Little more than two months following New York City FC's triumph in MLS Cup 2021 over the Portland Timbers, MLS is Back this weekend.

Ahead of the 2022 season, MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed media members over a number of topics, including expansion possibilities in Las Vegas, Charlotte FC's impending debut and the league's growing presence in the transfer market.

Las Vegas expansion update

The quest for the 30th MLS club hasn't been much of a secret, with MLS and Las Vegas circling each other. Nothing is done yet, but Garber hopes for firm news at some point soon.

The bid is led by billionaire businessman Wes Edens.

“It’s not fair to say Vegas is all but done. Expansion deals are complicated in any market," Garber said. "Going to a place that requires a soccer-specific stadium, you have to be sure that everything is aligned. Everything needs to be aligned with the community, fan base and politically. We are making a lot of progress. We hope to finalize something in the first third of the year. I could not be more excited about working with Wes [Edens].”

Las Vegas has seen a rise in professional sports in recent years. The National Hockey League (NHL) expanded with the Las Vegas Knights, while the National Football League's (NFL) Raiders relocated in 2020 from Oakland to Allegiant Stadium, which hosted 2021's Leagues Cup final as well as the Concacaf Nations League final between Mexico and the United States.

Will there be more after Las Vegas? TBD.

MLS had previously suggested it won't expand past 30 teams, but Garber said no decision has been made or will be made soon.

“We need to pause and have our 30 teams up and going. We can then decide if Major League Soccer is going to expand beyond 30 clubs," Garber said. "When we said we were going to have 28 teams, we never thought we’d go beyond that. As soccer becomes more popular, as more cities see opportunities with their fans and communities to host a first division MLS club, we have to process all of that and determine if MLS [will expand] in the future. There is no timetable for any decision on beyond 30 teams.”

St. Louis CITY SC join MLS in 2023 to push the league to 29 teams. Garber said last December the 30th market won't be in place by 2023 to join alongside STL.

Games arrive for Charlotte FC

Before Las Vegas or another market joins as the 30th club, Charlotte FC play their inaugural game Saturday as the league's 28th club when visiting D.C. United (6 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). But league-wide focus remains on their home opener, a March 5 visit from the LA Galaxy (7:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes).

CLT FC have been public in their ambition to have a sellout for that grand entrance, just under 75,000 fans at Bank of America Stadium, which would set a new MLS regular-season record for single-game attendance. The current mark is held by Atlanta United at 72,548 fans for an August 2019 match vs. LA.

Charlotte are confident in that goal and, as of last week, sold "more than 65,000 tickets."

“I’m very pleased with the development of the club on and off the field," Garber said. "They a have great level of excitement with the fanbase. … I have a lot of faith in David [Tepper] and his belief in the game. At that opening press conference, he could not have been more passionate.”

Charlotte expect a final push in ticket sales to come after their inaugural game this weekend for their home opener.

Tepper also owns the NFL's Carolina Panthers, which will share Bank of America Stadium with Charlotte FC, like how ATLUTD and the Atlanta Falcons both play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while Seattle Sounders FC and Seattle Seahawks both play at Lumen Field. Those two MLS clubs are lauded for attendance numbers and atmosphere.

“I’m very encouraged by everything they’ve done and I’m excited for them joining our league," said Garber.

Charlotte are led by head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez and count Polish international striker Karol Świderski as their star player, with the No. 9 arriving from Greece's PAOK for around a $5 million transfer fee. Ecuador international midfielders Alan Franco and Jordy Alcivar should be key, too, alongside Spanish midfielder Sergio Ruiz.

MLS's transfer market growth

As the new campaign gets underway, plenty of new stars are set to take center stage.

One avenue that manifests in is young, South American talent after three new club-record incoming transfer fees were established. This attacking trio will all be Young Designated Players:

  1. Thiago Almada, 20, from Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield to Atlanta United for a reported league-record $16 million
  2. Facundo Torres, 21, from Uruguay’s Penarol to Orlando City SC for a reported $7.5 million
  3. Alan Velasco, 19, from Argentina’s Independiente to FC Dallas for a reported $7 million

Top talents around the world, in their late teens or early 20s, are viewing MLS as a springboard for their professional aims in growing numbers. Forces like the U22 Initiative, MLS NEXT Pro and more are only buoying this emergence.

“I think what’s been happening, and this has been a stated focus for the league, is we want our story to be about young players who are coming here at the earliest stages in their career, or in the prime of their career, and making our league their league of choice,” Garber said. “You’ve seen a dramatic shift from where we were to where we are today.”

There’s another end of the spectrum, too, as in-prime, international-level stars arrive in MLS after storied careers at some of Europe’s top clubs. Perhaps the three biggest examples this offseason are as follows, with each joining as a Designated Player:

  1. Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne, 30, from Napoli to Toronto FC come July 1 on a pre-contract
  2. Switzerland midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, 30, from Lyon to Chicago Fire FC for a club-record $7.5 million fee
  3. Brazil winger Douglas Costa, 31, from Juventus to LA Galaxy on loan and pre-arranged contract

As much as clubs covet up-and-coming talent, they’re also landing players who compete at the highest levels of the game.

“You’ve got players that are coming at 30 that, personally, I don’t think 30 is old when you’re a Major League Soccer player,” Garber said. “When we look at bringing in players at 30 and younger than that, I’m proud of that.”

It’s all part of MLS’s growing presence in the transfer market, one that should only blossom further as the league’s 27th season gets underway. And perhaps the biggest story of all is outgoing academy talent, with top-five leagues across Europe actively canvassing teams in the United States and Canada for talent.

“This past offseason, MLS ranked in the top five among global soccer leagues anywhere in both transfer fees received from player exports and transfer fees spent to acquire top talent from around the world, reiterating our commitment to being a major player in the global transfer market,” Garber said.