We’re three weeks into the 2023 MLS season and already, there’s an interesting story going on in the league. Its newest club, St. Louis City SC, has only played three regular season matches and is off to a potentially historic start to its freshman season.
So far, St. Louis has yet to lose in team history, going 3-0-0 through the action played on Matchday Three. Most recently, City SC defeated the Portland Timbers in an MLS After Dark affair late Saturday night by a 2-1 final.
A win next Saturday at home versus the San Jose Earthquakes would set the record for most consecutive wins to begin a season by a team in its expansion year with four. The 2009 Seattle Sounders were the only other expansion side to win its first three MLS matches.
Expansion a Common Theme in MLS
St. Louis City SC became the latest team to join MLS by way of expansion, something that’s become an annual event for the league. MLS has welcomed at least one club via expansion each year since 2017, when Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC entered the fray.
Prior to St. Louis City SC joining Major League Soccer, Charlotte FC played its freshman season in the 2022 season, but they’ve fallen on hard times so far to begin year two, losing all three of its matches to-date. If they don’t turn it around quickly, Charlotte could be headed for a sophomore slump.
MLS is by no means finished with expansion efforts. More new teams will be coming down the pike in the future.
Las Vegas a Lock For Expansion
In recent years, whenever the topic of expansion for the 30th MLS club has been up for discussion, Las Vegas is the city being mentioned most often. During his halftime interview with Taylor Twellman, then of ESPN and ABC on the telecast of the 2021 MLS Cup Final, Commissioner Don Garber mentioned that Sin City was the odds-on favorite for a new team.
“Vegas is the frontrunner, Taylor, and I’m very, very focused on that,” Garber told a network audience on Dec. 11, 2021. “We’re looking at building a stadium right off the strip.” These televised comments echoed the ones he mentioned earlier that same week at the 2021 State of the League Address.
As little as 10 to 15 years ago, no one would even think of so much as placing a top-tier sports franchise in Las Vegas, given the city’s connection to the casino and gambling industry. In recent years, sports betting has been legalized in a number of US states, allowing both the NFL and the NHL to move into town.
With all the talk of expansion and the likelihood that Vegas may become MLS’ next market, one wonders which cities could be coming after the Nevada metropolis. In the future, Major League Soccer should look toward markets in the USL Championship, which Las Vegas is.
Pittsburgh Can Make a Strong Case
As a person living just a few miles away from the Ohio/ Pennsylvania state line, the sports fandom is split between the Cleveland sports franchises and those based in Pittsburgh, but it’s closer to the Steel City where my family lives. Since Pittsburgh is no doubt a great sports town, MLS should target the area.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL Championship call the 412 area code home, with its match grounds being Highmark Stadium (unrelated to the Buffalo Bills‘ home venue in Orchard Park, NY). Riverhounds SC has toyed with the idea of joining Major League Soccer in the past, but the organization has yet to officially bid for an expansion team.
Riverhounds Would Be Second MLS Team in Pennsylvania
At the present time, the Keystone State only has a single team in MLS, and they had a decent season last year. The Philadelphia Union joined the league in 2010 and came within just a few minutes from winning MLS Cup last November.
Thus, Pittsburgh/ Philadelphia would become a natural rivalry in the league if the Riverhounds were to join, as would Riverhounds SC vs. Columbus Crew and Pittsburgh/ FC Cincinnati. Pittsburgh Soccer Now made the case that the Hounds should be released in MLS in a 2021 column.
“The team’s record steadily improved, with a second-place league finish in 2019 and a 5th place finish in 2020,” the column read. “The Riverhounds have also bolstered their roster with multiple players who have played in MLS or have been MLS SuperDraft selections, including (forward) Tommy Williamson and defender Mekeil Williams.”
In addition, Riverhounds SC has made the USL Championship playoffs for five straight years. It’s high time for Pittsburgh to make the jump to MLS.
Louisville Should Be Considered, As Well
One of the best college sports towns in the south is Louisville, KY. The home market of the Cardinals would be a great candidate for future MLS expansion since it has no major men’s sports teams to call its own.
At the same time, however, the city isn’t a stranger to top flight footy. Since the 2021 NWSL season, Racing Louisville FC has played home contests at Lynn Family Stadium, with the NWSL side controlled by the same ownership group as Louisville City FC.
For a number of years, Louisville has been the home city for a Minor League Baseball team, the Bats. Formerly the Redbirds and RiverBats, the Bats have been playing nearly continuous baseball since 1919, but the city has come no closer to having a major league team in any sport.
No Competition From Other Leagues = More Fans
As previously mentioned, the city of Louisville does not currently have any tier one sports franchise. Should Major League Soccer expand to the city, this would be a boost for the city. Without an MLB, NFL, NHL, or NBA club in the fold, it could be good news for the team.
Louisville has shown through its support of the Cardinals and University of Kentucky athletic programs that it’s an amazing town with an amazing fanbase. If Major League Soccer comes to Louisville, the fans will show up and show out in droves.
Sacramento Should Be in MLS By Now
A few years ago, California’s capital city of Sacramento looked to be on the fast track to an MLS expansion franchise. Sacramento’s efforts to get Major League Soccer are the same age as the USL Championship side that plays there.
You have to go back to 2014, before a ball was even kicked into play in a Sacramento Republic FC match, to find the first rumblings of an expansion effort. During the fall of 2019, Sacramento Republic FC’s wildest dreams came true, as Don Garber revealed that the Republic was due to become the 29th side in the league… or so they thought.
Virus Interrupts, Putting Sacramento’s Top-Flight Future in Limbo, Until US Open Cup Run
In early 2021, the expansion efforts in Sacramento were dealt a blow. For the better part of the previous year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States hard, with California getting the worst of it.
Billionaire Ron Burkle, who previously pledged monies to help bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento, announced he would no longer back the effort. For a while, it looked as though the city would never have a top-flight club to call its own, but then the summer of 2022 happened.
During last year’s US Open Cup, Republic FC embarked on a Cinderella run, getting all the way to the final in early September, where they were beaten by Orlando City the Wednesday after Labor Day. Sacramento’s runner-up performance has renewed interest for the league to expand there.
Almost 30 years ago, Major League Soccer was born out of the United States winning the hosting rights for the 1994 FIFA Men’s World Cup in 1988. The league began play in 1996 with 10 teams and the original field is going to triple in short order.
For every Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Sacramento coveting a franchise, there’s a city like San Diego or Detroit that also wants a piece of the action. One final question before we leave you:
Which city would you like to see get an expansion franchise? Let us know in the comments section.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images
Ed Wayner says:
March 14, 2023 at 4:11 pm
San Diego should be the next team in MLS since Snapdragon Stadium is available. Phoenix, Las Vegas make sense to reach 32. After that they should take a break and see where the league is from a competitive standpoint.