MLS Expansion Final Four


Cincinnati FC is one of the finalists for MLS expansion. (Courtesy of Twitter)

By Andrea Garcia

Cincinnati FC is one of the finalists for MLS expansion. (Courtesy of Twitter)

This past week, the MLS announced the final four teams out of a pool of twelve minor league clubs that remain in contention for a bid to join the major league circle, including FC Cincinnati, Detroit FC, Nashville SC and Sacramento Republic

FC Cincy

FC Cincinnati has brought life back to a city with otherwise lackluster major league teams. I refer you to the Reds’ last place finish in the NL Central (68-94), competing with the Phillies (66-96), the Giants (64-98) and the Tigers (64-98) for the worst season record this past MLB season. I also direct you to the Bengals, as the only reason they aren’t last in AFC North would be the Cleveland Browns.

Point being, the team’s run since joining the United Soccer League in 2016 has attracted Cincinnati sports fans to the seats. In 2016, the team broke the single-season attendance record in the league, averaging 17,296 fans per game. They broke their own record for the 2017 season, and if compared to MLS teams for attendance, would have stood 8th in the league.

The only thing working against them would be the lack of a soccer-specific stadium. While Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati have finally agreed on a budget of $51 million in infrastructure support for the new stadium, the lack of a known, agreed site indicates a roadblock in the bid process.

Sacramento Republic

Timing has been everything with the Sacramento Republic’s attempts to get into the league. The team was in strong contention for an expansion bid in 2014, but the MLS chose not to expand. In fact, they let go of a team in that year. Considering that the team ended up winning the United Soccer League Club that year, all may be forgiven but not forgotten as they vie for this expansion bid.

Since winning that first cup, they’ve remained a mainstay in the USL’s Western Conference. They broke the USL’s attendance records in 2014 and 2015, and then FC Cincinnati came along. Their home stadium fills with just under 12,000 fans, but the bid would include the development of a new 20,000 person soccer stadium in Downtown Sacramento.

Fans argue for a stronger soccer presence out West, with the only other soccer teams bring the LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. Sacramento seems to fit the bill for an MLS expansion bid.

Nashville FC

In a city that is known for its music, it’s not hard to forget that Nashville has its foot in the sports industry with the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators.

The Titans, currently sitting at the top of the AFC South with the Jaguars, haven’t been on top of their division since 2008. The Predators, though, have had their fair share of recent successes, making it to their first Stanley cup for the 2016-2017 season and winning a wild card spot in 2015-2016.

What the club lacks is a strong fan base. They have a comparably lower attendance record than the rest of the bid class. What they lack in fans, the club makes up for with the backing of their political community and a soccer-specific stadium, which is more than FC Cincinnati and Detroit can claim.

Detroit FC

Detroit FC’s inclusion in the final four is a case of “one of these is not like the other,” considering that they’re from the National Premier Soccer League while the other three teams are from the United Soccer League. While they are from a comparably “lower” soccer league, their expansion team has made enough noise to land them a spot in the final four.

Led by Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, the owners of the Cleveland Cavalier and Detroit Pistons, respectively, Detroit FC has positioned themselves in the final four with a stadium deal. The support of the Ford family in the MLS bid process welcomes DCFC to play at Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions. This would mimic how Atlantic United currently plays in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Falcons.

The only thing that appears to be Detroit FC’s basis for a new stadium is the support of Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, paired with the fact that the team has a stadium to play in. The remaining question is whether or not Detroit needs another professional sports team. Of the final four bid teams, Detroit has the most saturated market for professional sports, with teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

On Dec. 6, representatives from each team will make the trip to the MLS headquarters and make their case for their team’s ticket to the league.

My choice would fall to Sacramento and Cincinnati. Sacramento comes into the game like that senior who’s just been in school too long and is ready to graduate. Cincinnati is a younger team, but as long as the committee can sort out plans for a new stadium, they’ve had outstanding successes that have only been preceded by Sacramento.

For two of the four contenders, winning the bid would be the ultimate Christmas present.