Sacramento has thrown their hat into the MLS expansion ring with some impressive fervor. Sacramento Republic FC announced on Friday that their first-ever USL Pro home opener has already sold out and that a capacity crowd of 20,231 is expected to be in attendance. That's about double the current USL Pro regular-season attendance record and just about 600 fewer people than the all-time record Orlando City set during their title match last year.
Sacramento has been openly touting their ambition to grab what might be the final MLS expansion spot ever since the team launched in July. A solid crowd turned out for their first-ever exhibition match and they've reported strong season ticket sales. They also had this pretty cool video:
And yet, they've always been considered to be a long shot to join MLS during this current round of expansion, at least by outside observers.
Currently, Sacramento has no permanent stadium plans -- Sacramento State's Hughes Stadium is only a place-holder until 8,000-seat Bonney Field is completed and neither would be suitable for MLS -- and the metropolitan area is just about 2.2 million people, which would make it one of the league's smallest markets.
At the same time, this is the exact kind of move MLS could potentially make on the heels of adding New York City, Atlanta and Miami, three massive media markets. If Sacramento can continue to sell out games, even if it's not on this scale, and find a way to build a downtown soccer stadium, all of a sudden there's a very compelling case that could vault them ahead of places like Minnesota and San Antonio. The clincher might be if Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé gets involved, as rumors have suggested he might.
In the meantime, it's worth looking around the North American soccer landscape and smiling. The NASL's Indy Eleven have drawn more than 10,000 for both of their games, the San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Cosmos all drew crowds of more than 7,000 for their openers and MLS is on pace to once again average close to 18,000. More people than ever are watching live professional soccer in the United States. That's something worth celebrating.