SACRAMENTO — Visiting California’s capital in his first official trip as MLS Commissioner, Don Garber spoke with reporters at length Thursday regarding the next wave of expansion in MLS.
After confirming to a mass of Sacramento Republic FC fans at a block party in downtown Sacramento that MLS will, in fact, expand to 28 teams, the commissioner clarified his comments after in a press conference in the cramped confines of Firestone Public House.
“Where we are...is we are at a 20 [team] league today, just finishing our 20th season,” Garber said in his opening remarks. “We will be at 24 teams by 2018. And we will go to 28 teams with a timetable that has not yet been laid out. We believe and hope and expect that Sacramento will part of that next round of expansion.”
Though the Commissioner initially stated that there was no timetable on expansion past the 24 franchises, he did later clarify an unconfirmed date.
“What I would say is the next round of expansion is likely happening in 2020,” Garber said.
Garber mentioned that Sacramento wasn’t the only expansion candidate that the league was currently talking to, as the Commissioner put forth the names of five other possible cities for the next wave of new franchises.
“I can say who else we’re talking to, who else publicly has shown interest with the league,” Garber said. “Many of [the conversations] are advanced. Detroit, [a] major market that has a downtown stadium project. St. Louis, an important strategic market again for us in the Midwest that has a real opportunity today with the Rams leaving town. Those are two very important markets that we’re talking to along with Sacramento.
“San Diego is another market that has a lot of things that are going on as it relates to their professional sports and teams,” he added. “There’s activity, a lot of public activity going on in San Antonio and Austin, so you can start seeing there are more markets than there are available slots and we’re very focused on stopping at 28 until we’ve kind of taken a big step back and think about how we manage expansion for the next 10-to-20 years after that.”
Garber explained that part of the league’s expansion strategy was to fill in the holes in the map where there were large markets without teams, specifically mentioning the dearth of teams in the Midwest and Southeast as contributing factors for the inclusion of Atlanta United FC and the Minnesota franchise.
Before stepping off the podium, Garber finished the conference with an encouraging statement towards the current status of soccer in this country after hundreds of fans took the time during a weekday to attend the block party.
“As we go across the country, every one of these events seems to outdeliver the previous one,” Garber said. “We had one in Atlanta with thousands of people, we had one in Orlando with thousands of people.
“I sit with my group and I say, ‘This is unbelievable. I can’t believe that this is happening in America.’”