MLS is one step away from announcing its newest expansion markets. According to various media reports on Wednesday, Cincinnati, Detroit, Sacramento and Nashville have been selected as the finalists for the league’s next two expansion markets and will present their respective cases on December 6 in New York City.
The fact that Cincinnati, Sacramento and Nashville are on the list isn’t a surprise at all. Cincinnati’s bid has been buoyed by the success of its USL club and its Cinderella run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals this year. Coupled with the city’s decision to approve a plan to build a new stadium, it has positioned itself to join the league. Sacramento Republic FC have long been a frontrunner for MLS expansion with construction on a 19,000-plus capacity soccer-specific stadium already underway. Cincinnati and Sacramento have been first and second in USL attendance over the past two years as well.
Nashville has quickly seen the pieces of its bid come together, with the biggest hurdle - approval of a $275 million package for a stadium project - having been cleared earlier this month. They are working with more of a blank canvas as Nashville FC have yet to play a competitive match, starting play in the USL come spring with its first opponent being Atlanta United (albeit in a preseason friendly).
Detroit is an eyebrow-raiser to me as fans of the city’s NPSL team, Detroit City FC, have pushed back on MLS’s potential expansion there as they’d rather enjoy the grassroots, non-corporate setup they currently have. They have proposed Ford Field as a possible venue, but the question is how it will configure the 65,000-seat football stadium on gamedays to have a more intimate, soccer-friendly feel. A previous $1 billion soccer-specific stadium project floated by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (a Detroit-area native) and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has not materialized.
To me, it would be a gigantic shock to see Nashville not end up with one of the two expansion slots. As for the second one, that’s a coinflip between Sacramento and Cincinnati, but I think Sacramento has an edge right now since they are farther along in the process of building an SSS. The league can easily make good with Cincinnati by earmarking it as team number 26 when it prepares to launch its next round of expansion. Also, as a side note, I’d consider MLS Miami off the table until we hear otherwise.
What are your thoughts on this?