Will Only Atlanta Come Into MLS In 2017?

LAFC will delay to 2018, while Minnesota and Miami aren’t ready
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, May 21, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

It’s a question that supposedly had almost been settled, but now seems to be up in the air, again.

Who is coming into Major League Soccer with Atlanta in 2017? And is it still a two-horse race between Minnesota and the second Los Angeles team?

The answer to those questions is now another question: who knows, and probably not.

There are no problems for Atlanta, as their stadium is coming along nicely and the plans for a club name for the MLS side are coming together. They will be more than ready when the time comes to see an expansion draft take place late in 2016.

As for Los Angeles FC, they revealed their long-awaited plans for a stadium at the current Los Angeles Sports Arena site, between USC and the Coliseum, on Monday. The plan is for a 22,000-capacity stadium that would cost around $250 million. But those plans come with the club delaying its entry into MLS until 2018, one year later than planned. But once completed, it would be the largest open-air stadium built inside the LA city limits since Dodger Stadium was completed in 1962.

So, is Minnesota United coming in? That’s a question now, as the property tax and sales tax exemptions the club were hoping to get from the state legislature never happened, mainly because the politicians all but ignored it. The club is hoping that those issues will come up again in an upcoming special session, but with a deadline of July 1 looming for MUFC’s stadium plans to be in place, things are going to get a bit tight.

If there’s a Plan B in place, then MUFC owner Bill McGuire needs to have it ready. If there’s no plan in place for the proposed Minneapolis stadium by July 1, then MLS has to make some tough decisions. If the league hears the wrong things, do they push MUFC back to 2018 with LAFC? Do they pull the team altogether, and the Loons stay in the NASL? Right now, there is no clear answer. If McGuire’s Plan B includes a way to build & operate the stadium with no tax breaks, with construction starting very soon, then MUFC could join MLS in 2017. If there are delays, then 2018 becomes more likely.

Of course, there’s a wild card in the 2017 situation, and that’s Miami. Don Garber and David Beckham are set to meet this week, and the stadium situation in south Florida is the biggest hurdle that Beckham and his investors must clear before they can start thinking about building a team. Right now, the site most talked about is next to Marlins Park in the Little Havana area of Miami, but little has been mentioned about the location from Beckham’s group.

If a stadium plan starts coming together in Miami, would that push them ahead of Minnesota and LAFC? It would almost be the ideal situation, as coming in with Atlanta would be a perfect geographical consequence. But how much planning Beckham has done for the club outside of the stadium issue is unknown. A possible issue is the new Miami FC team that will join the NASL in 2016, playing their games at Florida International University (a venue Beckham has already rejected). But that shouldn’t play into the decision making, and Garber’s trip south this weekend could determine just how quickly things could start moving again with Beckham’s group.

Could there be a Plan D for MLS if there’s no Minnesota, LAFC or Miami? If it comes down to things being ready to go now, then there’s only one place to consider: Sacramento. The plans that the city and Sacramento Republic FC have for a stadium in the Railyards area are still valid, and the proposed ownership group is ready whenever MLS calls. The USL club is still selling out their expanded stadium at Bonney Field, and they are much farther ahead of the other three cities. MLS knows this, too, but whether they would take a chance with the California capital is completely up in the air. But if the need to have a team come into the league with Atlanta becomes mandatory, then Sacramento might be the only option.

Of course, MLS is looking beyond 2017 and 2018. Garber spent considerable time this week in St. Louis, and said the city would no doubt be a great soccer market. But Garber also said that the earliest St. Louis could get into MLS would be 2020, and that’s if an ownership comes together. Of course, a stadium would need to be built, too, and St. Louis officials seem to want MLS to play in a proposed stadium for the Rams. While not ideal, it’s not a deal breaker, as Atlanta shows (and, previously, Seattle).

When Atlanta starts play in MLS in 22 months, they will be ready. The stadium will be done and Carlos Bocanegra’s staff will have put together the team that will take the field. The Terminus Legion will be loud, and it will be a historic day for soccer in the South. We know that will happen.

The question is whether a second team will debut with Atlanta in 22 months. Right now, there’s no answer. 

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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