MLS May Only Add Atlanta In 2017LAFC, Miami not ready; Minnesota may be only hope for 2nd team
by Ray Marcham | Friday, October 16, 2015
There was a time when MLS expansion was rolling along like a well-oiled machine.
Right now, outside of Atlanta, little is certain about the new clubs coming in, or when they are coming in.
It seemed this round of expansion was going to go almost as well as 2007-12, when Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Portland and Montréal all entered MLS and were immediate successes. The inclusion of Orlando City and New York City FC this year has also gone mostly well, though the NYCFC stadium search is still a work in progress (and may be for quite some time).
The next round was supposed to be more of the same. All seems to have gone right in Georgia, as Atlanta United has set up everything but the players who’ll play in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017. They have selected the site for their training facility and have announced they open up an academy next year, setting the foundation for its future. Once they have a coach to join AUFC Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra, the final stages to putting a team on the field, leading to the expansion draft late in 2016, can begin.
Of course, there’s the question of whether Atlanta United will be the only team taking part in that expansion draft. The official line is that AUFC is the 22nd MLS team, with Los Angeles FC being the 21st. But the team that’s supposed to rise from the ashes of Chivas USA in 2017 is now looking like it may not. Issues with the proposed stadium site at the current location of the Los Angeles Sports Arena has pushed the team back to a likely 2018 start, though there’s a possibility that LAFC may have its start pushed back farther to 2019. The stadium issues even go beyond soccer, as Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics includes using LAFC’s stadium as a swimming and diving venue, which would push the team out of its own stadium for months. One year ago, when the new club was announced, LAFC was to start play in 2017. That’s been pushed back once, and we’ll see if it gets pushed back again.
That means if MLS wants a second team to join Atlanta in 2017, it may have to look at Minnesota United. When MUFC was announced to be moving into MLS in March, it looked like it depended on a stadium being built near Target Field in Minneapolis. But when negotiations with the city of Minneapolis stalled, it started to look like the Loons’ MLS dreams were in jeopardy. But, seemingly out of nowhere, came a stadium site in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. What looked like a longshot at first soon picked up steam, and now the future home of Minnesota United will likely be in the Minnesota capital. With three major public entities (city of St. Paul, St. Paul Port Authority & the Metro Council) signing a joint agreement on the stadium, the stadium in Midway is becoming closer to reality.
Once the stadium is in place, then MLS has a decision to make. MUFC was supposed to join the league in either 2017 or 2018, depending on the stadium situation. It was starting to look more like 2018 when the Minneapolis site started to become a non-option. But now with St. Paul likely getting the stadium, and that Minnesota United is the only one of the expansion teams already playing (they are currently battling for a playoff spot in the NASL), one has to wonder of MLS should consider bringing Minnesota United in 2017 with Atlanta United. The National Sports Center in the northern suburb of Blaine (where MUFC already play their games), Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus could all fit the bill as a temporary home field for an MLS team until the Midway stadium was ready.
If Minnesota United can’t do a 2017 start, then MLS will have to go with an odd number of teams in 2017. Assuming Atlanta United will be in the east, that would mean a trickier than usual scheduling situation. While the three years before Orlando City and NYCFC’s entry into the league (and the demise of Chivas USA) evened out the number of teams at 20, MLS has played with an odd number of teams for much of the past nine years (2007, 2009, 2012-14). It’s not ideal, but it’s not a huge issue.
Meanwhile, the rest of the MLS expansion process slowly moves on. David Beckham’s Miami team is still on the radar, but while a stadium site in Little Havana, by Marlins Park, seems to still be the preferred site, the process is barely beyond stalled. If Beckham can get the stadium sorted out, 2019 looks to be the possible starting year. If not, then Miami could end up like Cleveland.
But we still have 2017, and the only certainty is that Atlanta United will be ready. We know LAFC won’t be ready, but whether MLS will ask if Minnesota United can prepare for a 2017 start is still up in the air. If MLS wants 22 teams, then MUFC must come in with Atlanta. If not, then expansion becomes staggered, much like 2007-12.
It’s not the best, but it may be the best MLS can do.