On Saturday Major League Soccer will kick off it’s 19th season, but the major story lines approaching opening day do not surround the defending champions Sporting Kansas City nor the arrival of U.S. Men’s National Team Star Michael Bradley to Toronto, but instead all attention is on MLS’s future.
Major League Soccer will have 19 teams in 2014, but the plan is to get to 24 by 2020. New York City FC (backed by Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees) and Orlando FC (defending NASL champions) will bring the tally to 21 teams when MLS kicks off it’s 20th season next year, and the inclusion of the already announced David Beckham Miami franchise will bring the league to 22 by 2017. That leaves two more spots up for grabs for the league who has grown from it’s infancy in 1995 to now having the third highest average attendance of any sport in America.
MLS commisioner Don Garber addressed the final two expansion slots in a Q&A session with media and fans earlier this week, even answering a question about the potential future of soccer in Cleveland.
Question: Will there ever be MLS in Cleveland?
Garber: Ever is a long time […] What I would say to folks that are living in Cincinnati, the folks that are living in Dayton, folks that are living in Cleveland: Support the [Columbus] Crew.
It is widely believed that Atlanta Falcons’ owner Arthur Blanc will bring team 23 in MLS to Atlanta, furthering the league’s fast growing footprint in the Southeast (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando), but the location of team 24 is still a wild card. Cities like Minneapolis, St. Louis, and San Antonio have been linked the unofficial final MLS expansion slot, but any slight hope for a soccer team in Cleveland went down the drain with Garber’s latest comments.
Along with market size, MLS values cities with growing counter culture movements that can give a club the organic support needed to sustain a healthy franchise. MLS would LOVE more franchises in cities like Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. Cleveland is still a few microbreweries away from reaching the hipster status of the Pacific Northwest, but it does possess plenty of crazy, die hard sports fans that fit in so well with soccer culture. And anyone who has been to the Muni Lot for Browns’ tailgates knows this city sure can drink, another large faction of soccer culture. Not to mention a natural geographic rival with Columbus just a two hour drive away.
According to Commissioner Garber, never say never, but for now if Clevelanders want to catch a live game of footy they’ll have to take a short drive down I-71 or wait ’til the next time the national team comes back to the shores of Lake Erie.