The MLS season kicks off next weekend, which means the league almost certainly won’t meet its self-imposed deadline of having a second expansion team selected by then to go along with Nashville S.C. But league officials don’t sound concerned — rather, they sound an awful lot like they’ve already settled on Cincinnati as their favorite for the second slot, but are holding off on a decision to improve local owners’ leverage to extract a stadium deal:
“Although we haven’t finalized any deals and all of the finalist markets remain under consideration, we’ve made the most progress in Cincinnati,” MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott told SI.com on Friday…
“We don’t have, and don’t need to have, a fixed deadline, and we will wait until all of the necessary elements are in place before selecting the next club,” Abbott said. “Whether the announcement is in a few weeks or a couple months is dependent on finalizing the details, but I don’t anticipate that it will be an extended period of time.”
Cincinnati team president Jeff Berding is still making the rounds of three potential stadium sites — Cincinnati’s West End and Oakley neighborhoods, and Newport, Kentucky — in hopes of landing approval for a new stadium (and the $70-75 million in public “infrastructure” spending they’re hoping for), so that’s clearly what MLS is waiting on.
On the one hand, this is perfectly reasonable: May as well wait until local ownership has all its ducks in a row before assigning a new expansion franchise. On the other hand, if Cincinnati is a viable market and local ownership wants to make a go of it in MLS, the league could just approve a franchise and let it play at Nippert Stadium, where F.C. Cincinnati is currently breaking USL attendance records, and figure out a new stadium later. So it looks like MLS is trying to split the difference on the “pick the best city” vs. “pick the spendiest stadium subsidy” decision: Give a nod to its favored choice, but indicate to city leaders that it’s not really official until there’s a new stadium deal in place, capisce?
Which is standard operating procedure for the Big Four U.S. sports, so no surprise there, but it sure ain’t the way it’s done in international soccer, where new teams are promoted from the next level down based on their performance on the field. Which is one big reason why you’re never going to see promotion and relegation in MLS — at least, not until cities and owner groups stop being willing to pay big bucks to be part of the ever-bigger big league.