This is Part Two of a chat on MLS expansion between our North American soccer editor Ryan Rosenblatt and manager of MLS blogs Jeremiah Oshan. You can read Part One, focusing on New York, Atlanta and Miami, right here. This chat is focused on the future of MLS expansion.
Ryan: Regardless of how we feel about New York, Orlando and Atlanta, they're happening. The same is true of Miami if they can get a stadium deal done, but the league has at least one more expansion team to award (two if Miami doesn't get a stadium and who knows if they decide to expand to 25 or 26 teams anyway). So, where does the league go from here?
Jeremiah: Well, can we at least agree that if MLS goes to Minnesota that opting to go with the Zigi Wilf/Minnesota Vikings bid would be a step in the wrong direction? If the Minnesota United-Minnesota Twins bid can't gain traction, I'd much rather MLS just avoid that market rather than bring in an owner who has a terrible reputation among local fans and would having its MLS team playing in a NFL stadium that doesn't seem to have been designed for soccer anywhere near to the degree that Atlanta has.
Ryan: I think it's way too early to say that. Obviously, in an ideal world a more beloved owner with a soccer-specific stadium (SSS) and impressive bankroll wins out, but this is rarely an ideal world. I don't think we're at a point where we can just rule out a Wilf bid. He doesn't appear to have gotten far enough, or at least released enough publicly to for us to say it would be a disaster, but there are certainly huge warning flags that are unlike most recent expansion teams and those only look worse when, at this moment, another ownership group that appears to be qualified is also in the mix.
The advantage that MLS does have in Minneapolis that they didn't have with the last four teams is geography and market. MLS doesn't HAVE to be in Minneapolis like they had to be in the South. They didn't have the nation's biggest market staring at them either, like they did with NYCFC, so they have the luxury of considering more candidates than they did with the last four teams.
Jeremiah: The other thing MLS has going for it is that they don't need to be in any particular rush to pick a 24th team. As it is, Atlanta won't start playing until 2017 and Miami certainly isn't going to start any earlier than that. MLS has never had three teams enter in the same year, so 2018 seems like the earliest they'd be looking for the next expansion team. That should give some of the other markets enough time to get their situations straightened out.
Given the markets that seem anywhere near ready to put together a viable bid, I'd much rather MLS go somewhere like San Antonio instead of going with a Wilf-backed bid in Minnesota.
Ryan: But how viable is the San Antonio bid? We know less about that one than Wilf's Minneapolis bid and we don't know enough about that one.
I think that's where your point about time is so right, and important. Nobody appears so close to a team that they're going to land one tomorrow, and that's OK. All of the cities have time to sort out their situation. Wilf may end up offering MLS something great, as could San Antonio. An owner may emerge in St. Louis and he may even have a stadium plan. Indianapolis might fast track things.
There is a long ways to go right now, but MLS has the luxury of time and options.
Jeremiah: I guess that's the one thing I'm hoping for, that MLS really take its time to pick a 24th team. I'd also like MLS to stay at that number at least until every team is in a secure situation.
Ryan: I think the thing to remember is this: MLS can do whatever they want now.
MLS had to go to New York, Atlanta and Miami. The nation's biggest market was underserved by the Red Bulls and there's a reason every league has teams in Atlanta and Miami -- they're huge markets and the linchpins of the South.
The league spent much of the last 10 years trying to establish stability, which it did. The next task was to expand its footprint, get into the country's biggest markets and make it as enticing as possible to TV and major sponsors, which it has also done now.
So the league has stability and they have the markets that offer massive growth potential. Where to now? Anywhere. MLS doesn't need anything anymore and that gives it more options than ever before.
Jeremiah: Keeping in mind that the 24th team is not going to be decided this way, I'm just curious where you think the ideal spot for that team would be?
Ryan: In a perfect world, Phoenix. It's the 13th-largest TV market in the country, is one of the country's fastest growing cities, has a large base of corporations, gives the league another western team after a slew of eastern expansion and it has a huge soccer playing population and soccer culture.
Of course, there is the issue of an owner, stadium and heat, but if we're playing perfect world, a billionaire builds a SSS with a retractable roof for the heat and voila!