MLS / NASL / Soccer / USL-PRO

2020 MLS teams

During the halftime broadcast of the MLS All Star game between the MLS All Stars and AS Roma came some exciting news from MLS Commissioner Don Garber. And frankly, because of the way the match was being played, this news may have trumped the second half. The news I write of is that of Garber saying by 2020, MLS will (hopefully) be expanded to 24 teams. The 24 number does not include NYCFC which will begin play in 2015. That means four more teams are in consideration of becoming a Major League Soccer team.

Currently there are nine teams in the NASL – which is the division directly below MLS in the North American soccer pyramid – and the league that could be most easily tapped for resources equaling a new MLS team. However, there is one team in USL-PRO, that I will mention later, that has ambitions on being a MLS team by 2015 or soon thereafter. That vision may have been a little too lofty before, but now after Garber’s announcement, there is more of a light at the end of their seemingly long tunnel.

The NASL consists of Atlanta (Silverbacks), Carolina (RailHawks), San Antonio (Scorpions), Tampa Bay (Rowdies), Edmonton (FC Edmonton), Twin Cities (Minnesota United FC), and Fort Lauderdale (Strikers).

USL-PRO includes Charleston (Battery), Charlotte (Eagles), Dayton (Dutch Lions), Harrisburg City (Islanders), Los Angeles (Blues), Orlando City (Orlando), Phoenix (Phoenix FC Wolves), Pittsburgh (Riverhounds), Richmond (Kickers), Rochester (Rhinos), Tampa Bay (VSI Tampa Bay FC), and Wilmington (Hammerheads).

The main criteria that Garber and MLS executives laid out for any team wanting to join the expansion of MLS are: committed owners that are backing the team financially, a stadium or approved stadium (soccer specific stadium is a bonus), market size of the metro area, and an established fan base.

My analysis on what teams have the best shot at becoming a Major League Soccer franchise by 2020:

Atlanta – The only area of the country that is currently untapped for soccer: Southeast. Atlanta, or Hotlanta to some, are the most forthright NASL team in the Southeast that could see ‘promotion’ movement to MLS. The more years the Silverbacks are around, the more the organization shapes up. A few years back the team started playing at their own soccer specific stadium, Atlanta Silverbacks Park. The 5000-seat stadium that is home to Atlanta, is able to be expanded – if the occasion need arise – to a more respectable MLS size capacity of 15,000. Eric Wynalda, a former national team member and MLSer himself, started his new role as interim head coach for Atlanta. If the team wants to be a serious contender – even with Wynalda and a SSS – for an expansion team with MLS, they need to be focusing on the quality of product and a business plan to market to the Atlanta community. Although, judging by this video, they seem to be going in the right direction. 

San Antonio – The San Antonio Scorpions call Toyota Field (not to be confused with Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park) home and can brag they are one of a few NASL teams with a soccer specific stadium. The 8000-seater can (and would need to) expand to a capacity of 18,500 if the Scorpions were selected to join MLS in the next few years. San Antonio clearly have the ownership and financial backing for a Major League Soccer team, a stadium, and a fan base (according to the @Crocketteers twitter account, it has over 1150 members). The only misgiving I have of San Antonio: Texas already has two teams – one in Dallas and one in Houston. BUT, SA could be a nice place for soccer fans and to be in MLS.

Minnesota – I won’t delve too deeply into this one since I’ve already written a post on MLS in Minnesota. If you don’t have time to read through it (maybe just scan it, though), here are my points for bumping up the NASL team, Minnesota United FC, to a MLS team. They have the right owners these days. One note to point out is that the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have – in their stadium deal – to seek out MLS expansion opportunities. I am not sure just how serious Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf is about a soccer team playing at the new stadium in Minneapolis. That’s the tricky situation. Otherwise, MNUFC have a business plan, from what I’ve gathered. Also, the metro area of the Twin Cities has people who love soccer and they would come. They show up in droves to the National Sports Center to USA Cup every July, the biggest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, that turns out over 15,000 spectators and players. Also, for the fall season of NASL, they introduced their new sick kits. Love them.

(As a note, I am a native Minnesotan, so it should be clear that I am ALL for a Major League Soccer team in Minnesota.)

Orlando – Orlando City is, quite possibly, the best hope for a Florida/Southeast team (for now) to become the absolute NEXT team to be in MLS. Owner Phil Rawlins has not been meek about his aspirations for Orlando City to move up to MLS, but the hang-up for Rawlins and his co-owners of the club is a soccer specific stadium. This week, however, Orlando City SC’s Rawlins has plans to address the city of Orlando for expansion plans and for a stadium in the city. Orlando already has a staunch following in the Iron Lion Firm, believed to be the biggest and most organized in USL-PRO, so bringing the fans around to the idea of Orlando City as a MLS team won’t be hard. Additionally, as this website claims, Orlando believes in MLS.

Miami – If you’ve been living under a rock, you would have no idea David Beckham is looking to start a franchise in Miami. That being said, you probably knew that. A Miami Herald writer recently wrote an ‘open letter’ to Beckham stating the best place for a MLS franchise would be in South Beach.  Although the Beckham deal is long from being inked with a signature, it seems as Miami is the place to be for the former England captain. However, as this Guardian article states, the south Florida city is also in contention with other unnamed cities.  I do not think this would be the best move, mainly because Orlando City is so much more deserving, but if done right – with a stadium, good business practices, reaching out to the large Cuban and Hispanic fan base that are aching for a good sports for which to root – than a Miami MLS could possibly thrive on the coast of Florida.

Those dabbing their feet in the water and could someday be in MLS, but most likely not by 2020:

Indianapolis – After being founded this year (2013), Indy Eleven looks to be making the right strides coming into the NASL. Indy hired a local – and also a former player in USMNT and MLS – man, Juergen Sommer, will most likely be playing at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus come spring 2014 when Eleven’s team starts play, and as of June 3, there were over 4000 season ticket holders (most likely closer to 4500 in early August). And judging by the Brickyard Battalion – Indy Eleven’s supporter group – and their readiness for games, Indy looks like it could be a solid NASL team (and possibly a Major League Soccer team in the future).

Sacramento – Not only do Sacramento Republic FC have a great advert in this video  – which includes ‘The Chant’ (their ‘fight song’ – if you will – with the tune coming from Battle Hymn of the Republic) – but also a good looking crest with roots from the California state flag and MLS-hardened former player-turned-coach, Preki, taking the reins as manager.  If Sac Republic – which is a USL-Pro team – can produce awesome fans ala the video, and come away with one or two (or three) winning seasons, you might chalk up this capital city team as a MLS franchise.

San Diego – This one is tough to crack. San Diego is one of the biggest metro areas in the country without a MLS team, let alone an NASL or USL-Pro team. The professional team in the city is the San Diego Flash from the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League).  However, the southern California city is saturated with other sports (Padres in MLB, Chargers in NFL, and multiple college teams like the San Diego State Aztecs), so even putting down roots for a lower-tiered team would be hard. On the flip side, Tijuana’s Xolos – the Liga MX team from 30 minutes away – are gaining ground with the many Mexicans and Latin Americans in the San Diego area. Additionally, there are three regular USMNT members as part of the Xolos team (Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo and Herulez Gomez); and as much as the Xolos are a Liga MX team, you can see that with the American players on the team, the Xolos are trying to appeal to Americans. Hopefully the success from Tijuana’s Xolos will translate to the foundation of a soccer team (whether it be MLS, NASL, USL-Pro, etc) in San Diego in the near future.

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6 thoughts on “2020 MLS teams

  1. I must say that I am uneasy about both Atlanta and Miami. Both cities struggle with professional sports as a whole. To me, that’s an important factor. In Miami the Dolphins, Marlins have poor attendances and the Heat only draw well when they have a big name or two. Worse yet, the University of Miami was among the worst draws in the Big East and later the ACC.

    In Atlanta, the Falcons have been up and down. The Braves no longer draw well. The hockey team packed up and left and the Hawks have historically been poor at the gate.

    Miami is just not a sports city (like Las Vegas). It never really has been either. Atlanta loves college sports but it’s pro sports teams have never really gained much traction. To me, those are warning signs that would make me think twice about an MLS team.

    Other cities that have been mentioned seem too small for pro sports. The growth opportunity is limited. Those are Sacramento, Indianapolis, etc. To me, these cities will have a ceiling similar to Columbus now which is decent but not spectacular like SKC or Seattle right now.

    There are other cities that are just declining in all areas of life and moving a sports team there doesn’t make sense: Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans

    Orlando is interesting and that is viewed as a leading contender. I am sure there is a passionate fan base but is their enough for growth?

    Here are cities I favor:

    San Diego: right now Xolos run the day and they have made a huge push into San Diego. That doesn’t mean MLS can’t step in and compete. Personally, this could either be a market for expansion or a rebranded and relocated Chivas USA (which needs to happen).

    St. Louis: No one is talking about St. Louis but I like the idea and think it can do well. It has a rich soccer history.

    San Antonio: Growing city and one that seems to embrace the sport.

    Minnesota: Has always supported sports well.

    • I agree somewhat. Miami has an incredible soccer followoers and so far an untapped market for real soccer. Strikers is far away and concentrating in their area. Miami-Dade county fans backed them a little. Up to now, all soccer promoted in Miami is for segment factions. Very few soccer events for all factions and those were a rotund success at the gate.

    • I must admit, although I mention that Miami as being a front-runner for being a MLS club by 2020, personally, I dismiss it and go against the masses who agree with the opinion that it will be good for soccer. I think if soccer is in Florida – and needs only one spot in Florida – it must go to Orlando. I understand that other sports have big draws in the city (really, namely the Heat), but who’s to say that if a Miami team were to join MLS that a big name wouldn’t join because of Beckham’s name association with the club? That would most likely draw many people out to games. I don’t care for a Miami team*, but it seems that’s the general direction MLS (or at least the people who support Beckham’s MLS ownership) is going, although – like I said previously – personally, I don’t think that’s a great idea. (*I don’t like Florida teams in general for some reason, so it might take me a little bit to warm up to Orlando City if they become a MLS team.)

      As far as Atlanta goes, I do think that it could do well in MLS…IF, and that’s a big IF, people come from out of town to watch MLS games.
      Since there is no MLS team in the Southeast right now, I think they’re practically begging for it – which helps their case – and will support it when given the opportunity, they just haven’t had such opportunity. It’s about a 6 hour drive from Raleigh-Durham, NC, a 3-4 hour drive from Nashville, TN, and a 3 hour drive from Columbia, SC, if the SE folk ever want to take a long weekend for a soccer game – which isn’t a huge ask. However, as you noted, Atlanta isn’t the most loyal fan base in the US and so support could be lacking if Atlanta were to get a MLS team or if the Silverbacks were granted a ‘promotion’ (of sorts) from NASL to MLS.

      I definitely agree with Cleveland, Detroit and New Orleans, though. There is no way to support a team, especially when a city is in disrepair or bankrupt. And not that the same goes for Orlando by any means, but for me, there is very much a perception of travelers coming in and out of the city and not staying to watch soccer games. I think Orlando, though, as I said in the post, has the best shot at getting a franchise in MLS but ONLY if they are voted ‘yes’ for a soccer specific stadium.

      The cities I could see as MLS contenders: San Diego (yes – and I think it should be a rebranded and relocated Chivas USA under new ownership…I would definitely go to games), San Antonio (sure), and Minnesota (yes). My only hang up is St. Louis. I understand the history and significance of soccer in the city, but with no professional team there – within any division (unless I am mistaken) – I do not see it as being a front-runner for a 2020 MLS expansion franchise. My mindset could clearly change if (or when) Beckham decides to not go the Miami-route (and I will be glad for that decision), but I don’t know if the grassroots efforts for a St. Louis MLS team would or will be enough, and in time. I think it would be great if St. Louis had a team in the (hypothetical) case that it would also be in the Eastern Conference and SKC and STL would have as fierce a rivalry as the Cascadia teams, but right now, I just don’t see it.

      So if I had my own personal choice for the remaining four MLS teams – if they all had great ownership wanting to dole out the dollers/have a business plan, have a soccer specific stadium, be located in a metro area, and have great supporters – I would say MLS clubs be handed to: Orlando, Atlanta, San Antonio, and Minnesota (and a relocated/rebranded Chivas USA to San Diego).

      Anyways, thanks, per usual, for your comments, Brian! I appreciate your viewpoint immensely.

  2. Being a Twin Cities, Minnesota, resident, I am all in favor of an MLS franchise to make the Twin Cities home with one exception: I will not attend games if they are played in the new dome on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. We need a team that will play in a soccer specific stadium with owners that are passionate about the beautiful game and not just some NFL franchise holder who looks at an MLS team as purely an investment and something to fill seats in a domed stadium as a source of income. It needs to be an outdoor stadium and centrally located and made for soccer!

  3. Agree, the love for the game must be there or will fold guaranteed. If only as an investment they do it expecting soccer be the “chicken of golden eggs” and must generate high revenue before start, in a blatant disregard for soccer fans. And the fans smell it and don’t show. We saw it first hand in Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

    • Thanks for the comments.
      Since I don’t live in the Southeast/Florida area, it’s hard to see the perception of soccer fans in that area of the country, so I appreciated your notes. I sympathize with you, though, as I’m sure most soccer fans would, as you say that the love of soccer must be there for not only the soccer fans who go to games, but also for the owners and organizers of MLS teams.
      If Beckham decides to pursue a soccer team in the Miami area, I hope he makes the decision for the good of the league, for the fans and most importantly, the players, rather than having it be solely a business decision based on the where the money will be free-flowing.
      Here’s to Beckham making smart decisions!

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