KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Even as fans and message boards buzzed all night Wednesday following the news that Major League Soccer expects to add four expansion teams by 2020, most players and coaches gathered for the MLS All-Star Game at Sporting Park kept their thoughts to themselves about the big question hanging in the air.
All except Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler, anyway.
“Kansas City 2!” Besler quipped after the All-Stars’ 3-1 loss to Roma. “Start the rumors!”
Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes playfully scoffed at that idea – “Yeah, that’s not going to happen” – and he’s right. With New York City FC slated to begin play in 2015, wherever Major League Soccer goes from there will likely be relatively new territory – a fresh project in Florida, the first Midwestern team since 1998, a first-ever team in Atlanta or maybe the soccer hotbed of North Carolina – and the franchises will have a high standard to match what’s been accomplished in recent years.
The league has added five teams since 2009, including two new teams in Canada, full-blown Cascadia warfare in the Pacific Northwest and a franchise in Philadelphia that had passionate fans before they even had any players.
“The expansion over the last few years has been great,” Vermes said. “The teams that have come in – Montreal, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland – they’re all very good franchises. And they’ve all figured out a way from the very get-go to find success. It’s fantastic for our league to continue expanding like we are.”
Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman has been on both sides of the expansion craze – he went into the dispersal draft in 2002 after the Miami Fusion were contracted, but he later helped usher RSL from a struggling expansion franchise into an MLS Cup winner – and he’s eyeing bigger and better things for the league, even beyond the four additional teams MLS Commissioner Don Garber wants to see in the next seven years.
“We can keep expanding, just like football,” Beckerman said. “Let’s get 30 teams if we can. If teams can come in and hold a stadium like [Sporting Park], why not?”
Vermes, meanwhile, retired from the league in 2002, after both Miami and Tampa Bay were contracted and three years before Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA were added.
“At one point I thought there might be a little difficulty [with expansion] in regard to the player pool, and how that starts to get thin,” he said. “But I’m not seeing that. I think our teams are getting better. All of our clubs are getting better in their scouting as well … there are so many good players in this league and it just continues to grow.”
Although the league will more than likely use all four expansion slots on US-based teams – think cities like Orlando, St. Louis, Detroit, Charlotte, Atlanta – there will likely be some hankering from Canadian fans to possibly plant another MLS flag north of the border.
The league has found solid support and on-field success in its three current Canadian franchises (Vancouver became the first Canadian team to make the playoffs in 2012) but could they possibly go back for more, perhaps in Ottawa or Edmonton?
“I don’t think so,” said Portland Timbers captain and Canadian national team midfielder Will Johnson. “They’ve already hit the three best markets, and they’re successful. You can’t do a new MLS team up there like they do them [in the US].”