First Touch

MLS Is Becoming A Crowded House

The long, slow, inexorable march of MLS expansion continues unabated. It will keep going, long after you and I are dead, until either the sun goes nova or until the entire landscape of North America is so bloated with soccer-specific stadia that cemeteries must be bulldozed and the offended dead walk the earth, seeking blood and vengeance.

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Tim Hall’s View From 101

The question has been asked by numerous reporters at numerous intervals since the ball really got rolling on MLS expansion: where is the line? How many will be enough? The answer has to make the top level suits at MLS headquarters happy they invested in those easy-to-move goalposts years ago.

The gut instinct, in keeping with many of the world’s leagues, would have been twenty. But there are some leagues that manage to pull off twenty-four. But, gosh, there are just so many good candidates out there with such great stories to tell, maybe twenty-eight.

And that’s the number, twenty-eight. For now. And for now, let us ignore all the evidence that has been placed before us in the past and take the executives at their word, and let’s assume we only get to twenty-eight, if for no other reason than it makes a good thought project and a bit of mental onanism and prevents us from staring into the infinite.

Presently the league stands at 22 teams active, with another one – Los Angeles FC – officially announced with a fancy logo and a few hundred minority owners. Five to go.

Beckham Promise

For better or for worse, Major League Soccer is still stuck with David Beckham and his promise to be the face behind a Miami reboot (the league’s original Miami franchise, the Fusion, folded in 2002). The obvious problem is that there isn’t a whole bunch of cheap arable land in Miami, what with all the art deco construction lying around.

So Beckham’s choices are to actually set up shop outside of Miami (the Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale), come to a ground sharing agreement at the architectural abomination known as Marlins Park, or gain some land in a poorer neighborhood away from the glitzy glamorous beach traffic by some skullduggery and eminent domain.

But let’s for a moment take an underwear model at his word and call Miami team number 24. Four to go.


The largest American television market not currently supporting an MLS team is Detroit. The one thing Detroit does have going for it is land, in the form of an abandoned prison known as the “Fail Jail”, which visiting supporters are already making banners for.

But Detroit is already home to Detroit City FC, a fourth-tier club whose fans have made it clear they don’t want to be co-opted into the MLS marketing package, and any new team in the area – especially a sports mad town like Detroit with a full compliment of ‘big four’ teams – will struggle to get, let alone maintain, fans once the sparkling newness of a stadium fades away.

If you’re looking for a region for MLS to expand to, the American southwest seems as likely as any. Las Vegas pops up from time to time as a candidate, perhaps emboldened by this week’s announcement that the NFL’s Oakland Raiders will once more pull up stakes and move to Sin City in two years time.


The question remains, however: is anybody who actually lives in Las Vegas going to come out to support the Raiders, or the hypothetical MLS team that will be their neighbors, or will the stands be filled with hungover 20-somethings on comped tickets?

If Las Vegas as a problem of tourists, Phoenix has the opposite. Any stadium built for an Arizona MLS team would have to be an all-seater, not for fear of wild hooligan riots, but because a clear majority of the people attending would be on their fifth knee surgery, third spouse and second pacemaker. But aside from that, and the fact that you’ll kill someone playing a full season in 100 degree heat, Phoenix!

California doesn’t need another team, but neither does MLS and yet here we are. San Diego has come to the forefront as one of the possible expansion targets, aided no doubt by the involvement of US Soccer legend Landon Donovan, and San Diego’s own NFL team leaving.

San Diego

To show how serious San Diego is about bringing in an MLS team, they held a Facebook poll to come up with ideas for a name for the club. In the lead as of press time, by a considerable margin, is “Footy McFootyface.” Now, mock all you want, but a league that allowed and continues to allow “Real Salt Lake” to be a thing doesn’t all of a sudden get to be picky with names. At least it’s not another United.

And finally, what has long been the crown jewel of potential expansion for many: St. Louis. People from St. Louis will tell you, very often, what great sports fans they are. In a comfortable, midwesterny way, St. Louis makes sense for MLS. There’s a soccer history, there are natural geographic rivals, there is land possibly available.

Unfortunately MLS Commissioner Don Garber, making the rounds drumming up support in all of these cities, playing the bidders against each other like a used car salesman telling you that someone was just here looking at this very car not five minutes ago, stopped in STL and said some things.

St. Louis

“We can’t make that decision (about expanding to St. Louis) until we know whether there is going to be a stadium.” OK, fair enough, that’s certainly been the measuring stick for everyone except NYCFC who are no closer to a stadium of their own today than they ever have been. But, yes, stadium, fine.

Unfortunately Don Garber said this rather obvious statement while sat beside the potential St. Louis ownership group, and while pushing for people to vote for Proposition 2, which would spend $60 million of taxpayer money toward building said stadium. “If you want MLS, that proposition needs to be successful.” Garber said. And if you want to see your family again, you’ll shut up and do what I tell you.

Garber and company argue that the city will recoup that money, which is a lie, because if stadiums were profitable, the billionaires who own the teams would pay for them out of pocket and keep the profit themselves.

And this is symbolic of the ‘best of a number of bad options’ path further MLS expansion has taken, almost like Garber et al are artificially inflating the league’s value. “Look how many teams we gave you. Well, bye!” and they parachute out of the crashing plane to safety.

To the voters of St. Louis and elsewhere: don’t. Soccer is fun and cool and in the rare instance might perhaps revitalize a downtown. But one man’s revitalization is another man’s gentrification, and it still isn’t going to fill in the potholes. If the government and the wealthy want you to pay for a stadium, propose an installment plan. Pay a little bit for every game played. You can call it, I don’t know, a “ticket.”

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