Good news for MLS fans worried about endless expansion: League president Mark Abbott told the Sporting News that the league is not particularly interested in expanding beyond 20 teams in the near future. That means that after the Montreal Impact join the league next season, the following team could be the last for quite some time.
"Our focus right now is the 20th team in New York and we have not yet set a timeline for expansion beyond that, or even (determined) if we’re going to expand beyond that," Abbott said. "There’s no place we need to be. Even at the size we are, we have a tremendous national footprint and are at the size that soccer leagues typically are. We feel good about the size we’re at. Other markets could be very successful as MLS markets, but (expanding beyond 20) wouldn’t be out of need. We don’t need to grow beyond where we are."
Abbott said that there are actually multiple ownership groups interested in operating a second New York team, so the Cosmos' return is not exactly a done deal. Las Vegas, Minnesota and Orlando were also mentioned as possible sites for team No. 20.
This makes a lot of sense from various angles. Most obviously, it serves to drive up the expansion fee the league can charge for team No. 20. That fee is largely expected to be as much as $100 million, which would be more than twice as much as any other team had to pay to get into the league.
With that kind of money due right up front, it also ensures that whoever becomes owner No. 19 (amazingly the Hunts still own two teams) will have deep pockets. It also provides a pretty clear incentive that whoever pays that fee has a stadium plan ready to go, as they won't want to be waiting around very long to start recouping on their investment.
In a weird way, this may also finally allow the lower divisions of American soccer to stabilize. While you could argue that finding investors for those markets may be tougher because they will no longer be able to do so with an eye on proving their worth to MLS, the investors that do gravitate toward the lower divisions may also be more inclined to take a longer-term view.
While the current pseudo promotion that we've seen in four of the past five expansions is undeniably good for MLS, many have argued that it has also knee-capped the leagues those teams have left. Once the Impact leave the NASL, the Rochester Rhinos of the USL-Pro are the closest thing to a stable market, and they just saw their average attendance dip for the sixth straight year. Hopefully without the threat of MLS cherry-picking the best lower-division markets, those teams will be allowed a little more stability.