It's no secret that the commissioner of Major League Soccer, Don Garber, wants to grow the league into as many cities as possible and for it to be one of the best leagues in the world by the start of the next decade. Garber's already awarded franchises to Minnesota, Atlanta, and Los Angeles (again).
The key question is where does the league go from here? Officials have said it's looking past twenty four clubs, and with David Beckham's Miami bid being finalised hopefully by the end of summer, when will the expansion of the league end? Since Don Garber cut his teeth working in the NFL, I personally predict that we could see thirty two clubs in the top league.
Should the federation, league, or whoever makes the decision, create new clubs or bring existing clubs up from the lower leagues? American football doesn't have promotion or relegation and that's a hot topic. There's some very good clubs in the lower leagues, that with time, money and help from state governments or tax payers could flourish. There's eight clubs that could make the jump in the next ten years. One of them won't be the New York Cosmos. To start out let's go through some of the sides that are looking like they're going to make the jump - Indianapolis Eleven, Sacramento and San Antonio.
There have been reports out here that USL's Sacramento Republic are in MLS once they get a stadium sorted. Yet, keep in mind that NYCFC doesn't have their own stadium and won't for a while, but we won't get into the double talk in MLS. So that's one spot filled, and rightfully so. In just a short time they have sold out games and been very competitive. Sacramento also have the support of the city, and the NBA's Sacramento Kings. It's just a matter of time, if the California state government is willing to make the taxpayers pay for another stadium.
Another club that has been in the running, and highly thought of to get the next bump up, is North American Soccer League's San Antonio Scorpions. They already have their own Soccer Specific Stadium and have hosted international friendlies. The problem is that right now they are going through an ownership change. However, they won the title in 2014, and are always among the top of the league.
The Indianapolis Eleven, who are very similar to the Sacramento, in that they are a new club with a massive fan base. Right now, they are looking for their own stadium. Part of their club is Peter Wilt, who was the GM of the Chicago Fire when they were doing well and the owner cared. Indianapolis have been able to attract former MLS players and in their second season, with the fanbase they have too, could see them hit the same heights as Minnesota United.
The other clubs in the NASL might be without a league. The New York Cosmos don't want to give up their individualism and the money to fit into the single entity which will force them to not join MLS and probably keep them from making it into the next decade. Tampa Bay Rowdies, a name from the old NASL, is stable enough and has a rabid following and a great supporters' podcast. They have a great owner in Bill Edwards and a manager who won an MLS Cup. But will MLS want to have another link to the old NASL? That's the billion dollar question.
One club that is doing well down the USA soccer ladder, and would be amazing, is Detroit City FC. The simple fact that their fans, the Northern Guard, and their shirt sponsor is Detroit area Chevy Dealers (the same company that sponsors Manchester United) mean there's potential there. They are in the National Premier Soccer League, which is an amateur league, with some other great clubs. Detroit needs another pro club in the rotation; it's an amazing city, with a big fan base.
Nashville FC is a unique club here in the States and is one of only a few supporter owned clubs. They have a great set up, especially considering they're in the NPSL. Nashville have a feel of a club at USL level. With such a smallish club that has the potential to grow, the sky is the limit. They also stream the games online for the supporters which is a nice touch. They're a well-run club who have a nice vibe about them. Their team president, for example, very personable and approachable.
Then there's the whole problem with St. Louis. They are one of the most iconic and historically important cities in the country for the sport. They've had clubs come and go for the last 100 plus years, but nothing has stayed or developed enough to make a serious bid. Also, there hasn't been well known people who have wanted to put together a serious bid. When Portland and Seattle came in, St. Louis were in the running there too. Now, with this round of expansion, the city is being spoken about as a possible candidate. They could be great, but it's early days.
Another club, or town, that could do with a top level club is Buffalo. There's an MLS club across the border, but Buffalo has the support and the history of the sport in the city. Once again, the problem is down to a lack of financial support or backing. There's already a small club there called FC Buffalo, with a great supporters group. The city has its own football pub and passionate fans. Perhaps in time they'll be in with a shout too.
Football is growing over here and fairly quickly too. Some, though, argue that by expanding too fast you'll delude the talent in the country and become like the old NASL. However, the amount of Americans going overseas to play could be curbed by more clubs here in the States and that could really aid the development of the league further. The league is stable enough to support more clubs. The question is - who deserves a chance? There's certainly no shortage of candidates.
By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @