By: Zach Gee, KCOU Sports
On March 25th, 2015 Major League soccer announced Minnesota United FC as the 23rd expansion team to the rapidly expanding league. Major League Soccer chose the ownership group lead by Bill McGuire and owners of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Twins over the ownership bid put together by Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. In the proposal, McGuire promised a soccer specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis just west of Target Field. One detail not mentioned during the festivities was exactly how the proposed stadium would be paid for. However, the day was still a win for Major League Soccer, Minnesota, and the development of soccer in the north.
While Don Garber and Bill McGuire were all smiles for the unveiling at Target Field thousands of miles away David Beckham presumably sat with a scowl on his face. Seven time zones behind him supporters of USL team Sacramento Republic FC held their breath. Both parties thinking the exact same thing:
It’s a good question. Who is next? With Minnesota the league is within one team of the magic number 24. The number 24 in reference to Don Garber’s plan for MLS to have 24 teams by 2020. The race to be the 24th franchise in Major League Soccer has been going on since the announcement of LAFC and Atlanta. The announcement of Minnesota United just adds pressure to the aforementioned Beckham and Sacramento Republic. Let’s analyze the front-runners for the 24th franchise.
Miami- The Passion of The Becks
The story of David Beckham and his planned Miami franchise begins in 2002. That year Don Garber announced the dissolving of the two Florida MLS franchises; the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion FC. Neither team could establish a solid fan base and the Fusion struggled to get attendance up and corporate sponsors. With the removal of the Florida teams MLS no longer had a presence in the southeastern United States. It was a defeat for the young league, but a necessary growing pain.
Fast-forward to January of 2007 when news of the move of David Beckham from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy for a reported 1 million a week for five years broke. Starting play in July of that year Beckham gave a boost, in sales and in the media, to the Galaxy. That year the Galaxy could not capture a wild card spot and were eliminated by the Chicago Fire, but the team still had an aurora of excitement because of Beckham.
The next four years would be a series of extreme highs and lows. In 2008 the Galaxy finished even worse in the Western conference standings. The next year they would lose in the MLS Cup final to the ‘team of destiny’ that year, Real Salt Lake. 2010 brought a frustrating loss in the Conference finals to FC Dallas. Injuries and subpar form hindered Beckham in the beginning. Loan spells away to AC Milan brought the ire of Galaxy fans. An Achilles injury sidelined Beckham for all of the 2010 campaign. The biggest signing in league history was looking like a bust.
However, the 2011 and 2012 seasons provided the Beckham every fan had expected back in 2007. Double digit assists both years and a handful of goals coupled with the play of Landon Donovan brought back-to-back MLS Cup championships to LA.
When David Beckham signed for the LA Galaxy in 2007 there was a part of his contract, which wasn’t heavily reported at the time, which stated he had the opportunity to buy an MLS franchise for a discounted franchise fee whenever he decided to stop playing. MLS gave Beckham the option of putting the franchise anywhere he wanted, except New York City, and in early 2014 Beckham announced he had chosen Miami as his market.
The process to get the Miami team on track has been a bumpy road so far. MLS is keen on a downtown stadium for Miami, and rightfully so in my opinion. Part of the reason the Miami Fusion failed was because they had to play in Fort Lauderdale. A downtown stadium could compliment the nightlife of Miami, and be an easy destination for fans.
The city has rejected two possible sites for a stadium and proven to not be cooperative with Beckham and his ownership team. These sites would have put the stadium on the downtown waterfront. Beckham still has four or five sites for the stadium in mind, and it is likely that the Miami team would share a stadium for at least one season possibly at FIU or Marlin’s Park. News about the stadium has been stalled since the rejections of the first two sites. In January Beckham said he would have a “major announcement” regarding the franchise before the end of March. At the end of March, Beckham said he would have “significant” news before summer. Don Garber said on March 27th that the Miami club could have a stadium plan develop in “a couple of weeks”.
With Miami we’ll just have to wait and see what Beckham has planned. His announcement has not come as of this time and with such vague announcements the timetable is up for debate. The stadium deal is the only hang up in the process, but as we’ve seen countless times a proper and solid stadium deal is a vital part of a expansion team’s future success. Beckham has to be feeling the pressure to get his proposal done because there is another market, with an established team, just on the horizon pushing for the MLS to accept them as the 24th team.
Sacramento- Heroes of the Republic
Thomas Stewart found space between two Harrisburg Island defenders and with a sublime finish past Nick Noble sealed the 2014 USL Championship for Sacramento Republic FC. It capped off an incredible inaugural year for Sacramento. Sacramento set multiple USL attendance records including the record for average attendance (11,300) and the single game record. The fan base is remarkable, as the supporter’s group Tower Bridge Battalion has instrumented events to show the MLS that Sacramento is ready to be a site for expansion. One such event was a march through downtown Sacramento that included thousands of supports to get MLS’ attention.
Another power play by this Sacramento franchise is the announcement of a letter of intent to build a 20,000-22,000-seat stadium in Sacramento’s Railyard. The announcement came on the eve of a critical MLS visit to the city. The Railyard is a site of expansion for the city of Sacramento that is planned to be a new area for business and leisure. A future developer for the Railyard, Larry Kelley, has announced he has joined the ownership group of Sacramento. This is great news for the bid as Sacramento now has a strong future stadium plan, and a fan base that helped sell out every game last year but one. Sacramento also announced a TV deal with CBS 13 to televise eight games (with the possibility of more) for the 2015 USL season.
Sacramento is ready for MLS. Currently they have everything they would need. An established fan base, a plan for the future, and the drive to further advance American soccer makes it sure hard for MLS to say no. In Sacramento’s favor it would still be a few seasons until they would begin play in MLS, which would only benefit a franchise that is just getting started. In late March Sacramento announced they were launching a youth academy with the aims of fostering the growth of soccer in northern California. By the time of Sacramento’s entry into MLS, if they became the 24th team, I have no doubt that this academy could produce some great players in a state known for great soccer talent.
So who’s next? I believe MLS is committed to Beckham and his Miami franchise and will wait around for the stadium deal to get done. However, it could be entirely possible that if Beckham doesn’t have a deal done by the end of summer 2015 or even the end of 2015 then MLS could move on to explore other bids. Magic number 24 is still Miami’s to lose, but the door for Sacramento isn’t completely shut. I expect Sacramento to be included in the next round of expansion after Miami with cities such as Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Detroit. The influence of David Beckham and the need to keep expanding south is what will see the Miami deal go through.