MLS Expansion: Ranking The Hopefuls

MLS Expansion: Ranking The Hopefuls

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On June 12, 2013
  • Features, MLS Expansion, MLS Power Rankings


Most of you reading this space know that I have long been on the pulse of MLS expansion. From back in the Seattle and Philadelphia days for expansion, to the Portland and Vancouver double dip in 2010 and most recently with New York City. Some of you have asked recently where I feel the league is going next in terms of expansion, so I hope in a way this will shed some light for you on what I am thinking.

I haven’t done a full fledged Power Rankings on these parts in nearly a year. But lately I have gotten the itch to bring it back for a special post. With all of the MLS expansion rumors floating out there I thought it would be fun to give you all my top list of cities.

Some of the rankings below are based on how well I feel a certain city or three could be the next MLS expansion cite. Naturally this order is purely based on my opinion and some parts do involve my dreams/hopes for the league. And the last little bit of the ranking does involve what I am hearing our there from sources, agents, etc. None of it is perfect so let’s keep the comments civil if your city is lower than you expect it to be.

So where we go, a special Power Rankings.

1. Orlando, Florida (population 2.2 million) – Ever since the day that the Austin Aztex were moved to Central Florida, the thought of this being a MLS town has been a pretty good one. Orlando City SC has made their voices heard time and time again about how they want to be a MLS market. They’ve brought in good numbers for their USL team, earned a ton of local support, got a good and solid fan base set up and there is even an academy team already built in. They didn’t get the state money a short while ago but that hasn’t slowed down their goals of becoming a MLS market.

Things going for them: Support, fan base, academy, ownership with decent-sized pockets

Things not going for them: Stadium

2. San Antonio (population 2.2 million) – Another smaller market that just makes sense. The NASL’s Scorpions have become a big hit in the Alamo City and given their stadium plans in place, they will eventually have a venue that is MLS worthy. The issue with this market is that they’ve burned MLS before. Back in 2005, the city wanted a team, had good discussions with the league about playing at the Alamo Dome but then things quickly fell apart. Thankfully the Scorpions have shown that they could be a big deal if they were in MLS. Also, the addition of this city would add to the Texas Derby. MLS loves their rivalries so adding another one club to the mix would certainly spark some things.

Things going for them: Support, fan base, stadium that can expand, logical addition to rival Houston and Dallas

Things not going for them: Questions about ownership not having deep enough pockets, small TV market

3. Miami/Fort Lauderdale (population 5.6 million) – We all know the history here. This is a weird sports market but if you can get all the stars to align it will work. But that is a whole lotta ifs. But now David Beckham enters the picture with Marcelo Claure. That is some star power and deep pockets, not to mention I see a small chance of someone like LeBron James getting involved here on this as well. Still, the market is extremely tough to enter and MLS knows it. They can’t go in Miami alone without Orlando, Tampa, or Atlanta.

Things going for them: Deeeeep pockets for the owners, fan base (if they work with the NASL’s Strikers), good TV market

Things not going for them: Stadium, full support of locals still iffy, history

4. Minneapolis (population 3.3 million) – To be fair this one is a bit of a dark horse for the next round in my books. They’d be a great addition for Chicago to have a rivalry with that is much closer than their current rivals. The fan base is very strong in this market for when it comes to sports. Not to mention that the owners of the NFL’s Vikings have already been in talks with MLS and would love to enter at some point. The NASL team there is also doing well and if they got a solid enough owner to guide a team it would work. Let’s also not forget that the league put their National Sales Center in Minnesota.

Things going for them: Pretty deep pockets for their potential owners, fan base

Thing not going for them: Playing at a NFL venue, crowded sports market

5. St. Louis (population 2.8 million) – This city always stands out as a must-have for MLS to expand into at some point. The league knows it and eventually someone in St. Louis will be wise enough to cash in on it. We know about the amount of talent that has come out of the Gateway City and into the league, not to mention the amazing youth participation in the sport here. Lastly, it would be a natural rival for Sporting KC to finally have.

Things going for them: History, support would like be there

Things not going for them: No ownership currently involved, no stadium plans

6. Atlanta (population 5.5 million) – Here is another Southeast city that has stated their desires to play.  Arthur Blank has had talks with MLS before about a team and he wants to eventually get Atlanta there. This one reminds me a lot of Minneapolis though, in that, if it ever happens they will be playing at a NFL venue. That’s a no bueno in my book. And like Miami, the fans support there is really questionable. They love the game but will they be able to deal with some losing season that will likely come for an expansion team? Tough to tell at this point.

Things going for them: Decent support for their NASL side at the moment, big TV market

Things not going for them: Playing in a NFL venue, crowded sports market, support of the locals

7. Raleigh, NC (population 2 million – this includes Durham) – I’ve gone back and forth on where MLS should go if they went into North Carolina. For the longest time I believed that Charlotte would be a natural fit as it is a large city that has some professional sports experience. But at the end of the day, the Raleigh area seems like a better fit to me thanks to the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL. They draw well at their stadium, and if they got the right owners involved it would certainly work. MLS is always going to be looking for a market to be another Portland or Seattle, and well, this is the East coast version of Portland in my book. Build it and they would come.

Things going for them: Good fan support, could be a good bridge between D.C. United and other Southeast teams

Things not going for them: An owner with deeper pockets, bigger stadium

8. Indianapolis (population 1.8 million) – The more I read about the NASL’s newest club Indy Eleven, the more I look at this market and go, “why the hell not?”. The club there already has 3,000 season ticket deposits before they have even hired a technical staff or played a second on the field. They have some serious soccer loving people in the area and with former Chicago Fire president Peter Wilt at the helm, it would certainly work. Also, this would serve as a lovely bridge between Chicago and Columbus.

Things going for them: Strong local support, stadium plans in the works

Things not going for them: An owner with deep pockets, TV market not very large

9. Tampa (population 2.4 million) – Deep down I want Tampa back in MLS. I seriously do. I was a huge supporter of the Mutiny back in they day and always felt that they deserved better. Thankfully the market is improving with the USL side and the NASL side. Yes, they have two there. The Rowdies in the NASL seem supported well enough with about 3,000 average fans in a baseball stadium.

Things going for them: History (at least with the Rowdies), decent support

Things not going for them: An owner with deep pockets, stadium deal (and stadium in a good location)

10. Sacramento (population 1.9 million) – Something is brewing in this town. They saved their NBA team and they are slowly making some momentum on their USL team that will start up in 2014. Some how their local government is wanting to be heavily involved in potentially bringing a team to MLS down the road. That is a good thing. They’re a long shot but don’t sleep on this town.

Things going for them: Local support

Things not going for them: Stadium not built, fan base still a wait and see, a deep pocketed owner

Others worth mentioning: San Diego, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Pittsburgh

  • Victor Zaragoza

    First of all, i see MLS stopping at 28 teams by 2026, once USA,Canada or Mexico get world cup 2026 and even some tricky form of relegation and promotion with division 2. Hopefully by 2026, MLS can have an MLS-2, which NASL can become MLS -2 and USL Pro MLS-3.
    Therefore i see MLS in 2026 with 14 teams in each conference, which can help U.S. Open Cup, have inter league and every year would be different and even go to the FIFA international calendar given that MLS would warmer markets (including a winter break)

    WEST future expansion markets, Phoenix, las vegas, (One of these San Diego, Sacramento or San Francisco) San Antonio.
    MLS wont go into Austin, Omaha, Albuquerque, OKC,Tulsa, ( El Paso TX soccer city of Texas) or even another Canadian city.

    EAST 14 teams: Way too many markets to select from but these are my last 4 in the East, Orlando, Miami, (A NC or SC market), ATL but these are black horses in the east after Orlando, Miami are in………. Indianapolis, St.louis, Tampa Bay and NY Cosmos if Red Bull doesn’t buy them.
    MLS wont go into Minneapolis, Detroit, Alabama, Baltimore.

    So by 2026, MLS could have 13 warm markets in order to FIFA style

  • WHB

    I don’t think anyone in MPLS thinks that a Minnesotan team would play in the new dome. Any talk from the Vikings football team has never been anything more than just that: talk. They wanted a stadium and they used soccer as one of the ways to pretend it would be more than just for a football team.

  • Adam

    I think Orlando, San Antonio and Sacramento are the three frontrunners (assuming Sacramento steps up like expected in the next few years). All three Metro areas are almost identical population size ~2.2- 2.4 million (you understated Sac’s pop). As you venture into the smaller big markets, (<3 million pop), competition from the other major league sports becomes a bigger factor, esp. MLB, since the seasons overlap. The three cities above are the largest markets with only one sport, and that sport is basketball, which ,IMO, is the best complimentary sport to MLS due to similar organization size and fan base size.
    My 2 cents