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NASL, USL, MLS & CanPL Expansion News & Rumors Tracker – March 2017 Edition

League expansion news and rumors pop up regularly and it is hard to keep track of who said what, where and when. Midfield Press has created the Expansion News & Rumor Tracker as a monthly installment following the word on the web about possible future North American Soccer League clubs.  As bonus content, we also provide rumors on United Soccer League expansion, Major League Soccer expansion and the proposed Canadian Premier League since much of that information comes up during our research.  You can find the league expansion rumors below in that order, with the logos indicating the start of that league’s section.

Three new North American professional soccer clubs debut at the Division II or higher level this month, while three more kick off in new leagues.  Atlanta United FC kicked off in MLS in front of a packed Bobby Dodd Stadium with a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.  A Minnesota United FC squad baring little resemblance to the one that played in NASL got torched 5-1 by the Portland Timbers in their debut.  The expansion sides met each other for their second fixture, and Atlanta beat down Minnesota 6-1.

Later this month, the San Francisco Deltas will play their first match in Kezar Stadium versus Indy Eleven on March 25th.  That same night, Reno 1868 FC will play its first official USL match against Orange County SC.  The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ USL debut comes March 25th as well, against Orlando City B.  The Ottawa Fury make their USL debut on April 1st, away to Saint Louis FC.

The MLS expansion process continues, with San Diego and Tampa Bay having the best months among the 12 bidders for 4 spots.  San Diego unveiled their stadium plan, saw Landon Donovan join their MLS bid and had Don Garber tell CNBC that the city was “looking good” for MLS expansion.  The St. Petersburg City Council approved an ordinance for a referendum that, if successful, would pave the way to the renovation of Al Lang Field to 18,500 seats.  The public will vote on the referendum on May 2nd.

NASL expansions bids in Orange County, San Diego and Atlanta grew into greater focus.  Orange County NASL Sporting Director Michael Collins along with Peter Wilt shared details on their efforts with Midfield Press, and Wilt also shed some light on progress with San Diego, Chicago and other markets.  The scope of Atlanta Soccer City, the project spearheaded by the group looking to bring NASL and NWSL to the eastern Atlanta metro area, was fully revealed.  The massive $200M sports complex, which would include two stadiums, 22 soccer and football fields, seven baseball diamonds, five basketball courts and a 204,000 square foot indoor facility, would be built on 200 acres of land near the Stonecrest Mall in southeastern DeKalb County.  The site is about a 30 minute drive from Atlanta United FC’s future home of Mercedes-Benz Stadium under normal conditions, but Atlanta is notorious for its traffic.

Meanwhile, USL is reportedly closing in on teams in Baltimore, Northern Virginia and Fresno to start as soon as 2018.  The Northern Virginia effort would be a reserve team for D.C. United, reportedly in the mold of New York Red Bulls II.  Baltimore and Fresno appear to be independent teams, though Evan Ream reports that the Fresno group is not the Fuego PDL team.

As the North American Soccer League prepares to kick off its 2017 season, the league could soon re-establish a positive growth trajectory.  Midfield Press understands that the Atlanta group has already submitted its business plan for NASL’s review.  The Atlanta 2018 website has a countdown clock for an announcement for mid-April. Meanwhile, Peter Wilt told the Soccer Nation podcast last week that he planned on completing the business plans for Orange County and the Mind Soccer Group’s San Diego bid by the end of that week.  Fellow San Diego NASL aspirant Albion SC shared with Midfield Press that they are also finalizing their NASL business plan and investor group.

The Soccer Nation podcast asked Peter Wilt if he thought it were possible that NASL could accept both the Mind Soccer Group and Albion SC’s San Diego bids.  Wilt called it unlikely but said never say never.  If Mind Soccer Group bid finalizes plans to build a modular stadium in a North County city such as Oceanside, and if Albion were to play out of a South San Diego venue such as Chula Vista’s DeVore Stadium, the clubs would be about an hour drive apart. The distance is similar between Oceanside and the Orange County group’s expected venue of Titan Stadium in Fullerton.  Albion SC trains at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista today.  A league source expressed skepticism at the idea of two San Diego County groups being able to be successful when presented the concept, expressing a preference for one strong San Diego bid.

Successful expansion is an important component in NASL retaining its Division II status again for the 2018 season.  The league’s position will be stronger if it gets up to a minimum of 12 teams for 2018, located across the Eastern, Central and Pacific Time Zones.  NASL still needs to find an owner for the Jacksonville Armada, and keep clubs who had flirtations with USL during the offseason in the fold.  

With the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC/wherever making no apparent progress towards coming back, the math to get to 12 requires NASL keeping its current 8 teams and adding 4 new clubs.  Orange County, San Diego and Atlanta appear very likely to join and would make three.  Detroit was reported by Sports Illustrated and 551 as being in advanced discussions with the league. Chicago appeared to be a frontrunner to join for 2018, but Peter Wilt shared that if they do not resolve their venue issue soon, the project may delay to 2019.  Chicago is a particularly critical addition for NASL, as it would put the league back into the Central Time Zone.  Unless Rayo re-emerges for 2018 in OKC or somewhere else in the Central Time Zone, or another Central-based expansion group like New Orleans is further along than we realize, the league could be asking for another waiver even it if hits 12 teams.  To put itself in the strongest possible position to retain DII status, NASL ought to work hard to get to 12 teams in the three required time zones.

 

Debuting NASL Teams

San Francisco Deltas

Summary: Led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Brian Andres Helmick, the San Francisco Deltas will debut in the 2017 Spring Season, playing out of Kezar Stadium.   Marc Dos Santos, who led the Ottawa Fury to the Soccer Bowl in 2015 and Swope Park Rangers to the USL final in 2016, will be their first head coach.  The Deltas have done a number of interesting things in their launch.  The club has spent nearly $1M improving the city’s historic Kezar Stadium, has let fans select their home and away kits from a group of pre-selected designs by Inaria and has come up with innovative ways for fans to purchase tickets.  They have created a culture around the club that reflects the values of San Francisco, and assembled a strong roster.   

The San Francisco Deltas will make their home debut on March 25th, hosting 2016 Spring Season champs Indy Eleven.

March 2017 Update:

The San Francisco Deltas have stepped up their marketing in advance of their debut match later this month.  Their #OnlyTogether video above is one example, along with multiple events in the city.  Mayor Ed Lee declared the Deltas San Francisco’s official soccer team, and City Hall and Coit Tower will be bathed in Deltas’ red on the evening of March 25th in celebration of the club.

Brian Andres Helmick shared some interesting details with Soc Takes in the run up to the club’s debut.  Issues with the league’s stability over the winter impacted the club’s ability to attract sponsorship, sell tickets and drive local support.

Soc Takes learned some interesting details about the ownership structure of the Deltas.  While the club has 18 investors, Helmick shared that Brazilian venture capitalist Fabio Igel is the principal owner of the club per USSF definition.  Speaking to how the team is run, Helmick shared, “The environment in valley is – you have a group of investors who hire a CEO and say, ‘Go, I trust you, if you need me, you can talk to me.’ For really big decisions you need to consult the board. Such as fundraising or taking bank debt. But, it’s not the way other clubs are run. This is run like a professional business/startup model.”

One such big decision might have been the investment the club made into improving Kezar Stadium.  Helmick shared that the Deltas have spent almost a million dollars on improvements to the historic venue that sits in the city’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.  These improvements include installing 4000 additional seat back chairs from Candlestick Park into the stands, adding to the venue’s connection to San Francisco history.  Kezar now has 5000 seat back chairs with a total capacity of 10,000.

More on the San Francisco Deltas:  http://sfdeltas.com/ and Midfield Press’ interview with Helmick.

 

Dormant NASL Teams

Fort Lauderdale Strikers

Summary: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will sit out the 2017 NASL season while the league attempts to find new owners for the club.  Two groups have been reported as having interest in buying the Strikers.  The most active group has been the owners of PDL club FC Miami City, who is said to have had a bid for the team turned down by the league. According to Kartik Krishnaiyer, a former Fort Lauderdale Strikers and NASL employee, the FC Miami City group may be in the process of lodging a new bid.   A second potential investor group with interest in the team reportedly included former Strikers manager Gunter Kronsteiner in partnership with Austrian billionaire Frank Stronach.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Rayo OKC

Summary: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported on Twitter that Rayo OKC could be looking at relocation to either Omaha or Las Vegas after going on hiatus for a year.  This comes on the heels of Omaha being singled out as a high potential market by Peter Wilt in his expansion market analysis article.  We also pointed out the benefits of Omaha – a growing market of just under a million population with little pro sports competition – in our piece in September that speculated on where the franchise could relocate to. In his article breaking the news that Alberto Gallego would join the New York Cosmos as First Assistant Coach, Nipun Chopra reported that “rumors persist that Rayo may be interested in starting a new NASL franchise in a different city at a future date.”

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Public NASL Efforts

Atlanta

Summary: Midfield Press spoke with Trey Brantley, who, along with Southfund Partners, is working to bring NASL and NWSL teams to DeKalb County in the eastern part of the Atlanta metro area.  The city of Atlanta is in both Fulton and DeKalb counties.

The group plans to build a large youth sports complex in DeKalb and has the support of local officials.  Two stadiums would serve as the centerpiece of the DeKalb complex, a smaller stadium with a turf field and bench seating, and a mid-sized stadium with a grass field and individual seating.  The smaller stadium will be ready by Fall 2017 and the mid-sized stadium would be ready in 2019.

The group is considering names for both clubs.  For the men’s side, the historic NASL name the Atlanta Chiefs is under consideration, while the Atlanta Silverbacks name is not due to its rights being owned by another entity.

The Atlanta group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut.

March 2017 Update:  The Atlanta group launched its official website at ATL2018.com, and shared details on its stadium complex plan.  The $200M complex itself will be called Atlanta Sports City, and will consistent of two stadiums, soccer fields for youth tournaments, a 204,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility, restaurants and a hotel. The larger stadium on the site will debut in 2019, and be known as Stonecrest Stadium.  The prospective NASL team would play in the smaller stadium for the 2018 season, with the prospective NWSL team joining for the opening of the larger stadium in 2019.

Stonecrest Stadium is described as “a classic soccer stadium in the tradition of Craven Cottage & Stamford Bridge.  Rain or shine, our heroes will play the game as it should be played – on a pitch of natural grass measuring 115 x 75 – just as it is in Wembley. The stadium will hold 15,000 rabid soccer fans – an intimate setting that ensures that every seat will be right on top of the action.  The park will have all the latest amenities: multiple restaurants, digital signage, video boards & interactive exhibits & games.  It’s going to be a great place to watch a game.”

While some have questioned the wisdom of launching a second professional team so soon after the debut of MLS’s Atlanta United FC, the Atlanta group has strong support from community leaders in the eastern Atlanta metro area.

Greg Griffith, executive director of the Georgia Soccer Association told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “This facility will provide a place for dozens of local tournament and give us the ability to bid on major regional and national tournaments. The proximity to metro Atlanta and the best airport in the country makes this a great location for a sports complex.”

James Tsismanakis, executive director of Discover DeKalb, said “Atlanta Sports City is the definitely going to be one of the biggest economic development projects around.”  The AJC reports Atlanta Sports City is projected to draw 3 million visitors annually, create 2000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of $197M.

More on the Atlanta NASL: ATL2018.com and  Midfield Press interview with Trey Brantley.

 

Chicago

Summary: Peter Wilt and Club 9 Sports are working to bring an NASL team to Chicago.  The idea is for the team to play in the city of Chicago, which would allow it to provide an urban alternative to the suburban MLS Chicago Fire.

The key issue needing to be resolved before Chicago is accepted into NASL is finalizing their venue.  Chicago NASL has identified Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field as its ideal places to play.   Peter Wilt told Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast that if none of the major league Chicago venues work out after talks reopen in November, then the group will look at building a modular stadium in the city.

The team solicited fan suggestions for its official name and colors on its web site, and they will narrow down the finalists and allow fans to vote on the name.  The classic NASL moniker Chicago Sting is likely to be one of the options, having received a plurality of votes in the initial survey.  Other fan suggestions included Chicago City SC, Municipal Chicago and Wild Onion FC.  

Peter Wilt shed light on Chicago NASL’s progress in a great interview with the Flakoglost Podcast.  Wilt said, “We have got the investors lined up.  We are in a holding pattern on the venue situation.  There’s a few venues in town that meet the criteria we’ve established, which are essentially major league facilities that can hold five figures plus.  That limits you to three venues: where the White Sox, Cubs and Bears play.  And those aren’t the easiest venues to secure.  We have not given up, which means there is opportunity with one or more of them.  I can’t really go into specifics about it.  We believe that come November, we will be reengaged in some of those talks, and on course for a 2018 launch.”

Wilt also provided an updated the club’s planned supporters trust, which was previously mentioned to potentially own up to 10% of the club: “We have the legal work all done.  We have a supporters trust board of directors in place, 5 persons.  They have met regularly, about once a month. We give them updates.  We are very transparent with them.  The concept is to sell eventually 3000 shares at $500 a piece plus a season ticket.  Those folks would get a vote in who [the supporters trust’s] five board representatives are, and one of those five will be a representative on the team’s board, and they’d have a full vote on everything we do.  They would have transparency into our business and they would have actually more than 1/7th vote on certain issues that are critical to fans.  For example, maybe changing the team colors or changing the team’s name… something like that would have to be approved by the supporters trust board. So it’s exciting.  I love that idea, because it engages the fans.  Not only those 3000 shareholders that become vested in the team, but really all fans of the team become vested because they’ll have a sense that this is the people’s team and it belongs to the community.”

NASL interim commissioner Rishi Seghal spoke about Chicago NASL to 551.  “It’s a big market,” Sehgal said. “Peter’s certainly made his efforts in Chicago very public. There’s another professional team in the market. We won’t make a rash decision about going into any or all of these markets. What we do know is that we’ll grow — we have to.”

March 2017 Update:  Midfield Press spoke with Peter Wilt regarding various NASL expansion projects he is involved with, including Chicago NASL.  Peter provided us with an update on the Chicago effort.  “For a while we’ve been in the position that we have three different investors that want to be the controlling partners, but we don’t have a venue that meets our minimum standards.  Usually it is the other way around.”

“We have to be in the city.  There’s one existing venue that could make sense.  We are pursuing two other options.  One is a developer who is working to build a 15,000 seat stadium privately for us.  Aside from that or using an existing venue, the third option is privately building a modular stadium on a to be determined site.  If everything moves forward quickly, there is still an opportunity to start in Spring 2018.  We’re getting close to the time where we would need to push to Spring 2019, though.  I am not a fan of starting in the Fall Season.”

More on Chicago NASL:  http://www.chicagonasl.com/, Peter Wilt’s February 2016 AMA and Midfield Press’ interview with Peter Wilt.

 

Orange County

March 2017 Update:  A group connected with the L.A. Wolves of the UPSL is looking to bring a NASL club to Titan Stadium in Orange County, it was revealed in Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins.

Pete Capriotti, CEO of Cotti Foods, is the OC NASL effort’s primary investor.  Cotti Foods is the second largest franchisee of Taco Bell in California, as well being a large franchisee of Wendy’s and Pieology. Collins is the Sporting Director of the Wolves and will serve in that capacity for the OC NASL club.  Wilt is advising the group through his role with Club 9 Sports.  

The OC NASL club will maintain ties with the L.A. Wolves, using them as a reserve team similar to how NASL teams use NPSL clubs, as well as looking to the UPSL as a source of talent.  Wolves owner Yan Skwara is expected to continue to run the UPSL team and serve as the commissioner of that league, which recently implemented promotion and relegation.

Eric Wynalda has signed on to manage the Wolves in the run-up to the US Open Cup, and Collins confirmed that Wynalda is the favorite to coach OC NASL. “Our full intention is to have Eric be part of the team for a long period of time.  We’re excited to have someone of Eric’s caliber as part of the NASL effort.”

Collins gave a glimpse into how OC NASL plans to build their roster using a combination of local talent and veterans of NASL, MLS or Liga MX.  “We plan on bringing 6-8 of the starting players that are presently on the Wolves into the NASL squad.  We would continue to look at the UPSL as place to recruit players from.

“We’re also going to look into the college ranks, at PDL and NPSL rosters.  I am very well connected into a lot of the local college programs, as is Eric.    Between Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, USD, San Diego State and others, I am very confident that we will be able to get a lot of quality local players.  California is bigger than a lot of European countries.  I believe we can find a lot of quality players here in the state.  It won’t be easy, but it is a great resource.

“We know that the NASL is a very high level of competition.  Local recruiting is in addition to bringing in high caliber players, at least one or two from Liga MX.  Eric played down there and speaks Spanish fluently and German fluently in addition to speaking English pretty well.  We will need to have 4-5 players who have played at the MLS, Liga MX or NASL level.”

The group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut, and Wilt told Soccer Nation that he hoped to have business plans for San Diego and Orange County finished by the end of the week of March 10th.

More on OC NASL: Midfield Press Interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins and L.A. Wolves FC.

 

San Diego/North County – Mind Soccer Group

A second San Diego NASL group came forward when Demba Ba went on record when speaking with Eric Wynalda on his SiriusXM FC show.  “Me and a group of investors, a couple of players as well in the project, are doing something for San Diego now,” Ba told Wynalda.  “We are finalizing now and are close to getting the license.  We are working with the guys from Club 9 Sports.  We have a LOE from the NASL.  We are very close to finalizing the team in San Diego, which will be something big.  We have some players in our group of investors, one of the most famous guys you know is Eden Hazard.  Very close friend of mine and he’s excited as well.”

March 2017 Update: Peter Wilt shared details on the San Diego NASL investor group working with Club 9 Sports in our interview with him in February.  “In San Diego, we have been working with two gentlemen: Alex Gontran, who is Demba Ba’s agent,  and Vagno Chandara, Managing Partner and Chief Brand Officer at Mind Soccer Group.  They are working with four high level pro players include Demba Ba, Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye.  Locally, Bob Watkins is the president of Mind Soccer Group and a San Diegan. He is a veteran sports executive in San Diego, specifically in rugby.  He is one of US Rugby’s grand old guys.  They are looking at rounding out their group with other investors even though they more than meet the net worth requirements currently.”

Wilt shared that the group, which targets a Spring 2018 start, was considering building a modular stadium in the North County area, and more details of this effort emerged in a report from a local ABC affiliate.  ABC spoke with Mind Soccer Group spokesperson TJ Zane, and reported they are “exploring a number of locations around the county for a modular stadium of 5,000 to 7,500 seats. It includes sites in Escondido, Oceanside, and off State route 56.”

Soccer Nation interviewed Wilt for their podcast and asked if it were possible NASL could accept both the Mind Soccer Group bid in North County and Albion SC somewhere in the southern part of the San Diego market.  Wilt responded by saying never say never but called it unlikely.  Wilt told Soccer Nation that he hoped to have business plans for San Diego and Orange County finished by the end of the week (of March 10th).

 

San Diego – Albion SC

Summary:  There are two groups interested in bringing NASL to San Diego.

Albion SC operates a large youth academy and an NPSL team called Albion SC Pros.  Starting the NPSL was a step towards their next goal, creating a full season professional side in NASL or USL to give them a full development system from youth ranks to pro soccer.  In an interview with Midfield Press, Noah Gins, CEO of Albion SC, said “We continue dialogue with NASL. We are seeing the stability and are liking the direction. At one point, there was a rush to try to get teams in the league for Fall 2017. That has backed off, which is a good thing. Everyone is targeting Spring of 2018.”

March 2017 Update: Albion SC is working on finalizing its business plan and investor group for NASL, according to Noah Gins.

More on Albion SC: Albion SC Pros official site and Midfield Press Interview with Noah Gins.

 

NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary

Baltimore

The Baltimore Comets played in NASL 1.0

Summary: In an otherwise grim article about NASL, Sports Illustrated reported that one of the expansion groups looking to join the league is based in Baltimore.  The city has long been on the NASL radar. Baltimore was expected to be part of the new NASL when it began in 2011, but former USL franchise Crystal Palace Baltimore failed after the 2010 season in USSF D2 before it could join the league.  

The league’s sponsorship deal with Baltimore-based Under Armour in 2016 led to speculation that UA founder Kevin Plank or someone else with ties to Under Armour might launch a team.  This speculation was fanned by reports of Under Armour’s plans for a new 50-acre campus include a 7,000 seat waterfront stadium.

A Baltimore NASL bid could find itself in a race to market against the potential relocation of the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads to the metro area.

Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Baltimore among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.  In a tweet, Straus mentioned that Bill Peterson hinted to him that the Baltimore group was led by foreign investors.

March 2017 Update:  Report emerged in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun that a Baltimore investor group could be closing in on USL expansion.  See the USL Baltimore entry below for more details.

 

Detroit

A Detroit group is reportedly in advanced negotiations with NASL. But is it Detroit City?

Summary: Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

In September 2015, a Detroit expansion group presented at the NASL Board of Governors meeting alongside San Francisco and OKC, according to reporter Sulaiman Folarin.  The group was reportedly not connected to Detroit City FC.  

A Detroit group was named by Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated as being in advanced discussions with the NASL about expansion. 551 reported that Detroit the group in discussions with NASL is not Detroit City FC.  “I can’t really comment on who the group would be,” said Rishi Sehgal to 551. “I can say that Detroit is a market that we’ve been interested in for a long time.”

“Personally, I have a vested interest in Detroit, having grown up in Toledo. We’re all aware about the excitement that Detroit City FC is bringing. I went to one of their games as a fan two years ago and it was amazing. The success they’ve had building a crowd and a community, and the improvements to their stadium, speaks to the strength of their project. Whether they’re a group that comes in or it’d be a different group isn’t something I can comment on.”

Given Sean Mann’s comments that Detroit City looking at going up to the professional ranks was a focus of this offseason, could there be two groups vying to bring Division II pro soccer to Detroit?

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

More on Detroit City FC:  Detroit City FC official site and Sean Mann’s interview with Midfield Press.

 

Hartford

Hartford City, which debuts this year in NPSL, is not part of the NASL group. At least for now

Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Hartford among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.  Straus mentioned the Hartford group as in advanced discussions with the league.  Our sources told us the group is not Hartford City FC, the new club starting play in the NPSL this year, and that a Hartford NASL expansion team would be several years out.  A renovated Dillon Stadium would likely be the target location of an NASL expansion team in Hartford, though any group looking to do that would have to contend with baggage left over from the prior attempt to renovate Dillon.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Las Vegas

Las Vegas had a team in NASL 1.0 for one season

Summary: Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Single Source / Early Stage Rumors

Cleveland

AFC Cleveland are the reigning NPSL champion and are currently the city’s highest level team

We followed up on Peter Wilt’s comment to the Inverted Triangle Podcast  last year that he was working with a group that wanted to bring pro soccer to Cleveland.  Wilt said of Club 9 Sports, “There are groups in a dozen markets that we talk to on a regular basis including Cleveland.  Some are closer to becoming real than others.  I think Cleveland at some point is going to make a fantastic market but there’s nothing imminent at this point.”

 

Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Barons supporters group is waiting for an NASL or USL team to support

Early stage efforts are underway to bring a pro soccer team to Milwaukee.  “Oakland and Milwaukee are at the very beginning – they are among the dozen markets we’re having discussions,” Peter Wilt shared in his interview with Midfield Press.

 

New Orleans

The NPSL Jesters are the highest level team in New Orleans today

Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed New Orleans among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL.  

March 2017 Update:   Nothing new.

 

Oakland/East Bay

The Oakland Stompers played in NASL 1.0

We heard from several sources that there is an effort to bring a NASL team to the East Bay Area underway.  Peter Wilt confirmed Club 9 Sports’ involvement with an Oakland/East Bay effort but described it at very early stages.

 

St. Louis

The St. Louis Stars were a NASL 1.0 team

The Foundry St. Louis MLS group, which has been passed over as the preferred MLS bid in favor of SC STL, replied to my tweet asking them if they’d consider starting up a team in another league such as NASL by saying, “Yes.  We already are” and “Details forthcoming when the #SCSTL dust settles.”  

A subsequent Twitter exchange between the group and a fan indicates they are continuing to work on plans for a professional soccer team in St. Louis, though they are holding off announcing anything to not distract from the MLS bid.  

Given that the SC STL group is the preferred MLS bid and that Saint Louis FC already exists in USL, NASL would seem the obvious choice if Foundry St. Louis were to launch their own pro soccer team.

More On Foundry St. Louis: http://foundrystlouis.com/

 

Lower League Clubs With NASL Aspirations

Albion SC Pros

See San Diego entry above.

 

FC Arizona

Summary: New NPSL club FC Arizona, based in the eastern part of the Phoenix market, has set a goal to join NASL within the next 2-3 years. In an interview with the American Pyramid blog, FC Arizona founder Scott Taylor said, “Five year goal, we really hope to have been in the NASL for 2 or 3 seasons by then, keeping the NPSL team for development, etc. I decided the NPSL’s connection to the NASL was important. Never really considered the UPSL. Although I’m sure that it has it’s place in some markets, it wasn’t for us.  We do have very big plans. But, first things first. Year Number 1 must be done right.”

Scott Taylor reiterated his intention to bring his club up to NASL to Midfield Press in our recent interview with him.  “Rather than talk, we would rather show people what we can do. We definitely have a vision, and we plan to execute that vision based on what we know has worked with other clubs in other cities, but tailored to our market. We plan on doing things the first year right and seeing how the community responds at the gate. Yes, I have 2 very, very large local investors waiting to see how 2017 goes and if it goes well they are all in.

“I have exchanged emails with the NASL front office, they are aware of us. We are interested in breaking down some barriers in US Soccer, that just because a team isn’t in MLS, doesn’t mean they are not quality. That is how the public perception is, and we plan on changing that in a big way.”

March 2017 Update: FC Arizona got off to a strong start in its debut match, drawing 2800 to John Riggs Stadium to witness a 5-0 victory over Real San Jose.  Arizona United SC of the USL drew an average of 1470 last season.  Arizona has assembled a strong squad including two former MLS players as well as two former New York Cosmos B players.

More on FC Arizona:  FC Arizona official site and Scott Taylor’s interview with Midfield Press.

 

Detroit City FC

See Detroit entry above.

 

Philadelphia Fury

Summary: Jonathan Tannenwald reported that the owner of the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Fury, which plays in the South Jersey suburb Glassboro, is looking to partner with investors to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market.   The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand. Tannenwald reported that potential investors could include a La Liga club as well as parties from Dubai and Las Vegas.  

Midfield Press connected with Philadelphia Fury owner Matt Driver in September for an interview updating the status of the club’s NASL ambitions.  Driver continues to work on getting investors for a NASL move but there is currently not investment in place.  He is working with Jack Cummins and Club 9 Sports, of the Chicago NASL bid, as consultants to help him with his NASL plan.  

Driver understands that playing in a stadium in Philadelphia or close to the city, such as Campbell’s Field in Camden, would be critical to the success of a Philadelphia NASL team.  In terms  of his own role in the NASL club, Driver sees himself as a potential Sporting Director while leaving the business operations to other partners.  He sees the American Soccer League, which he runs today, as a potential talent feeder for the Philadelphia Fury.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

East Atlanta, Orange County & San Diego are likely to join NASL for 2018, with Chicago, Detroit & Fort Lauderdale as possibilities

 

 

The United Soccer League kicks off its 2017 season with three new teams, Reno 1868 FC, the Ottawa Fury and the historic Tampa Bay Rowdies.  There’s no reason to expect the league to do anything but grow further.  USL President Jake Edwards has said that he would like to see the league re-organized into three conferences – Eastern, Central and Western – in the near future.  Evan Ream reports that Edwards told him to expect 6-8 new teams joining USL over the next three years.

Nashville SC is set to join for 2018.  D.C. United II playing out of Northern Virginia, as well as possible independent teams in Baltimore and Fresno are among hottest rumors for possible 2018 additions.  Meanwhile, Ream reports that Edwards shared with him that a Bay Area group has submitted an application to join USL.  Other recent rumors include Memphis and Birmingham from Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes, as well as an effort reported by Newsday of the Long Island Rough Riders looking to move up from PDL with a former MSG sports president and New York Mets executive as an investor.  A Bahamas group has gone public with a bid to bring USL to the island nation in 2019.

Having just achieved Division II status, USL will look to consolidate its position and maintain sanctioning at the level for the 2018 season.  Whereas NASL’s biggest gaps are around the number of teams in the league, USL’s gaps are around the facilities and ownership groups of some of its many teams.  Just as NASL will look to expand to fill its gaps, USL may look to see some of its smaller operations improve their standards or right-size down to PDL as the Wilmington Hammerheads did after the 2016 season.

 

Debuting USL Teams

Tampa Bay Rowdies  

The Tampa Bay Rowdies officially announced their switch from the NASL to USL on October 25th, two hours before the Ottawa Fury announced the same.  “We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The USL is a vibrant league, and this move is a necessary and positive step toward reaching the long-term goals and objectives of the club.”

Those long-term goals include a bid for an MLS franchise.  The very next day after the Rowdies USL announcement, Don Garber spoke at USF with Bill Edwards reportedly in attendance.  Garber spoke about the great progress in the Tampa Bay market.  The Rowdies released some beautiful stadium renderings and rallied around the MLS2StPete hashtag.  They were one of 12 bidders to submit an application to MLS for spots 25-28 in the league.

March 2017 Update:  

Despite the reputation of USL as a lower budget league, the Rowdies have assembled a roster more in line with the high spending clubs in NASL than the frugal clubs of USL.  As of this writing, Transfermarkt estimates the transfer value of the USL roster as double the next highest club, FC Cincinnati.  In addition to bringing back Joe Cole, Matt Pickens and several other key players from their NASL squad, the Rowdies’ biggest signing was Wolfsburg left back Marcel Schafer.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies make their USL debut against Orlando City B on March 25th.

 

Ottawa Fury

The Ottawa Fury officially announced their switch from the NASL to USL on October 25th, two hours after the Tampa Bay Rowdies announced the same. “We’re excited to be joining the fastest-growing soccer league in the world,” said Fury FC President, John Pugh. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it.  Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.  Go Fury Go!”

The Ottawa Fury signed up to be the MLS affiliate of the Montreal Impact.  The Impact in turn shut down their MLS II squad, FC Montreal.

“There will be some players from Montreal Impact, but there’s no requirement to play them, so each player that comes from Montreal Impact has to earn their minutes on the field,” Fury FC head coach Paul Dalglish told the Ottawa Sun.

March 2017 Update:  

Unlike the Rowdies, the Ottawa Fury’s move from NASL to USL was driven by a desire to reduce expenses. The affiliation with Montreal is consistent with the Ottawa ownership’s desire to reduce costs, and while Ottawa’s roster value is estimated by Transfermarkt as among the higher ones in USL, it is much more in-line with league norms than Tampa Bay.

The Ottawa Fury make their USL debut against Saint Louis FC on April 1st.

 

Reno 1868

Summary: Reno 1868 will start play in 2017.  The club is owned by billionaire Herb Simon, who also owns the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.  Sacramento Republic FC played a friendly in Reno against the Liverpool FC U-21s before a crowd of 6,287 at 1868’s future home of Greater Nevada Field.   Reno 1868 has surpassed 1000 season tickets sold.

Reno signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the San Jose Earthquakes.   San Jose will run all aspects of Reno’s soccer operations, making the partnership look more like Houston Dynamo’s arrangement with Rio Grande Valley than a traditional MLS-USL affiliation.  Reno will still handle the business side of its operation.   Former Atlanta Silverbacks GM Andy Smith was hired to run Reno’s soccer operations.

New manager Ian Russell has begun assembling Reno 1868’s roster, which will include USL’s leading scorer since the league rebooted in 2011, forward Dane Kelly.  Joining Kelly are defender Jimmy Ockford (Seattle Sounders/New York Cosmos), midfielder Junior Burgos (Tampa Bay Rowdies), midfielder Matt LaGrassa (Sacramento Republic), forward Antoine Hoppenot (FC Cincinnati) defender Brenton Griffiths (OC Blues) and defender Nick von Niederhäusern (FC Vaduz).  Reno’s direct signings will be augmented by loans from the San Jose Earthquakes due to their affiliation agreement.

March 2017 Update:

The Reno 1868 FC make their USL debut against Orange County SC on March 25th.

More on Reno 1868.

 

Announced USL Teams

Nashville SC

Summary: DMD Soccer has been awarded a USL franchise for 2018.  The DMD group includes investors with ties to health care companies including Marcus Whitney, former chairman of Nashville FC of NPSL, David Dell president and COO of LifePoint Health and Christopher Redhage, co-founder of ProviderTrust.  Chris Jones will serve as the GM of the Nashville USL club.  Nashville SC has surpassed 1500 season ticket deposits.

The Nashville USL group decided against using the Nashville FC brand as originally intended, opting to use a new name and logo, Nashville SC.  Previously it was reported that they acquired the brand of NPSL team Nashville FC in exchange for a 1% stake in the club and a seat on the club’s board.  However, since there could be a potential trademark conflict with a local youth soccer organization that also uses the Nashville FC name, the USL group chose this other direction.  

DMD intends to create a similar investment model for members of the NPSL Nashville FC club.  “During the August 29 meeting DMD reiterated its desire to provide for formal supporter investment in the USL franchise on the same terms as previously proposed to NFC. In light of the foregoing, the Board of NFC agrees that the most appropriate manner of accomplishing this is through a new nonprofit corporation,” the board of Nashville FC wrote to its members, according to the Nashville Pitch.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC will enter a PDL club next year rather than an NPSL club, which makes sense as PDL is part of the USL system.  The team will be known as Nashville SC U23.

A potential soccer war for Nashville was over before it ever really began, with Bill Hagerty, the former head of the Nashville NASL group, re-focusing his efforts on bringing Major League Soccer to the Music City.

Nashville SC hired Soccer United Marketing executive Court Jeske as their first CEO.  Jeske told The Tennessean that his “No. 1 goal is to get the word out, make sure that people in Nashville and Middle Tennessee understand what we are doing and be a part of the community.”

Nashville SC and the group looking to bring MLS to Nashville are in merger talks, according to the Nashville Business Journal.  “We are united in our goal to bring MLS to Nashville and view our efforts as one movement. We are having discussions about how we move forward together,” Clint Brewer, spokesperson for the Nashville MLS group told the Business Journal.  Nashville SC declined comment.  Bill Hagerty, a member of the MLS bid, one led an effort to bring NASL to Nashville before shifting his sights to MLS after then-NPSL club Nashville FC announced for USL.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC is working to build its organization in Tennessee.  The first signs will be when Nashville SC U-23, which replaces the NPSL team, debuts in PDL this year.  “Obviously the PDL is our first jump with the Nashville SC brand,” Redhage told USLsoccer.com. “We’re looking to build the foundation, identifying our core values, identifying our vision and beginning to push that out at the amateur level. Our hope is that it builds our foundation so in 2018, when we come into the league, we have a rabid fan base that already understands what Nashville SC is about, where we’re going and what we want to accomplish.”

“Our partnership with the Tennessee State Soccer Association has been really successful,” Redhage said. “We’re working hand in hand. A lot of these things take a while to build, but when you’re building a foundation, you’re building it not for today but for the future, so that’s what we’re excited about.”

Redhage told USLsoccer.com that they have reached over 3000 season ticket deposits.

March 2017 Update:  

Former Atlanta Silverbacks and Colorado Rapids skipper Gary Smith is rumored to be the frontrunner to be the first manager in the history of Nashville SC, according to a usually accurate Big Soccer tipster.

More on Nashville SC.

 

Dormant USL Teams

Austin Aztex

Summary: The Austin Aztex have been on hiatus since the 2016 season their home field, House Park, was damaged in flooding.  The club does not seem to have made much progress towards getting back on the field.

“There is no suitable stadium. Until there is, the Aztex won’t field a team,” Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas and a majority investor in the Aztex, told the Austin American-Statesman.

Club owner Rene van de Zande told the Statesman,  “Nothing is formally confirmed, but taking the suitable soccer venue needs into consideration, 2018 has become a more realistic target.”

“I want Austin to have pro soccer,” Epstein said. “If there was a stadium, the Aztex would be playing now.”  The Statesman reports that the club found University of Texas’ Myers Stadium too expensive, while they have also ruled out playing in high school football stadiums because they wouldn’t be able to generate revenues from alcohol sales.  The paper reports that there has not been progress on the offer extended by the Austin Huns rugby club to share a stadium with the Aztex.

“I’m probably out of the stadium-building business,” Epstein said. “We’ll keep looking for long-term solutions.”

USL president Jake Edwards told MLSsoccer.com that the club is working on getting a stadium built in Austin.  This runs counter to prior comments from Bobby Epstein that he is “out of the stadium-building business.”

While reporting on USL’s ascension to D2, the Austin American-Statesman got a quote from owner Rene van de Zande that may hold a flicker of hope for fans for pro soccer in Texas’s capital. “Yes, 2017 is out,” van de Zande told the paper. “The Aztex are in continued discussions with the league to return in 2018.”  The venue continues to be the issue holding back the return of the Aztex.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

More on the Austin Aztex.

 

Rumored USL Teams

The Sol have been working on stadium plans

Albuquerque:   In an interview with Midfield Press earlier this year, Albuquerque Sol FC set a target of 2018 for a move up to professional soccer.  Albuquerque is more likely to go to USL than NASL due to their status as a PDL team, a league which is owned by USL.  However they would not rule NASL out.

The Albuquerque Sol hired a consultant to do a feasibility analysis on a 5,000 to 10,000 seat stadium in the city. “The goal has always been said 2018 to go what’s called USL pro, which would be the equivalent of say the Isotopes,” said General Manager for Albuquerque Sol, Larry Espinoza, told KRQE.  The club is looking for investors to help fund the stadium.

Albuquerque Sol owner Ron Patel continues to make progress on his efforts to bring a soccer specific stadium to town to support the addition of a USL club. According to KRQE, the city will spend $15,000 to investigate the benefits of a stadium.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Bahamas: Local businessman Burton Rodgers is leading an expansion effort to bring a USL team to the Bahamas, according to a report in Tribune 242.  The prospective club would play in 15,000 seat Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, in Nassau.  Rodgers’ group is working with Anschutz Entertainment Group, the government, the National Sports Authority and the Bahamas Football Association to bring the vision to life.  One drawback to the group’s plans is that the island nation has a population of just under 400,000, well short of USSF Division II standards.

“Mr Rodgers is in the midst of preparing a bid to attain a pro franchise for the Bahamas and AEG is fully committed to assisting him in ensuring that he has the best means and support to bring a said franchise to the Bahamas and we are very excited to assist in that regard,” Alan Kates, Managing Director of AEG Bahamas, told The Tribune. “I would say that there are numerous hurdles to cross and I know that Mr Rodgers is preparing with the assistance of some wonderful global supporters to ensure that the best possible presentation is made to the USL and to ensure that he has the best bid to see.

“He is in the beginning stages of this. I would safely say that the Thomas A Robinson Stadium would be a premier venue for a professional soccer team. Of course, AEG has connections in the soccer world and sports and entertainment business, so we are more than confident in putting this forward with the support of the Bahamas Football Association and the government of the Bahamas. Realistically it is in the very early stages, but there is rapid progress being made in taking it to the next level.”

The Bahamas group is targeting a 2019 kickoff in USL.

The Baltimore Bohemians left PDL to make way for a pro team

Baltimore:  The Wilmington Hammerheads supporters group the Port City Firm reported on their Twitter account that Baltimore is the top relocation target for the Hammerheads ownership group.  

Steven Goff of the Washington Post dug into the Hammerheads potential move to Baltimore.  Goff reports that the team aims to play at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University.  Names floated for the club include such creative options as FC Baltimore and Baltimore FC.  Goff reports that the University of Maryland Baltimore County was also looked at as a potential venue for the club, but an agreement could not be reached.  That indicates this process is pretty far along.  Goff suggests the league has spoken to investors interested in expanding to Baltimore in addition the the relocation interest from Hammerheads owner George Altirs.

Sports Illustrated also reported that investors are interested in bringing a NASL club to the Charm City.

The Baltimore Bohemians PDL club has shut its doors for the 2017 season. There may be hope for USL in Baltimore within the official statement left on the Bohs website:  “As of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Bohemians Soccer Club will be on hiatus until further notice. We are taking this time off to refocus our efforts on bringing a legitimate professional franchise to this great city.”

March 2017 Update: The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post both reported that a Baltimore group has submitted a very strong application for an USL expansion team, according to conversations with league officials.  The Sun says that the group is working with the league to identify venues for the team to start in either 2018 or 2019.  The reports were not clear if the group includes former Wilmington Hammerheads owner George Altirs or if it is a different group.

 

Birmingham: Scratching The Pitch reported Birmingham, Alabama as a potential USL city along with their own rumors on Nashville and San Diego USL teams.  The site reported that a link between the Birmingham Hammers NPSL team and the USL bid is not evident.

Rumors of a Birmingham USL team picked back up on Twitter from local podcaster Maddux Mullinax, suggesting there will be announcement before the end of the year.  Mullinax reported that a USL team is a done deal and is likely to play out of BBVA Compass Field at the University Alabama Birmingham, and that the team is looking for a coach with MLS experience.

Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reports that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Boise:  Boise could be the home of a USL team soon, either an independent club or a Portland Timbers affiliate. T2 and Swope Park Rangers played a match in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise, to test the market.

Idaho is considered Timbers “territory” in MLS terms, and the club already has partnerships with youth programs in the state.   Portland executive Gavin Wilkerson shared the club’s plans to develop the Idaho market further with USLsoccer.com:  “We want to look at a way to eventually have more games in Boise and in Idaho and then eventually will the league, will USL, allow us to have another team there? Is it a viable business decision? These are questions that we’ll be asking ourselves. This is definitely a trial match. It has many, many purposes and we’re very happy with the initial response.”

“We’re at the exploratory phase of going down this path,” Wilkinson said. “There’s conversations with the USL. There’s conversations about how we could be involved if we weren’t able to run the USL team in Idaho. What we’re looking at, in all honesty, is we’re exploring all avenues and all options.”

An article on the Idaho Business Review outlined several details of how pro soccer may unfold in Boise.  Bill Taylor is leading a local group of investors who want to bring pro soccer to town.

“We will have serious talks starting in July (with government people and potential investors),” Taylor said. “The energy is legitimized. There is a return on investment now. Now you can go to people who are not necessarily soccer people. Now we just have to go to the next level with our government people.”  

The article goes on to explore several locations in the Boise area where a stadium could be built.  The mayor of Boise, David Bieter, is on board with the idea of a stadium. “Downtown needs a multi-use sports facility,” Bieter said. “I’m convinced that a public private partnership that brings minor league baseball and soccer as well as concerts and other events to downtown will pay great dividends.”

USL President Jake Edwards referenced the Portland Timbers’ interest in moving their T2 team to Boise in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October 2016.  Speaking of the model of providing soccer operations for an independent local ownership who handles the business side that is being followed by San Jose with Reno and Houston with Rio Grande Valley, Edwards said, “I think more and more MLS teams are looking at that. Portland are looking at an independent group we’ve put together in Boise. Seattle is looking to partner with a group in Tacoma. I think this will be a model we see more of. It certainly makes sense toward achieving everyone’s goals. Some [MLS] teams will still be committed to that ‘second team’ structure, and maybe that will work for them. Where we are now with this partnership and this affiliate model isn’t where we’re going to be in a couple years … It won’t be a dramatic shift for next season but I think you’ll see some changes for 2018. Whether they’re MLS-owned or independent teams, if they’re not able to meet the standards and operate a team and create an environment at the level we require, they won’t continue.”

March 2017 Update:  The owner of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team is looking to build a new 5,000 seat ballpark in downtown Boise that is touted as also being a potential home for a minor league soccer team, based on a report in the Idaho Statesman.

 

FC Dallas 2: FC Dallas has been rumored to be interested in starting its own USL squad for a while.  Jason Davis reported that Dallas’s reserve squad may debut in either 2017 or 2018.  Will Parchman reported that Dallas has preliminary plans to put a team in USL in 2018.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

DC United II:  DC United is planning to launch a USL reserve team in 2018, according to a report from Steven Goff of the Washington Post.  The Post reports sites under consideration include the Maryland Soccerplex, which once hosted the USL club Real Maryland and the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field.  Goff adds that the club has discussed building a 5000 seat soccer stadium along with George Mason University.  The facility would serve as DC United’s training ground, the USL squad’s primary stadium and would serve the youth academy as well as George Mason U’s soccer teams.  The model for the USL franchise would follow New York Red Bulls II.

March 2017 Update:  A Steven Goff article focused on the potential Baltimore USL team mentions that the likely destination for DC United’s USL club is Northern Virginia.

 

Detroit: Detroit City FC co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

El Paso: MountainStar Sports Group is reportedly working to bring a USL team to El Paso.  MountainStar owns the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team as well as FC Juarez across the Mexican border.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Fresno may be joining USL soon, but the group reportedly isn’t the Fuego

Fresno: A Fresno group other than the Fuego PDL club has its eyes on a USL franchise. According to a report from Evan Ream, the Fresno Fuego were being pressured to pay the USL’s expansion fee by the end of 2016 or the other group may get the rights.

The Fuego have long been interested in moving up to the pro ranks.  “I really think Fresno is ready for professional soccer,” said Scott Alcorn, former coach of PDL Fresno Fuego told the Fresno Bee in July 2015. “It’s something that has never been done in the Valley. Pro soccer would be something that’s totally new, and I think we’re ready for that.”

“The USL has asked us for the last eight years if we want to move up to the next level, but it hasn’t been in our best interest given the economic challenges of 2008 through 2012,” Fuego GM Jeremy Schultz told the Bee. “It wasn’t time for us to make that move. But over the last couple years the Fuego has been profitable, which is a great accomplishment.”

“You look at some of the cities where soccer is flourishing, and I really believe Fresno has the fabric of a soccer town,” Schultz said.

“It’s ingrained in us. We kind of grow up with a little chip on our shoulder how we’re viewed in this state, and I think that mentality is perfectly suited for soccer.”

USL president Jake Edwards spoke to Soccer Nation about the league’s future plans for expansion in California. “California is a hub for premier soccer in America. The size of the state, its demographic composition and diversity provide a solid foundation and growth opportunity for owners and fans alike. It’s an added bonus that the USL harbors three teams in the Golden State. We are fortunate that this part of the country is so passionate about soccer and firmly believe that it will help expand and grow the game in all facets nationwide. Many great players, coaches and teams from youth, collegiate to the professional levels have come from California. We built our Western division first through anchor club Orange County Blues. That growth has spread north and we have had tremendous success in Sacramento. We are in discussions now with some very impressive ownership groups in several key California markets so expect to see a little more expansion in the state over the next few seasons.”

March 2017 Update:  Evan Ream reported on Twitter that the USL will likely expand to Fresno for the 2018 season, and that the group will not be the PDL Fresno Fuego.  The group could look to acquire the Fuego brand, however.

Grand Rapids FC is looking to build a stadium for a USL move

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids FC is in talks with investors about a move up to USL, according to Michigan Live.  Costs for an 8,000 seat soccer stadium for the club are estimated at $40M.  “It has been a lot of work the past couple months but it has also been great,” team owner Matt Roberts said. “I think the evolution of soccer in West Michigan is just going to keep moving forward.”

“The next step is a major one and that is to get the financial backing to get it done,” he said.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Las Vegas:  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March 2016 that the USL was interested in bringing a team to Cashman Field in Vegas.  USL spokesperson Brett Lashbrook told the Review-Journal that there was a precedent of minor league baseball and USL sharing a stadium.  The Las Vegas 51s AAA team is looking to move out of Cashman into a new stadium.

Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Long Island Rough Riders:  Peter Zaratin, president of the Long Island Rough Riders, proposed to build a $8M-$10M soccer complex on the grounds of Suffolk Community College with the intent of sharing the facility between a Rough Riders USL team and the school, according to a report in Newsday.

“We are looking to be a feeder for Major League Soccer,” Zaratin told the paper, adding, “Long Island does not have the demographics for a major-league team.” The Rough Riders would be looking to fund the project with a public-private partnership that did not require any funds from the college, and would be looking for a 40 year lease and a revenue sharing agreement on tickets, food and retail sales.  Investors would include Mitchell Rechler of Rechler Equity Partners and David Howard, a sports executive who has worked for the New York Mets and served as president of MSG Sports.

The Long Island Rough Riders PDL team is affiliated with New York City FC.  NYCFC recently entered into an USL affiliate arrangement with San Antonio FC, though the Texas club’s MLS ambitions likely make that a short term relationship.

A USL club on Long Island could tap into some of the fan base left behind by the New York Cosmos, who moved to Brooklyn.

 

Memphis: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

San Diego:  Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reports that Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda leds a group of Japanese investors who wish to put a USL team in San Diego.  Chopra suggests Qualcomm Stadium and Torero Stadium may be sites under consideration for hosting the team.

Independent research shows that Honda owns a company called Honda Estilo.  Honda Estilo USA is based in Southern California.  Brian Waltrip, one of the coaches at the North County Battalion, a PDL club that switched from NPSL over the offseason, is listed on the club’s website as Director of Coaching with Honda Estilo USA.  The Battalion recently announced a partnership with the San Diego Surf youth soccer club. During the time of the NSCAA convention, North County Battalion owner Jason Barbuto tweeted, “So any things I’d like to say and comment on tonite. Congrats San Diego. Do not look back. The future is very very bright. #MLS #USL #PDL”  Since then, the North County Battalion and San Diego Surf formed the brand SoCal Surf which the PDL team is using going forward.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Zest PDL club has Japanese ownership, similar to what Chopra suggests Honda’s group will have.  On the Zest club website, they promote the following vision:

  • Promote the PDL brand definition and advancement in San Diego and Japan
  • Enhancement of a soccer exchange program between Japan and the U.S.
  • Support of Japanese soccer players pursuing sports in America.
  • Support of American players pursuing sports in Japan

Previously, USL president Jake Edwards confirmed the league has held talks with groups interested in bringing USL to San Diego.  “San Diego is a thriving market with a millennial population, considerable interest in soccer and high participation levels. We have received numerous expressions of interest from very credible groups and will continue to explore options in the market based on our three core tenets: strong local ownership, an attractive market and plans for a soccer-specific stadium,” Edwards told Soccer Nation.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

 

San Francisco Bay Area: Evan Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, and that he will visit the area in two months as the league is interested in being in the market.  In a follow up tweet, Ream said that the group was not the PDL club San Francisco City FC, which has previously expressed interest in joining a professional league.

 

Tacoma:  The Seattle Sounders are exploring the possibility of moving Sounders 2’s home to Tacoma.  The club is working with the AAA baseball Tacoma Rainiers on a plan that would see the B side relocate from Starfire Soccer Complex to a new stadium.

“There’s a group of individuals working on a soccer complex and possibly a soccer stadium,” Hanauer told Sounder at Heart. “The team is a separate issue. We’ve been working with the Rainiers, with whom we would theoretically have some sort of partnership. We haven’t talked about how equity would work. Notionally, we like the Major League Baseball model where we’d run and pay for the technical side and they’d run and pay for the business.”

“We were very curious about what would happen to the soccer market there,” said Hanauer, noting the advantages of getting a little farther away from Seattle. “We did that game down there and I remained in contact with the folks from the Rainiers. We check in every six months or so. I think we concluded at that time that Cheney [Stadium] wasn’t a good long term location, but if there was ever a possibility for a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma that it would be very interesting.”

The Sounders seem focused on Tacoma, but have also considered moving their 2 side to Boise, Everett and Spokane, according to the Sounder at Heart report.

USL President Jake Edwards referenced the Seattle Sounders’ interest in moving their S2 team to Tacoma in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October 2016.  Speaking of the model of providing soccer operations for an independent local ownership who handles the business side that is being followed by San Jose with Reno and Houston with Rio Grande Valley, Edwards said, “I think more and more MLS teams are looking at that. Portland are looking at an independent group we’ve put together in Boise. Seattle is looking to partner with a group in Tacoma. I think this will be a model we see more of. It certainly makes sense toward achieving everyone’s goals. Some [MLS] teams will still be committed to that ‘second team’ structure, and maybe that will work for them. Where we are now with this partnership and this affiliate model isn’t where we’re going to be in a couple years … It won’t be a dramatic shift for next season but I think you’ll see some changes for 2018. Whether they’re MLS-owned or independent teams, if they’re not able to meet the standards and operate a team and create an environment at the level we require, they won’t continue.”

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

FC Tucson’s ties to MLS-USL run deep

Tucson:  “We believe the time is right for the Tucson market to move up to the USL,” FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place.”

Foster told the publication that FC Tucson’s ownership has formed a steering committee to find investors to back the move to USL. “We’ve been running our PDL team like a USL team,” said Foster. “We believe we can significantly increase our footprint.”

“A USL team often has as many as four or five MLS players at a given time,” said Foster. “If we get a wholly owned affiliation, it would be a merger of our brand with an MLS franchise.”

Previously Midfield Press spoke with Rick Schantz, who signaled FC Tucson’s future intent on pro soccer.

Rick Schantz resigned as the head coach of FC Tucson to take on an assistant coaching role with Phoenix Rising FC.  Schantz will remain in the ownership group of FC Tucson.

March 2017 Update:  Nothing new.

Among the many rumored USL expansion targets, Baltimore, DC United II and Fresno seem most likely to join for 2018. San Diego, Birmingham & Memphis are also strong rumors

Lower League Teams Looking To Move Up To The Pros (NASL/USL)

FC Buffalo: In an interview with Midfield Press, FC Buffalo indicated that they are actively pursuing investors to help them take a step up to professional soccer, though they did not indicate whether they were interested in USL or NASL.

Detroit City FC:  Detroit City FC continues to grow in NPSL, with a 48% increase in attendance in 2016 over 2015 as the club moved into its new home of Keyworth Stadium.  Supporters raised $750,000 for renovations of Keyworth, and due to the success the club was able to return $107,000 to investors in the project.  DCFC ultimately aims to return 35% of investors money in the renovations.   Detroit averaged 5,255 for its 10 home matches, a number that would put it in the upper half of attendance in both NASL and USL.

Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

Lansdowne Bhoys:  Celtic-affiliated Lansdowne Bhoys of the Bronx/Yonkers area of New York indicated an intention to go pro by 2018 amidst their US Open Cup run.

San Francisco City FC:  San Francisco City FC has new investors that intend to take the team to a professional league by 2018, reports Evan Ream.  That league would likely be USL.  

USL president Jake Edwards spoke to Soccer Nation about the league’s future plans for expansion in California. “California is a hub for premier soccer in America. The size of the state, its demographic composition and diversity provide a solid foundation and growth opportunity for owners and fans alike. It’s an added bonus that the USL harbors three teams in the Golden State. We are fortunate that this part of the country is so passionate about soccer and firmly believe that it will help expand and grow the game in all facets nationwide. Many great players, coaches and teams from youth, collegiate to the professional levels have come from California. We built our Western division first through anchor club Orange County Blues. That growth has spread north and we have had tremendous success in Sacramento. We are in discussions now with some very impressive ownership groups in several key California markets so expect to see a little more expansion in the state over the next few seasons.”

Evan Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, but that team is not San Francisco City FC.

 

The race for MLS teams 25 and 26 continues, with San Diego and Tampa Bay appearing to make the most progress towards the separating from the pack of 12 expansion bids.  

San Diego revealed its stadium complex plan that would be privately financed by the group and San Diego State University and won praise from Don Garber on CNBC, while adding MLS icon Landon Donovan to their investor group. Tampa Bay and St. Louis both have ballot measures coming up that if successful would advance their MLS goals.  Of the two, Tampa Bay appears more likely to succeed.  

Despite its stumble out of the gate in the current evaluation process, Sacramento remains one of the most ready-to-go bids.  Having a strong stadium plan with funding lined up appears to be a critical success factor in gaining an upper hand in the process.  Dependence on public funds to build a stadium in cities unlikely to support the public financing of a stadium could cause several of these MLS bids to fall by the wayside.  Charlotte and Indianapolis in particular appear to be in jeopardy of falling behind for this reason.  St. Louis’s ballot measure in April will go a long way towards determining if its long flirtation with MLS will ever come to anything.

Should more than four very strong bids emerge, David Beckham’s Miami project could come into serious jeopardy of being passed over. Herculez Gomez asked Don Garber if he was frustrated with the situation on the Max and Herc podcast, “Am I frustrated? Yes. It needs to come to a conclusion. I still believe in the Miami market and I’m hopefully we can get something done. If it is not capable of getting something done, we have 12 cities that want to get into Major League Soccer. I’m not remotely concerned about what might happen if we’re not able to get something done in Miami.”

 

Announced MLS Teams

Los Angeles FC

Set to debut in 2018, Los Angeles FC’s investor group includes famous names such as Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, Will Ferrell and Tony Robbins. The club kicked off the construction of its downtown stadium in August, on the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.  Banc of California was revealed as the stadium’s naming rights sponsor.   A venue it controls in a location away from the Carson-based Galaxy will give LAFC a distinct advantage that Chivas USA never had as the second MLS team in the LA market.  

The Orange County Register reported that the club is looking at building a complex in Tustin, California. MLS may not be the only league LAFC enters in 2018, with rumors that minority owner Mia Hamm will spearhead efforts for an LAFC NWSL club.

LAFC has set a goal of having 15,000 season tickets sold, which would put them ahead of the LA Galaxy’s 11,500.  The club already has over 10,000 season ticket deposits in place. “If we look back at the beginning, we spoke of making history here in the heart of L.A.,” Tom Penn, LAFC’s president, told the L.A. Times. “And now today, two years later, we have several major milestones to add to our story.  Our arena demolition is completed, stadium construction is underway, and we have over 10,000 season ticket deposits sold.”

Former MLS star Logan Pause has taken a position on the Los Angeles FC coaching staff and will serve as the head coach for the club’s USL affiliate Orange County SC next season.  LAFC and Orange County SC have signed a multiyear partnership.

Meanwhile, the club released new renderings of a completed Banc of California Stadium.

March 2017 Update: A year away from their MLS debut, LAFC is being linked with big names in terms of players and staff.  Former USMNT skipper Bob Bradley has reportedly been in talks with LAFC to take the reigns for their debut season, according to Sports Illustrated. In terms of players, the Los Angeles Football Club has been linked with a big money move for Mexican striker Javier Hernandez.  

More on LAFC.

 

Presumptive Team 24

Miami

Beckham’s stadium in Miami’s Overtown district requires additional investors

David Beckham’s investment group includes media mogul Simon Fuller and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.  They group has looked for an additional investor to provide financial backing for the team.  

Don Garber spoke in optimistic tones about Miami finally nearing resolution at Copa America, but then seemed to walk back those comments at the U.S. Open Cup final.  “As you know, it’s 28 teams for us. We’re a long way from 28, still haven’t finalized our 24th team. So that gives us five more teams to fill over the next however many years,” Garber said according to Goal.com.  The MLS commissioner’s phrasing there would imply that another group could step in Miami’s place.

“I am confident [Miami] will be our 24th team,” Don Garber told the Miami Herald. “We’ll continue to work hard on finalizing a deal there. There are a lot of moving parts, but we are making progress. We need that team to get announced before we make any decisions going forward. We’ve got all hands on deck.”

The Miami Herald reports that Miami remains a top priority for MLS despite its focus on the 12 new expansion candidate cities.  “We are very focused on Miami being our 24th team. And we’ll continue to work with them to try to achieve that,” Garber said. “I remain a big believer in the importance of Miami to extending MLS’s reach to south of the border and to connect with a very diverse and culturally important city in our country.”

March 2017 Update:  Don Garber may have signaled the beginning of the end of David Beckham’s long stalled out effort to bring MLS to Miami. Herculez Gomez asked Don Garber if he was frustrated with the situation on the Max and Herc podcast, “Am I frustrated? Yes. It needs to come to a conclusion. I still believe in the Miami market and I’m hopefully we can get something done. If it is not capable of getting something done, we have 12 cities that want to get into Major League Soccer. I’m not remotely concerned about what might happen if we’re not able to get something done in Miami.”

Formal Bidders For MLS Teams 25-28

Charlotte

Lead Investor(s):  Marcus Smith

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 22nd overall / 6th among bidders

MSA Rank: 22nd overall / 6th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Charlotte Independence, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 1,375 / 12th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 17

Summary:  Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, has submitted a bid to bring MLS to Charlotte.  The Charlotte Independence USL team is not part of Smith’s bid.

Pros:  Fast growing market. Lack of an MLB in town means that there is no Spring-Fall major league competition.  Strong Fortune 1000 base for sponsorship.

Cons: Charlotte’s USL team has attracted very little support, in stark contrast to success stories in Sacramento and Cincinnati.  Lack of local government support on stadium.

Potential MLS Rivals: Atlanta, DC United

Competitive Bids In Region: Raleigh, Nashville, Tampa Bay

March 2017 Update: Charlotte’s MLS bid is counting on 50% of the stadium costs to come from the local government, split halfway between the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg county.  While the county is on board to contribute their $43.75M, the city is not as of yet according to a report in the Charlotte Business Journal on February 1st.  City leaders were uncomfortable to the structure of the deal as proposed by the Charlotte MLS group.  

“They can figure out how it might work, but the city does not feel ready to support the current structure of the deal,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said. “There has not been an offer to change that current structure (by Smith and the county). If the county and the ownership figure out a way to do the stadium, the city wants to be helpful — we can talk about infrastructure.”

 

Cincinnati

Lead Investor(s):  Carl H. Lindner III

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 36th overall / 12th among bidders

MSA Rank: 28th overall / 9th among bidders

Highest Level Club: FC Cincinnati, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 17,296 / 1st among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 13

Summary:  18 months ago no one was talking about Cincinnati as a potential MLS city, but the unprecedented success of FC Cincinnati changed the game.  FCC not only became by far the best attended soccer club below MLS, it actually finished with a higher average attendance than five MLS teams including in-state rivals Columbus Crew. Like Sacramento before them, soccer fans in Cincinnati forced their way into the conversation with their incredible support.

Pros:  Huge support for FCC already puts them on MLS attendance levels. Carl H. Lindner III is a former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, providing a connection to the other major league sports.

Cons: Cincinnati is the smallest TV market among the bidders.  Already a small market, it is also growing slowly relative to other bid cities. Despite FC Cincinnati’s tremendous success at Nippert Stadium, the league may require a soccer specific stadium, which could introduce challenges for the bid.

Potential MLS Rivals: Columbus, Chicago

Competitive Bids In Region: Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville

March 2017 Update: FC Cincinnati outdrew several MLS teams, including the nearby Columbus Crew, last season in terms of average attendance.  The club plays out of the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, which is located in the city’s urban core.  Despite the club’s success, the stadium could become a sticking point in the bid’s ability to emerge as one of the top 4.  Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, while very supportive of the idea of FC Cincinnati in MLS, “doesn’t envision” public funds being made available for the construction of a new stadium for an MLS team, according to Cincinnati.com.  While the club is working with MEIS Architects to develop stadium plans, team president Jeff Berding also said “we love Nippert Stadium and believe it’s a proven site.”

More on FC Cincinnati

 

Detroit

Lead Investor(s):  Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 13th overall / 3rd among bidders

MSA Rank: 14th overall / 2nd among bidders

Highest Level Club: Detroit City FC, NPSL (D4)

2016 Avg Attendance: 5,208 / 6th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 17

Summary:  NBA owners Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons) and Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers) are teaming up in a bid to bring MLS to Detroit.  The group plans for a stadium in the heart of Detroit’s sports and entertainment district.

Pros:  One of the largest markets without MLS. Detroit City’s huge organic support in NPSL speaks to the market potential. MLS like its ownership groups to have ties to other major league sports.

Cons: Stagnant market in terms of population growth. With all 4 major league sports in the city, Detroit is a somewhat saturated market.  Outspoken opposition to MLS from the hardcore supporters of Detroit City.

Potential MLS Rivals: Chicago, Columbus, Toronto

Competitive Bids In Region: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis

March 2017 Update: The Detroit MLS group wants to build their stadium complex on the site of an unfinished downtown jail.  Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures has made an offer to trade another plot of land with the city of Detroit to acquire the downtown site.  Rock Ventures would build the city a criminal justice center 1.5 miles north of the current site in exchange for control of the current jail site.  

Unsurprisingly, MLS commissioner Don Garber is supportive of the plan. “I’ve been there twice,” Garber told the Detroit Free Press. “I like both locations, but I really like the jail site. If I were a resident of Detroit, I would probably rather have a soccer stadium as the gateway to my city, rather than a jail. I hope they continue to make progress with that concept.”

 

Indianapolis

Lead Investor(s):  Ersal Ozdemir, Mickey Maurer, Jeff Laborsky, Mark Elwood and Andy Mohr

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 27th overall / 8th among bidders

MSA Rank: 34th overall / 10th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Indy Eleven, NASL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 8,396 / 3rd among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 9

Summary:  Indy Eleven was a surprise last minute entry into the MLS bidding process.  The club has received outstanding support since its inception in 2014.

Pros:  Strong support for Indy Eleven; Lack of an MLB in town means that there is no Spring-Fall major league competition.

Cons: Relatively small market in both MSA and TV terms compared to the other bidders.  Indy has previously had some difficulty getting a soccer specific stadium funded.

Potential MLS Rivals: Chicago, Columbus

Competitive Bids In Region: St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville

March 2017 Update: Indy Eleven sought public funds for the construction of a new stadium two years ago, and the state house approved $80M towards the project, however the bill died in the senate.  Now the club is looking to build a $100-$120M complex for MLS.  The need for public funding may be one of the achilles heels of the Indy MLS bid.

“It would be paid for by user taxes — people who attend events at the stadium,” Indy Eleven president Jeff Belskus told RTV6. “Those taxes would be captured to help fund a portion of the stadium. It would be a private-public partnership.”

More on Indy Eleven

 

Nashville

Lead Investor(s):  John Ingram, Bill Hagerty and Will Alexander

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 29th overall / 10th among bidders

MSA Rank: 36th overall / 11th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Nashville SC, USL in 2018 (D2)

2015* Avg Attendance: ~1,500 / 10th among bidders (*Nashville FC in NPSL)

Fortune 1000 Companies: 11

Summary:  Nashville’s MLS bid has its roots in a group led by Bill Hagerty that wanted to bring NASL to the city.  When NPSL club Nashville FC announced a deal with DMD Sports to bring USL to town, Hagerty pivoted into an MLS bid.  At present, the MLS and USL groups remain separate entities though there is the possibility of them joining.  Mayor Megan Barry joined the Nashville MLS group in submitting their bid at MLS HQ in New York, and supports the plan to build a stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

Pros:  Fast growing market. Lack of an MLB in town means that there is no Spring-Fall major league competition. Strong support from local government.

Cons: Not incorporating Nashville SC could alienate supporters of what was a grassroots NPSL club. Relatively small market.

Potential MLS Rivals: Atlanta, Columbus

Competitive Bids In Region: Raleigh, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis

March 2017 Update: Nashville’s MLS bidders see the Gold Cup match in the city that will be played on July 8th as a showcase for Nashville’s MLS readiness.   “This is Nashville’s chance to shine,” said Will Alexander, co-founder of the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee. “We were thrilled when Nashville was among the handful of cities selected to host the Gold Cup. With our bid for Major League Soccer in full swing, the Gold Cup match represents an opportunity to prove why we belong among the top soccer markets in the country.”

 

Phoenix

Lead Investor(s):  Berke Bakay, Brett Johnson, Mark Detmer, Tim Riester and David Rappaport

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 12h overall / 2nd among bidders

MSA Rank: 12th overall / 1st among bidders

Highest Level Club: Phoenix Rising FC, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 1,470 / 11th among bidders (as Arizona United SC)

Fortune 1000 Companies: 13

Summary:  New investors acquired the struggling Arizona United SC last year and rebranded the club to Phoenix Rising FC during the offseason.  The Phoenix Rising ownership has shown a strong commitment by investing in a modular stadium for the USL team as well as entering a bid for MLS.  With the signing of Mexican star Omar Bravo, the new ownership could be cracking the code to the Phoenix market.

Pros:  Second largest TV market and largest MSA among bidders, Phoenix is growing fast.

Cons: Both USL clubs – Phoenix FC Wolves and Arizona United SC – drew little interest. Weather may require a more expensive, domed stadium to keep temperatures under control in the summer months. The market may be saturated with all four major league sports in town.

Potential MLS Rivals: Colorado, Salt Lake, Dallas

Competitive Bids In Region: San Diego, Sacramento, San Antonio

March 2017 Update: The new USL ownership, having rebranded to Phoenix Rising FC, is making more aggressive moves with the club than prior ownership groups have.  Phoenix has brought two high profile signings on board, with Mexican star Omar Bravo and England’s Shaun Wright-Phillips.  Beyond this, they are construction a 6,000 seat modular stadium to serve as the home of the team in USL.  

The club would use the same site to build a permanent stadium for MLS.  Cronkite News reports the club has “secured 45 acres of land with the help of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and is using 16 of those acres for the temporary ‘pop-up’ stadium.”

The Phoenix MLS groups Tim Riester is bullish that they have their ducks in a row, but sees improved attendance in the upcoming USL season an important next step.  Last season Arizona United SC averaged only 1,470 fans per game, less than what a number of amatuer teams in the NPSL and PDL get across the country.  “MLS has very specific requirements, and we’ve checked all those boxes for them,” Riester said. “We have the net worth and ownership group, we have the stadium solution. The only piece that’s left to prove to MLS is that we can fill a stadium with extremely supportive soccer fans game after game.”

More on Phoenix Rising FC

 

Raleigh

Lead Investor(s):  Stephen Malik

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 25th overall / 7th among bidders

MSA Rank: 44th overall / 12th among bidders

Highest Level Club: North Carolina FC, NASL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 5,058 / 7th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 3

Summary:  North Carolina FC, formerly known as the Carolina Railhawks, announced their intention to make a bid for MLS in December.  The club intends to move from Cary, NC to a stadium in downtown Raleigh with an MLS move.

Pros:  Fast growing market. Lack of an MLB in town means that there is no Spring-Fall major league competition.  Addition of NWSL team raises the profile of the organization as first division caliber.

Cons: Relatively small market in both MSA and TV terms compared to the other bidders. Splitting focus among MLS bid and NASL, NWSL, PDL clubs may take its toll on the organization.

Potential MLS Rivals: Atlanta, DC United

Competitive Bids In Region: Charlotte, Nashville, Tampa Bay

March 2017 Update: North Carolina FC announced a partnership with Raleigh-area youth clubs Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and Triangle Futbol Club Alliance (TFCA).  The partnership makes youth players in CASL and TFCA members of the North Carolina FC programs, bringing total membership over 20,000, giving NCFC what they tout as the largest youth-to-professional soccer club in the US.

“We’re the only expansion candidate that can boast anything near this,” North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s critical to the long-term success of a franchise to be able to have that community support and also the youth development [aspect]. To have both of those come together, I absolutely think it differentiates us.”

More on North Carolina FC

 

Sacramento

Lead Investor(s):  Kevin Nagle, Meg Whitman, Jed York.

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 20th overall / 4th among bidders

MSA Rank: 27th overall / 8th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Sacramento Republic, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 11,514 / 2nd among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 0

Summary: Sacramento’s MLS application got off to a rocky start when it was learned that the initial submission did not include Sacramento Republic FC.  Without the tremendous support the Republic have built since its inception, Sacramento would not be on the MLS expansion radar.  The Mayor of Sacramento brought the parties together to resolve the issue so that the MLS bid will use the Republic name.

Pros:  Sacramento Republic FC’s strong support. Local government support. Downtown stadium site approved. Investor group includes NFL & NBA owners. Lack of MLB team means no Spring-Fall calendar major league sports competitor.

Cons: Ownership group infighting. A source tells Evan Ream some in MLS may not want the Sacramento market. Lack of Fortune 1000 companies for sponsorship (though they could potentially draw from the San Francisco Bay Area).

Potential MLS Rivals: San Jose, Portland, Seattle, LA Galaxy, LAFC

Competitive Bids In Region: San Diego, Phoenix

March 2017 Update: 551 reports that LAFC will enter MLS alone in 2018, giving the league an odd number of teams.  They report they had heard Sacramento Republic was considered a potential partner to join LAFC and replace David Beckham’s stalled out Miami bid next year, but the ownership infighting appears to have cost Sacramento that opportunity.  

More on Sacramento Republic FC.

 

San Antonio FC

Lead Investor(s):  Spurs Sports & Entertainment

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 32nd overall / 11th among bidders

MSA Rank: 25th overall / 7th among bidders

Highest Level Club: San Antonio FC, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 6,170 / 4th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 7

Summary:  Spurs Sports & Entertainment launched San Antonio FC in USL last year with the express purpose of moving the team to MLS within a few years.  SAFC effectively replaced the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions in the market.  SS&E has a deal in place with the city and county for the use of Toyota Field that incentivizes them to reach MLS in the near term.

Pros:  One of the country’s fastest growing MSAs over 1M population. No major league sports competition on Spring-Fall calendar. Stadium deal in place to expand Toyota Field to MLS capacity. Shared ownership with NBA Spurs.

Cons: One of the smaller markets among the bidders, both in terms of MSA size and TV market. MLS already has two teams in Texas – does it need a third?

Potential MLS Rivals: Dallas, Houston

Competitive Bids In Region: Phoenix

March 2017 Update: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who is supportive of SS&E’s efforts to bring an MLS team to San Antonio, suggests that improvements needed to bring Toyota Field up to MLS standards may require around $100M in public funding.  Wolff sees the price tag for an MLS stadium as a bargain relative to other sports, such as the NFL.  “You want to build an NFL stadium? They talk about that? Talk about $2 billion,” Wolff told the local ABC affiliate.  Public funding would require a vote.

More on San Antonio FC

 

San Diego

Lead Investor(s):  Mike Stone, Steve Altman, Peter Seidler, Juan Carlos Rodriguez and Massih & Masood Tayeb.

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 28th overall / 9th among bidders

MSA Rank: 17th overall / 3rd among bidders

Highest Level Club: Albion SC Pros, NPSL (D4)

2016 Avg Attendance: ~2000 / 9th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 5

Summary:  Investor Mike Stone leads a group of investing include San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler to bring MLS to San Diego.  The investor group has a stadium plan that would replace Qualcomm Stadium and be shared with San Diego State University’s football team.

Pros:  Chargers moving to LA leaves a void in the market MLS could fill. A San Diego MLS club could form rivalries with LA teams and Club Tijuana.

Cons: Is the SoCal soccer market too saturated between LA teams and Xolos? The San Diego TV market is on the smaller side relative to competitors. San Diego does not have a track record with a successful NASL or USL club as some other bidders do.

Potential MLS Rivals: LA Galaxy, LAFC, San Jose

Competitive Bids In Region: Phoenix, Sacramento

March 2017 Update:  The San Diego MLS group revealed their full stadium plan.  In partnership with San Diego State University, the group would build a 30,000 seat stadium in Mission Valley to replace the current Qualcomm Stadium.  Along with SDSU, Qualcomm Stadium’s primary tenant was the NFL Chargers, who left San Diego for Los Angeles this offseason.

“San Diego’s looking good,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said on CNBC when asked by one of the hosts.  That is probably the strongest endorsement a bid has received from Garber lately, and it wasn’t San Diego’s only good news.  MLS icon Landon Donovan officially joined the investor group for the San Diego bid.  The group also posted a large number of team names for fans to vote on, from bizarre options to some pretty cool ones like the San Diego Conquistadors.  One hopes that the name options will be winnowed down to some of the better ones before a final decision is taken.

 

St. Louis

Lead Investor(s):  Paul Edgerley, Dave Peacock, Jim Kavanaugh, Terry Matlack.

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 21st overall / 5th among bidders

MSA Rank: 20th overall / 5th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Saint Louis FC, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 4,923 / 8th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 18

Summary: MLS has long desired the St. Louis market, and years ago came close to awarding a franchise to Jeff Cooper but went with the Philadelphia Union instead.  The NFL Rams leaving the city for Los Angeles renewed momentum behind bringing MLS to the city.  Two groups emerged as prospective bidders, SC STL, which includes the owner of USL’s Saint Louis FC, and Foundry St. Louis.  MLS has selected SC STL as the preferred bidder, despite Foundry St. Louis’s intention to privately fund a stadium.  

Pros:  St. Louis’s place in US soccer history. The void left by NFL Rams could attract support to an MLS team. Long standing desire from MLS to be in St. Louis.

Cons: Governor of Missouri is opposed to public financing of a stadium. Stagnant market in terms of population growth.

Potential MLS Rivals: Sporting KC, Chicago Fire, Minnesota United

Competitive Bids In Region: Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville

March 2017 Update: The SC STL group is seeking $60M in public funds to help build a soccer-specific stadium in St. Louis, and on April 4th, the city will vote on whether to give them those funds.

“We thank Judge Mullen for his ruling this afternoon that city voters will have the opportunity in April to approve the ballot measure and make it possible for a Major League Soccer expansion team to play in a new multi-purpose stadium in Downtown St. Louis,” said SC STL vice chair Jim Kavanaugh. “This ruling comes after a tough but productive negotiation with the Board of Aldermen, and we also thank them for their time, effort and support. If the vote passes in April, we project more than 400-plus construction jobs, 450 permanent jobs, $17 million in net tax revenue and the development of 24 acres of unused land in downtown.

“Now is the time for our ownership group and everyone who believes in this project to come together and work toward making it happen in April.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Foundry Sports Group, whose St. Louis MLS bid was passed over in favor of SC STL, intended to privately fund their stadium. Should the ballot measure fail, will SC STL re-engage the Foundry investors to close the $60M gap?

In other news, a prominent former St. Louis Rams player has joined the SC STL investor group.  Wide Receiver Isaac Bruce signed up as a minority shareholder in the MLS bid, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

More on Saint Louis FC

 

Tampa Bay

Lead Investor(s):  Bill Edwards

By The Numbers

TV Market Rank: 11th overall / 1st among bidders

MSA Rank: 18th overall / 4th among bidders

Highest Level Club: Tampa Bay Rowdies, USL (D2)

2016 Avg Attendance: 5,878 / 5th among bidders

Fortune 1000 Companies: 7

Summary:  When Bill Edwards moved his team from NASL to USL last Fall, it was the final move prior to announcing that the Tampa Bay Rowdies would pursue MLS.  Don Garber immediately offered his support for MLS in the Tampa Bay area.  With Miami’s bid hanging in the balance, Tampa Bay offers both an alternative to going to South Florida as well as a strong bid in its own right. There is an already fierce rivalry between the Rowdies and Orlando City SC in place.

Pros:  Al Lang Field gives the Rowdies a beautiful waterfront stadium to expand upon. The rivalry with Orlando City would be additive for both clubs. The historic Tampa Bay Rowdies brand would be a prestigious add for the league.

Cons: While Edwards has invested heavily in the Rowdies, he also has a bit of a checkered past that may cause concern about him as the lead MLS investor. MLS was in Tampa Bay once before and the team folded. If Miami MLS comes to pass as team 24, will MLS want three teams in Florida?

Potential MLS Rivals: Orlando, Miami*, Atlanta

Competitive Bids In Region: Miami*, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville

March 2017 Update: The St. Petersburg City Council approved an ordinance to create a referendum on extending the lease on Al Lang Field.  If the referendum is successful, it will pave the way for the upgrades necessary to bring the Tampa Bay Rowdies to MLS.  If the May 2nd vote is successful, which would require a simple 51% majority, then the Rowdies would be able to boast a ready-to-go stadium plan that few other bidders can match.

More on Tampa Bay Rowdies

This is what MLS’s footprint would look like if Miami and all 12 bidders got in

Beyond 28:  The owner of the Oklahoma City Energy acquired 37 acres of downtown land with eyes towards building a soccer specific stadium for the club that would help it push for MLS… Louisville City FC’s stadium study confirmed the team’s need for a 10,000 seat soccer specific home of its own in order to continue the club’s growth.  The report also contains information on a larger scale stadium that would be needed for MLS … Las Vegas has tried for MLS in the past, only to be turned down.  With the NHL coming to town and a potential Raiders move, Vegas could be more attractive down the line … Austin was mentioned by Don Garber in 2016 as a potential MLS market, though the Aztex ownership group has not been able to keep the USL team on the field.

 

An official announcement on the Canadian Premier League could be months away.  CanPL project manager Paul Beirne met with supporters groups to discuss issues related to the league.  Some of the highlights of the discussion were published by Canadian soccer site Northern Starting Eleven.

Beirne shared that part of the motivation behind the league from the Canadian Soccer Association’s perspective is to strengthen its bid to host World Cup 2026. “We’ve got to improve the Canadian player pool to the degree that we’ve earned a place in that global conversation,” Beirne said.

In terms of how many teams the league will have at the start, “If I was a betting man I’d say 6, but we’d know who the 7th and 8th are,” Beirne shared, mentioning that the league could grow to 12 teams over its first decade.

Previously, John McGrane, a minority partner in the prospective Hamilton soccer team, told The Hamilton Spectator of potential Canadian league ownerships groups, “Basically it will be a CFL-NHL mix of ownership.”

Duane Rollins reported the CanPL will likely look like the Canadian Football League minus Edmonton.  The CFL has teams in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, Regina and Hamilton in addition to Edmonton.  The Ottawa Fury’s move to USL has raised questions on whether it will join the Canadian league as previously expected.

Possible Canadian Premier League teams:

Calgary

While not necessarily tied to the Canadian Premier League, the Calgary Foothills Soccer Club is investing $10M into a year round training facility.  The Calgary Metro reports that the team has ambitions of playing in a professional league, citing a desire to move to MLS within 10 years. “By having this facility it allows us the flexibility to train like an outdoor team but in the confines of the winter season,” said Tommy Wheeldon Jr., the club’s technical director.  The Foothills currently play the fourth tier USL Premier Development League.

The Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corp, which owns the NHL Flames and CFL Stampede are thought to be the likely Calgary CanPL investors.  Last year the group unveiled plans for a $890M arena and stadium complex that included a FIFA regulation soccer field.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Edmonton

FC Edmonton joining the Canadian Premier League is less likely than Ottawa Fury doing so because the owners of Edmonton, the Faths, are invested in the North American Soccer League.  Tom Fath played a large role in saving the NASL this past offseason.  

When asked if Edmonton would follow the Fury to USL, Tom Fath said to the11.ca, “There’s zero chance of our team moving to USL. We have no interest in moving to that league.”

Given Fath’s passionate response regarding USL, if the NASL should collapse, perhaps FC Edmonton would seek refuge in the Canadian Premier League.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Halifax

Sports & Entertainment Atlantic is working with the Canadian Premier League to develop a team, according to the Chronicle Herald.  “Halifax is a growing city. We are accumulating an amazing mix of public assets from the new central library to the new discovery centre to the Nova Centre, while urban density is increasing due to the boom in construction of ​residential dwellings in the downtown,” Derek Martin, president of Sports & Entertainment Atlantic, said.

SEA is looking at building a 5,000-8,000 seat modular stadium on the city’s Wanderers Grounds.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Hamilton

Hamilton Tiger-Cats were reportedly close to placing a team in the North American Soccer League in 2015, but got cold feet around the time of the Traffic scandal.  The club shifted its sights towards a domestic Canadian league, and is one of the driving forces behind the Canadian Premier League.

Hamilton registered two potential team name trademarks, the Hamilton Steelers and Hamilton United.  The Hamilton Steelers was the name of a team that played in the Canadian National Soccer League.

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Ottawa

Now that the Ottawa Fury have moved to USL, one has to wonder what that means for their potential inclusion in the Canadian Premier League.  In theory, the Fury will have paid an expansion fee to USL (the going rate is $5M) and their recent affiliation with the Montreal Impact could bind them more closely to the USL model.

“We’re excited to be joining the fastest-growing soccer league in the world,” said Fury FC President, John Pugh. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it.  Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.  Go Fury Go!”

March 2017 Update: Nothing new.

 

Toronto

The Toronto Sun reports that leaders of Toronto FC have taken interest in a potential Canadian league and will meet with Canadian Soccer Association officials to discuss how TFC might get involved.

“Opportunities for more Canadian players is something Toronto FC wants to support,” team president Bill Manning told the Toronto Sun last month. “We just have to figure out how we can be involved.

“Is it the right model? Is it some kind of hybrid with the USL? We want to have those conversations and be supportive of it. If the CPL is going to go forward, we want to be involved.”

“I don’t want to create confusion in the marketplace,” Manning said. “I told [CSA president] Victor [Montagliani] we want to be involved and want to be at the table when this league or division comes about.”

Manning added: “It’s not a competitor to MLS.”

“If we can provide for our young players coming up and (TFC) can put a team in that league, we’re interested,” Manning added.

March 2017 Update: Toronto FC president got territorial over the idea of a Canadian Premier League team setting up shop in the Toronto market.  “Why would you want to do that to yourself?” Manning said to the Toronto Sun. “Why would you want to come into this market (and compete with Toronto FC).”

“I told [Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell] ‘We’re interested in the league.’ But we’re very protective of Toronto. This is our market.”

The Sun reports that Manning would consider placing Toronto FC III in the league, although the paper said the idea was met with disdain from CPL backers who don’t want a minor league image.

Manning insists that Toronto FC is supportive of the Canadian league, though his comments in the article appear to suggest that support is contingent on the league not competing in the Toronto market as well as the league playing a development role that could benefit Toronto FC.

Chris Kivlehan
Chris Kivlehan enjoys writing about lower league US pro soccer because of the rapid growth of the sport at that level. He is a New York Cosmos season ticket holder and occasionally goes to Bethlehem Steel FC games because they are closer to his home. You can follow him on Twitter @kivlehan

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