The soccer news starts with the official announcement that Sacramento FC will join MLS in 2022. The league’s 29th team leaves one spot open in the current round of expansion. Whether MLS stops at 30 teams is an open question, but that’s the same number of teams in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. The NHL will be at 32 teams when Seattle begins play in the 2021-22 season, equaling the number of teams in the NFL.
MLS’s expansion era is interesting in that they’re doing it virtually solo. Only the NHL has added teams, with Las Vegas joining in 2017-18. Rumors of the other leagues considering expansion have been just that, with the NFL relocating teams to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. MLS is the market leader in adding clubs this season, redeveloping the league in the process. Sacramento will join St Louis as the 2022 expansion teams. Nashville and Inter Miami will turn MLS into a 26-team league next season. The league will be unbalanced with Austin in 2021 and then the 2022 expansion.
“Sacramento’s selection by Major League Soccer for an expansion team is a victory to be celebrated by everyone in our community,” investor/operator Ron Burkle said. “This has been a true team effort between the amazing soccer fans of the Sacramento region along with Mayor Steinberg and City Council, our partners and corporate leaders. We are proud to be part of the team that Kevin Nagle put together, which is made even stronger by an incredibly committed local ownership group. The relationship between Sacramento and our club already is a special one, and I’m committed to deepening that connection for years to come.”
The league choosing Sacramento is somewhat different due to how long the club has pushed for MLS expansion. It hasn’t been easy, with Sacramento left out in previous rounds. The clear message to any group trying to bring MLS to their city is not to give up. Without a hard cap imposed by any of its sanctioning bodies, MLS is in a position to continue expansion past 30. It’s no longer a question of whether or not the league should. They set aside issues of quality and competitive balance several rounds ago. For a league that spent its early years trying to address its footprint problem with 10 and then 12 teams covering all of the United States, they’ve become a coast-to-coast North American league.
What looms over MLS is the same questions that always come with multiple rounds of expansion. Will a league this committed to adding teams know when to stop? That’s not a new question, but it’s one MLS has avoided having to answer since there have been no clear expansion failures since Chivas USA. Treating that as a one-off special case, MLS hasn’t seen relocation running hand-in-hand with expansion. With the exception of Austin, they also aren’t trying to create major league markets like the NBA and NFL were doing in the late 80s and early 90s in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Jacksonville.
If there’s such a thing as a hedge against over expansion, that might be it. Then again, MLS is the only North American league where better foreign leagues are easily available on television. There’s also the lack of interest from most of the other major leagues in taking advantage of new markets. Las Vegas is building out as a pro sports city because of expansion and relocation. There are other emerging mid-tier cities that would like teams, creating opportunities not just for MLS. If MLS is playing catch-up, they’re closing in on their target. Short of building interest in what might be a closing window, there aren’t enough reasons for MLS to announce that they’re done when they announce that 30th club.
CBS Sports’ Roger Gonzalez talks to USMNT player Fabian Johnson about making an international return. The Nation’s Isma’il Kushkush takes on the issue with recruitment of Latino players by the US Soccer. MLSsoccer’s Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw preview the conference semifinal round. The LA Times’ Kevin Baxter profiles LAFC GM John Thorrington.
The Liverpool Echo’s Theo Squires on what Liverpool drawing at home with Manchester United really says about both clubs. The Independent’s Miguel Delaney on the importance of the recent dementia study and what it should mean for soccer. The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson previews River Plate and Boca Juniors in the second-leg of their Copa Libertadores semifinal series.
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Logo courtesy of Sacramento FC