Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Expansion was such an afterthought following the announcement that MLS bought Chivas USA on Thursday that league commissioner Don Garber had to subtly remind reporters that they could ask about the topic during a conference call.
What Garber said on the subject when finally asked was revealing.
The commissioner had already said MLS plans to reach 24 teams by the end of the decade. The league will stand at 21 teams next year with the additions of New York City FC and Orlando City, and David Beckham’s Miami franchise would be the 22nd club if and when a stadium deal is reached.
After that, Atlanta seems like the front-runner for one of the two remaining openings.
“We continue to work and make progress in Atlanta and we are bullish on that market,” said Garber. “We’ll continue to work hopefully with the (National Football League’s) Falcons and (owner) Arthur Blank, seeing if we can get something finalized in Atlanta.”
Minneapolis is another potential market. Local NASL club Minnesota United FC has made some positive noise in recent months, and Garber said he believes it could make the jump to MLS if fans continue to show support.
Securing a stadium is paramount to the city’s chances of getting an expansion team.
“We have been working hard with a potential ownership group in Minneapolis and that opportunity is one that we’re excited about as we believe we need more teams in the Midwest,” said Garber. “I think if Minneapolis is a market that can continue to show the support that they’ve had for the NASL club and if we’re continuing to make progress on a number of different stadium opportunities, there’s a real opportunity there, and we really have a lot of respect and admiration for the ownership group.”
While MLS could stop at 24 teams, it seems more likely that the league will continue to grow, albeit at a much slower pace than in recent years. Garber mentioned discussions and interest from multiple cities, including San Diego and San Antonio.
“There are some activities going on in northern California,” said Garber. “There have been some discussions in southern California, in San Diego. There are lots and lots of opportunities that we’ve looked at in Texas. As you know, we’ve been down in San Antonio recently.
“I think the league is poised for more teams in time. But we’re going to be careful about ensuring that we get them into the league at the right time and when the league can handle it from a player perspective and from a resource perspective.”
What do you make of Garber’s comments? Like the idea of Atlanta and Minneapolis landing expansion teams? How big do you see MLS being when things are all said and done?
Share your thoughts below.