Commissioner Don Garber visits Sacramento to survey MLS expansion quest

Sacramento Republic - crowd shot

SACRAMENTO — Sacramento Republic FC supporters gathered Thursday afternoon for a block party thrown by the soccer club in downtown Sacramento, where hundreds of fans packed closed-down L Street between 15th and 16th in hopes of influencing MLS’s expansion decision.

As MLS Commissioner Don Garber took to the stage at the south end of the block, the massive crowd held up signs of the team’s “#BuiltForMLS” motto as well as giant cardboard cutouts of the commissioner’s face.

“We are making the announcement today that we will go to 28 teams,” Garber said to massive applause. “We hope and really we expect that Sacramento will be one of the next four [teams].

“The last piece of that is the process of that and the timing of that...is still to be determined,” he added. “But the good news is, I’m very, very impressed and excited by everything you guys have done.”

When Garber toldSacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton, “It’s less about if, and more about when, the Republic joins MLS,” almost exactly a year ago, fans have wondered when the day will come. It may not have been Thursday, but it still seems to be a push on track.

Sacramento appear to have checked all the boxes to make them a strong MLS expansion candidate.

Built-in fan base? Check. The Republic have averaged the largest crowds in American soccer outside of MLS in the last two years, with over 10,000 fans per game in 2014 and 2015.

Soccer-specific stadium? Yes. Sacramento released more renderings Wednesday depicting their 25,000-seat downtown arena.

Market size? According to the Nielsen Company in 2013, Sacramento ranks as the 20th largest media market in the country, the 5th largest market that hasn’t been awarded an MLS franchise.

TV ratings? Certainly. The city consistently ranks in the top 10 nationwide markets for US national team games and drew a 1.6 local rating for the 2014 USL Final, besting a pair of major college football games on the day.

So why haven’t the Republic been granted entry into MLS just yet?

“Timing’s everything,” Republic president and co-founder Warren Smith told MLSsoccer.com. “Had we come two years earlier, we’d be in the league. But there’s going to be a lack of supply. The good news is we got started and the community supported us in a manner that allowed us to compete. If we started two years from now, then [it would be] much harder.

“We’ve pulled out every stop,” Smith added. "The community has pulled out every stop. The community has activated and participated probably in ways that we’ve never seen in this community before. That to me is what’s so cool."

Before Garber spoke to the hundreds of fans playing hooky from work, the Republic brought up four of their players to address the crowd.

When defender Emrah Klimenta was handed the microphone, his message was short and to the point.

“If this doesn’t say ‘built for MLS,’ Klimenta said. “Then I don’t know what does.”

The roar back from the crowd was deafening.