Major League Soccer announced on Saturday that its owners support the future expansion to 28 teams with no timetable set for the league to reach that goal. As it currently stands, MLS is on pace to reach its original goal of 24 teams by the end of the decade.
With Atlanta, Minnesota, a second team in Los Angeles, and Miami all set to join the league within the next four years, that leaves the next four spots open to all competition.
"There is no shortage of demand for MLS expansion teams and we believe the opportunity exists to grow beyond our current plans," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement. "We will evaluate how to grow the league to 28 teams and establish a process and timeline for future expansion."
Who will grab those remaining spots? Or better yet, which cities should MLS consider for future expansion? Let's dive a little bit deeper into the possible expansion pool that should only continue to fill up over the next several years as MLS gets bigger and bigger.
For starters, Sacramento is getting an MLS team, and Garber has gone on the record multiple times saying that it's only a matter of when, not if. So, really, there's only three spots left for future expansion, as you can consider MLS to be at 25 teams, even if Sacramento hasn't been officially awarded yet.
St. Louis is a great city with a lot of great people and some pretty passionate sports fan bases. The Cardinals have arguably one of the best fan bases in baseball with their outstanding TV ratings and constant high attendance numbers. The Blues, of the NHL, rank 14th in the league in attendance, and the Rams, of the NFL...well, let's just forget they exist, especially since they'll probably be moving to LA soon.
In 2015, St. Louis FC's first year of play as an expansion club in the USL, the team finished fourth in the league in average attendance, with just over 4,800 -- an impressive number for a start-up club.
MLS would like to increase its footprint in the midwest -- another reason Minnesota was so favored by the league -- and St. Louis would be more than a great choice.
Maybe this is just because I have the desire to live in North Carolina some day, but Charlotte is another city that could support Major League Soccer. As important as expanding its presence in the Midwest is, MLS also has to be looking at the Southeast, which for almost 15 years went without a single team until Orlando City entered the league in 2015. Atlanta will join in 2017, and then Miami soon after, giving three teams to the Southeast. However, a fourth wouldn't be so crazy.
Charlotte only averaged 1,800 fans in 2015 -- also its first year as an expansion club in the USL -- but that doesn't mean there's not a fan base out there for the club with desires to lure MLS. In case you were wondering, the Carolina Panthers have averaged in the top eight in the NFL in attendance in each of the last six seasons.
Why not bring a team to the Steel City? Pittsburgh has always been one of the biggest, proudest sports cities in American history, with teams in three of the country's four top sports leagues (the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates). Why not add Major League Soccer into the mix?
Sure, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds only emerged from voluntary bankruptcy last November, but nothing's stopping a new ownership group from taking over the club to really grab the league's attention -- maybe the Rooneys want to get in on this?
The biggest problem holding Pittsburgh back, though, is the current log of teams sitting in the Northeast -- two New York clubs, a team in D.C., and another not to far away in Philadelphia. It's almost the same reason MLS is waiting on Sacramento.
My dream vacation includes catching a Pirates game at the beautiful PNC Park, then hopping over to watch Orlando City take on Pittsburgh's MLS club.
A third team in Florida? It's not crazy.
If feels weird to call Jacksonville a small market when it's one of the largest cities in the United States, but it is just that, and exactly the kind of market that could fit the MLS model. If you don't know much about the Jacksonville Armada, just know that the city loves them. The team ranked third in the NASL in attendance this season, and even set a league record with 16,164 showing up at EverBank Field for their opening match.
Jacksonville is a big area for soccer, and has a huge youth community there, suggesting there is plenty of room for the club to grow and become even more popular than it is after just one year of play.
Plus, we all want to see that Orlando-Jax rivalry play out.
Where do you think MLS should turn for additional expansion to get to 28 teams?