By CAITLIN MURRAY
Sacramento, California is getting the chance to win over Major League Soccer.
Executives from MLS are scheduled to visit the California state capital this month to assess the region’s viability as a new home to an expansion franchise. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott and Charles Altchek, a special assistant to league Commissioner Don Garber, will visit the area on Sept. 18 and 19.
“I am extremely optimistic that Sacramento can present a compelling and winning case to Major League Soccer,” Mayor Kevin Johnson wrote in a memo to the city council Tuesday, revealing the details of the visit.
The visit will specifically focus on a development site known as the downtown railyards, where offices, housing, shops, an arts center and a museum just outside of downtown are planned by the 2020s. The development is in the first phase of five.
Garber has been clear that potential expansion sites will need to be centrally located in urban areas to be considered and Johnson’s preferred site, minutes from downtown, may fit the bill.
Johnson has said it’s unlikely the city will help pay for an MLS stadium and it would need to be privately financed. Early estimates peg the cost at between $100 million and $125 million.
The region’s only other professional sports team in the area is the Sacramento Kings and Kings owners have suggested they would consider partnering with a Sacramento MLS franchise. Sacramento is in the early stages of building a new basketball arena downtown with public financing.
Sacramento Republic FC, the first-year USL Pro expansion club, is off to a strong start, consistently selling out their suburban, temporary 8,000-capacity venue at the state fairgrounds outside the city. The club set a new USL Pro single-season attendance record in July, with five weeks left in the regular season.
Garber’s goal is 24 teams by 2020 — 22 slots have been formally awarded and Miami will be added as long as a downtown stadium site can be secured, meaning just one open MLS expansion slot remains. Abbott has said there is no timetable for MLS to decide on the final expansion city.