles Football Club", with an ownership group led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen, film producer Peter Guber, and former National Basketball Association executive Tom Penn. The team plans to begin play in 2018 in a new, dedicated venue[45] to be known as Banc of California Stadium.[69]

Growth plans

Major League Soccer plans to grow from 23 teams in 2018 to 26 teams by 2020.[70] MLS plans to add an expansion team in Miami if a stadium deal there is finalized. On December 20, 2017, MLS confirmed that it will add an expansion team in Nashville.

Team Announced Debut
Miami February 5, 2014; 4 years ago (2014-02-05) 2020
Nashville December 20, 2017; 4 months ago (2017-12-20) Unknown

Miami (2020)

Garber confirmed in a July 5, 2013, interview on that Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, and Texas were all candidates for MLS expansion.[71]

On February 5, 2014, the league announced that it would award a franchise in Miami to an investment group led by former player David Beckham, his business partner Simon Fuller, and Miami-based businessman Marcelo Claure, assuming that stadium financing and location could be agreed upon.[72] However, the ownership group's two stadium sites were rejected by city and county governments by July 2014.[73]

In an August 2014 Q&A session, deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said Miami would be the 23rd team as long as a downtown stadium deal could be reached.[74]

Commissioner Garber said he hoped to see Miami join the league with Atlanta in 2017, but repeated that the team would not play without political support for a downtown stadium.[75]

The next development in the Beckham plan came on July 17, 2015, when Miami mayor Tomás Regalado announced a tentative deal with the ownership group, now known as Beckham United, for a new privately financed stadium in Little Havana next to Marlins Park, at the former site of the Orange Bowl.[76] However, the plans for the Orange Bowl site fell through later that year after Beckham United was unable to secure deals with private owners of adjacent land.[77]

In December of that year, Beckham United announced that a new stadium site, mostly private land but also containing a tract owned by Miami-Dade County, had been selected in Miami's Overtown neighborhood.[78] The MLS governing board soon approved the location,[79] and the Beckham group completed the purchase of the privately owned tracts in March 2016.[80] Negotiations with county officials to assemble the final section of the stadium site are ongoing.[81]

Beckham had received an option to buy an expansion franchise for $25 million as part of the contract he signed with the league when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy.[82]

On January 29, 2018, the MLS officially approved Beckham's expansion team in Miami with play expected to start in 2020.[83]

Nashville (TBD)

In August 2016, a group of Nashville business leaders from several of the city's largest corporations formed the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee and began efforts to secure funding for an MLS stadium.[84] The group, led by Bill Hagerty, pursued an MLS team immediately rather than work up the soccer pyramid. The group fully supports the recently awarded USL expansion team, Nashville SC, which began play in 2018. Both groups support each other in their common vision to grow the sport in Tennessee.[85] In October 2017, the group unveiled their plans for $275 million stadium and redevelopment project,[86][87] which was approved by the city in November.[88] Nashville was the first confirmed team approved by the MLS during this phase of expansion on December 20.[89]

2020 expansion candidates

Garber confirmed in a July 5, 2013, interview that Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, and Texas were all candidates for MLS expansion.[71] Commissioner Garber, in his 2013 State of the League Address, identified four additional cities - Minneapolis-Saint Paul, San Antonio, Austin, and St. Louis - as under consideration for the final expansion candidate to join MLS before 2020.[90] In February 2014, Garber again confirmed Minneapolis-Saint Paul and San Antonio as candidates, and also mentioned San Diego and Sacramento as expansion candidates.[91] Garber discussed several expansion candidates in March 2014, saying that expansion into San Antonio or elsewhere in Texas was likely but not anytime soon.[92] In an August 2014 Q&A session, deputy commissioner Mark Abbott identified Sacramento and Las Vegas as new candidates for the 24th and final expansion team, in addition to the previously mentioned San Antonio, Austin and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.[74] In November 2014, representatives from Las Vegas, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Sacramento made presentations to MLS in advance of the December 2014 MLS Board of Governors meeting,[93] and an update was provided regarding developments in San Antonio.[94] In early December 2014, Garber stated that San Antonio was "not as far along" as the bids for the other three cities.[95] In January 2015, Garber indicated that MLS would soon be visiting (and evaluating efforts toward expansion) in San Antonio and St. Louis.[96] In February 2015, MLS informed the City of Las Vegas that MLS would not consider Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018.[97]

In April 2015, Garber stated: "We will expand beyond 24 teams. It's not an if but a when."[98] In December 5, 2015, the league announced support for an expansion to 28 teams, with Garber stating: "We will evaluate how to grow the league to 28 teams and establish a process and timeline for future expansion." The 25th and 26th franchises would be chosen sometime in mid-2017, and they would each pay an expansion fee of $150 million.[99]

Major League Soccer has reported MLS aspirations from United Soccer League (USL) clubs in Charleston,[100] Charlotte,[101] Cincinnati,[102] Louisville,[103] and Oklahoma City.[104] Commissioner Garber has also stated that he expects Sacramento to be in next round's expansion discussions, St. Louis as a front-runner with the NFL Rams' departure, and that Austin, Cincinnati, Detroit, San Antonio, San Diego,[105] and Las Vegas[106] as potential expansion candidates for teams No. 25 through No. 28.

Garber announced on December 15, 2016 that the league would expand to 26 teams by the 2020 season, and to 28 at some later date.[70] The league confirmed there were ten markets under consideration: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis, and Tampa/St. Petersburg.[2] On January 31, 2017, the MLS announced that it had received bids for expansion from 12 ownership groups, the ten previously disclosed, plus Indianapolis and Phoenix.[3][107]

On November 29, 2017, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento were announced as the four finalist cities to make formal presentations to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league's Expansion Committee on December 6 in New York City.[108] Nashville was announced as the first accepted group on December 20.[6]


Garber holds up an FC Cincinnati scarf during his 2016 visit to Cincinnati.

On November 29, 2016, Don Garber visited with Cincinnati's mayor John Cranley, officials from FC Cincinnati of the USL, and civic and business leaders of the city to talk about a possible expansion. FC Cincinnati, in its first season in the USL in 2016, broke the USL's single-season attendance record, averaging 17,296 fans per game at Nippert Stadium. They also set the league's single-game playoff record for attendance with 30,187 spectators on October 2. On the heels of those attendance numbers, Cincinnati is now in the expansion conversation.[109] On June 12, 2017, FC Cincinnati revealed designs for a soccer-specific stadium to be built in conjunction with an MLS bid.[110]


NBA owners Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores have unveiled a $1 billion plan to bring an MLS expansion team to Detroit.[111] MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said that Detroit is on the list of cities that could get an expansion team in 2020, and has stated that MLS' interest in Detroit hinges on the fate of the 15-acre site of the stalled Wayne County jail development, which can connect the Greektown Entertainment District, Eastern Market and the three other sports facilities - Comerica Park, Ford Field, and Little Caesars Arena.[112] Their plan received a boost at the end of July when Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced that he had instructed his team to work towards a final deal on moving the jail and allowing Gilbert and Gores to build the stadium.[113]

A potential hurdle for Detroit's MLS bid may be supporter-owned Detroit City FC, which debuted in the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League in 2012 and has since built up a fan base, many of whom fear their efforts to build a team would be destroyed by the arrival of MLS. DCFC supporters have publicly jeered Gores, Gilbert, and MLS itself at the team's games, and hijacked social media campaigns for the bid.[114]


In December 2011, a group led by former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez began exploring the possibility of landing an MLS franchise for the Sacramento area, with the suburb of Elk Grove as a possible stadium site.[115] On March 13, 2013, the Elk Grove city council voted unanimously to study potential sites for a soccer-specific stadium in the city that could host either an MLS or NASL team.[116]

Sacramento was granted a USL Pro team that began play in the 2014 season.[117] A group of investors, led by local business leader Warren Smith, expressed their hope to eventually convert this franchise to an MLS team. Smith previously helped bring the Sacramento River Cats, an MiLB franchise, to Sacramento.[118] In November 2013, Smith restated his goal of having the team, christened Sacramento Republic FC, ascend to MLS in 2016.[119]

In August 2014, owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team led by businessman Vivek Ranadivé expressed an interest in buying Republic FC with the ultimate goal of elevating the team to MLS. They met with league officials during the week of the 2014 MLS All-Star Game, and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said league executives would visit the city and tour possible stadium locations.[120] Kings owner Ranadive announced in January 2015 that he had joined the Republic ownership group, in a move seen as bolstering the city's chances of landing an MLS berth.[121] Also in January 2015, the York family, owners of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, agreed to invest in the Republic.[122]

Sacramento's bid is also strengthened by its fan support. Upon their debut in 2014, the Republic set a USL single-game attendance record by selling out their first-ever home game at 20,000-seat Hughes Stadium;[123] since moving to the smaller, soccer-specific stadium now known as Papa Murphy's Park midway through 2014, the team has continued to play in front of capacity crowds. As of January 2015, the club had nearly 10,000 ticket deposits as part of its "Built for MLS" campaign.[121] Sacramento is the 20th largest television market in the United States.[124][125]

In March 2015, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced a joint initiative of the city and the club dubbed "Operation Turnkey", which would have stadium construction ready to begin should one of the other expansion candidates without a firm stadium plan yet - Minneapolis, Miami, or Los Angeles - fail to come up with one or the league decided to expand beyond 24 teams.[126]

In April 2016, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that the league would expand to 28 teams and said "I hope, and fully expect, Sacramento to be one (of the 28)".[127]

On February 4, 2017, after a brief but intense controversy that resulted from the official bid package being submitted without the Republic name or brand, Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg announced an agreement in principle for the Republic to be acquired by Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, the company behind the submitted bid.[128] Should the city's bid for an MLS expansion team succeed, it will indeed enter the league as Sacramento Republic FC.[128] In July 2017, the group began preparations for building a 19,621-seat stadium in downtown Sacramento for the bid.[129] By October, the group had 10,000 commitments for season tickets for the proposed MLS team.[130]

Failed, stalled, or speculated expansion efforts

This section includes cities with bids that have either failed or stalled, or are otherwise not explicitly included in the MLS expansion roadmap, the latest of which was announced in December 2013.[131]

Cleveland (2004-06)

MLS announced in 2004 that Cleveland would be getting an expansion franchise for the 2005 season, as area businessman Bert Wolstein had signed a letter of intent to launch an MLS club.[132] However, Wolstein ran into delays in trying to obtain public financing for a stadium, and died in 2004.[133] In 2006 the Wolstein Sports and Entertainment Group proposed the construction of a soccer-specific stadium for an MLS club in the Cleveland suburb of Macedonia.[134] However, Summit County voters rejected a tax to raise $104 million of the $165 million needed, environmental groups raised concerns about area wetlands, and the area was hit by the Great Recession of 2008.[135]

In March 2014, Commissioner Garber said there had not been any developments regarding MLS expansion in Cleveland since talks were held "many years ago."[136]

Miami (2008-09)

A Miami expansion team led by Barcelona and Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian businessman based in the city, announced an expansion bid in October 2008, with plans to begin play in 2011.[137] But in March 2009, the league and Barcelona announced that Miami was no longer a candidate due to local market conditions.[138] Additionally, MLS expressed concerns about Miami's lack of fan interest in an MLS franchise, the fact that USL team Miami FC was not doing well, and the plan to use FIU Stadium relegating the team to a secondary tenant in a college football stadium with an artificial surface.[139] However, Garber said that Miami would be an expansion target in the future.[140] Claure later joined David Beckham's group of investors for the Miami expansion bid that was accepted by the league in 2014.

St. Louis (2008-09, 2014-17)

Jeff Cooper attempted in 2008 and 2009 to bring an MLS expansion team to St. Louis, only to have both bids turned down in favor of other cities. Despite approved stadium plans to build the $600 million Collinsville Soccer Complex, MLS was not impressed with the bid's financial backing and suggested Cooper expand his group of investors.[] Cooper instead launched a second division men's club and a Women's Professional Soccer franchise. AC St. Louis played only one season in Division 2 averaging 2,750 fans during the 2010 season before folding,[141][self-published source?] and the Saint Louis Athletica folded midway through its second season in 2010.

St. Louis announced in late 2014 that it was planning a new stadium to host both American football and soccer.[142] Garber stated in January 2015 that: "St. Louis has got a lot of activity going on with a stadium that they're trying to get done for the NFL Rams". There's a big soccer community out there and we'd love to see a soccer stadium downtown like they're thinking about a football stadium.[143]

In May 2015, Garber visited St. Louis to talk about a possible new multi-purpose stadium that would be capable of holding soccer games. Garber cautioned that any possible expansion to St. Louis would occur after 2020.[144]

On January 12, 2016, The NFL's Rams relocated to Los Angeles from St. Louis and the Rams relocation initially accelerated the talks of an MLS expansion team.[145]

On January 27, 2016, St. Louis lawmaker, Keith English proposed a bill that would put a tax of not more than one-tenth of one percent on the ballot in St. Louis and St. Louis County, it also calls for the RSA to oversee the soccer stadium.[] The proposed tax would only go into effect if MLS awards a team to St. Louis by December 20, 2020. On February 17, 2016, the MLS2STL group was formed to bring a MLS team to the St. Louis area.[146]

On January 26, 2017, a funding plan for a soccer-specific stadium adjacent to Union Station in Downtown St. Louis City was approved by the city's Aldermanic Ways and Means Committee. The proposed bill still needed to be approved by the entire Board of Aldermen before it was brought to a public vote on the April 4, 2017, general municipal ballot.[147][needs update]

Detroit (2011-13)

Triple Sports & Entertainment, a Canadian firm owned by Andreas Apostolopoulos, purchased the Silverdome in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac with plans to convert the stadium into a 30,000-seat capacity soccer-specific stadium.[148] They applied to MLS for an expansion franchise on June 8, 2011, without success.[149] On July 24, 2013, the company also submitted plans for the site that is being considered for the current Detroit expansion proposal, but was unsuccessful.[150][151]

Las Vegas (2014-15, 2017)

The Las Vegas Sun reported on May 14, 2014, that a potential ownership group held talks about an expansion team in Las Vegas.[152] The investor group, consisting of Findlay Sports and Entertainment and real estate developers, Cordish Company, acquired a 61-acre site at Symphony Park in Downtown Las Vegas from the city and released a plan to build a 24,000-seat stadium there.[153] MLS, Mayor Carolyn Goodman, and the Findlay group expressed preference for a downtown stadium.[154] League deputy commissioner Mark Abbott visited the city in July 2014 to meet with Mayor Goodman and to tour the downtown area.[155]

On December 17, 2014, the Las Vegas City Council approved public funding of $56.5 million for the proposed soccer stadium in Symphony Park, contingent on MLS granting an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.[156]

Garber notified Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on February 12, 2015 that MLS no longer considered Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018.[157] The potential for a Las Vegas team was revived in January 2017 by the city council approaching a sports investment bank but an official bid was not reported by MLS.[3] On August 20, 2017, Las Vegas was awarded a USL expansion franchise to begin play at Cashman Field in 2018.[158]

San Antonio (2011-2017)

A previous San Antonio expansion bid ended in 2005, when negotiations between the league and then-mayor Ed Garza ended. Incoming mayor Phil Hardberger criticized the proposed deal, while Garber claimed that the criticisms were politically motivated and hurt efforts to sell season tickets and recruit local investors.[159]

In late 2011, San Antonio announced its bid to be MLS's 20th team.[160] The city's North American Soccer League franchise, the San Antonio Scorpions, launched in 2012 and led the league in attendance in 2012 and 2013 seasons.[161][162] In Commissioner Garber's December 2013 State of the League address, San Antonio was one of five cities listed on a presentation map of potential expansion locations.[131] In March 2014, Garber said that expansion in the immediate future was "premature" for both San Antonio and Texas, though it was "something that is likely to happen".[136]

In December 2014, Garber stated that the league was continuing to evaluate and receive updates on developments in San Antonio.[163] Potential developments include the emergence of an outside investment group[164] and the expansion plan of the current North American Soccer League stadium.[165] In early December 2014, Garber revealed that San Antonio was "not as far along" as the three other cities under consideration at the time.[166] But the league continues to monitor progress and efforts toward expansion in San Antonio.[96]

On November 4, 2015, the city of San Antonio and Bexar County announced plans to purchase Toyota Field for $18 million with the intentions of acquiring a MLS franchise. Additionally, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, owners of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, would hold a 20-year lease to operate the stadium; if SS&E fails to secure a MLS franchise for the stadium within 10 years, the group would owe the city and county a $5 million penalty.[167] On December 22, 2015, the USL announced that Spurs Sports & Entertainment would operate the league's 31st team, San Antonio FC. The establishment of the club, along with the concurrent purchase of Toyota Field by the city of San Antonio and Bexar County, is part of a plan by local officials to obtain an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer. As a result, the Scorpions franchise was shut down.

On October 16, 2017, Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced his intentions of moving his club to Austin in 2019 if a new stadium in downtown Columbus is not built. As Austin is approximately 80 miles (130 km) north of San Antonio, the proposed relocation would be in direct conflict with expansion efforts in San Antonio.[168]

San Diego (2014-2017)

Commissioner Garber mentioned San Diego as an expansion candidate in February 2014.[91] Garber reiterated in April 2016 that San Diego is one of the expansion candidates.[105] The owners interested in bringing MLS to San Diego include MLB San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler.[169] An MLS team in San Diego would be located close to two MLS teams in Los Angeles, as well as the Liga MX side Xolos of Tijuana.[170] The NFL's Chargers 2017 relocation to Los Angeles has accelerated the chances for an MLS expansion team in San Diego.[171][172][173]

On February 20, 2017, a new plan for the Mission Valley site of the facility then known as Qualcomm Stadium was unveiled by a La Jolla investment group that's trying to lure a Major League Soccer team to San Diego.[174] The former LA Galaxy striker Landon Donovan joined the San Diego ownership group on March 3, 2017.[175]

Other efforts

Rochester, New York had been mentioned as an expansion candidate due to the success of the Rochester Rhinos. The Rhinos won the US Open Cup in 1999 - the only non-MLS team to win the Cup since that competition was opened to MLS teams - and the Rhinos averaged over 10,000 fans from 1999-2005.[176] In 2006, Don Garber stated: "At some point we want to find a way we can have an MLS team in Rochester."[177] However, the Rhinos saw a downturn in attendance and finances, and the city is no longer under consideration by MLS.[177]

Throughout late 2008 and early 2009, Ottawa was a longshot candidate for one of two slots for MLS expansion,[178] but the push ended in March 2009 when MLS selected Vancouver and Portland instead.[179] On June 20, 2011, Ottawa was awarded an NASL expansion franchise which begin play as Ottawa Fury FC at TD Place Stadium in 2014; Fury FC moved to USL after the 2016 season.[180]

MLS announced in May 2010 the league's desire for a second franchise in New York. The New York Cosmos expressed interest in an MLS expansion franchise, but negotiations between MLS and the Cosmos broke down,[181][182] and the new Cosmos began playing in the North American Soccer League in 2013.[183] The league also met with other prospective ownership groups for a New York expansion team.[184] For example, MLS held talks with New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon.[46][181][185] MLS awarded the second New York franchise to New York City FC in May 2013.[186] Garber confirmed in April 2014 that there would not be a third New York team after the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.[187]

Owner Steve Malik announces rebranding to North Carolina FC

Several other cities submitted bids in 2016 or 2017 to apply for the two slots to be decided in late 2017 and early 2018, but were not among the four finalists selected in late 2017:

  • In January 2017, Indianapolis launched an official bid to upgrade their NASL franchise, the Indy Eleven, to an MLS expansion member, but their bid was not chosen.[188]
  • Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith led an effort for MLS expansion to Charlotte that initially included a 20,000 to 30,000 seat stadium.[189] The Smiths' bid was not affiliated with the USL team Charlotte Independence. In October 2017, however, the Charlotte city council confirmed that they would be unable to come up with the financing needed for the MLS deadline for expansion proposals, at which point the bid was effectively dead.[190]
  • On December 6, 2016, Carolina Railhawks (later rebranded as North Carolina FC) owner Steve Malik announced a push for Raleigh's minor league team to become a MLS team,[191] and build a privately funded $150 million, 22,000-seat stadium in Wake County.[192]
  • In December 2016, MLS confirmed that Tampa / St. Petersburg was one of its ten potential expansion cities. Bill Edwards, the majority owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies started a campaign to join the league.[193] On May 2, 2017, a special election referendum was held in St. Petersburg to vote on the city negotiating a 25-year land lease for the Tampa Bay Rowdies current waterfront Al Lang Stadium and increasing capacity to 18,000 pending MLS expansion acceptance. The vote was 87% in favor of Al Lang Stadium redesign/expansion, and 13% against.[194]
  • In 2017, Phoenix entered the race for an expansion team.[195] The bid for expansion is led by the ownership group of Phoenix Rising FC of the United Soccer League including Chelsea and Phoenix Rising FC player Didier Drogba.[3] Phoenix Rising recently signed an agreement with Goldman Sachs to help funding of a new 20,000 person stadium on land purchased from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community if selected.[196]

Expansion and dispersal drafts

Draft Date Team(s) involved Players drafted First overall pick
1997 November 6, 1997 Chicago Fire
Miami Fusion
24 Danny Pena (Los Angeles Galaxy)
January 11, 2002 Miami Fusion
Tampa Bay Mutiny
19 Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids; allocation)
Chris Henderson (Colorado Rapids; dispersal)
2004 November 19, 2004 Chivas USA
Real Salt Lake
20 Arturo Torres (Los Angeles Galaxy)
2006 November 17, 2006 Toronto FC 10 Paulo Nagamura (Los Angeles Galaxy)
2007 November 21, 2007 San Jose Earthquakes 10 Ryan Cochrane (Houston Dynamo)
2008 November 26, 2008 Seattle Sounders FC 14 Nate Jaqua (Houston Dynamo)
2009 November 25, 2009 Philadelphia Union 10 Jordan Harvey (Colorado Rapids)
2010 November 24, 2010 Portland Timbers
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
20 Dax McCarty (FC Dallas)
2011 November 23, 2011 Montreal Impact 10 Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo)
November 19, 2014 (dispersal)
December 10, 2014 (expansion)
Chivas USA (dispersal)
New York City FC (expansion)
Orlando City SC (expansion)
7 (dispersal)
20 (expansion)
Dan Kennedy (to FC Dallas; dispersal)
Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers; expansion)
2016 December 13, 2016 Atlanta United FC
Minnesota United FC
10 Donny Toia (Montreal Impact)
2017 December 12, 2017 Los Angeles FC 5 Tyler Miller (Seattle Sounders FC)

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