Don Garber announced at halftime of the MLS All Star Game that by 2020, MLS will have expanded to 24 teams. Don Garber has been meeting with prospective partners during All-Star Week with Orlando, Miami, Detroit, and Sacramento among the best known. The full announcement can be read here.
"The strength, passion and vision of the MLS ownership group is the foundation behind the success of our league," Commissioner Garber said. "We look forward to adding new partners with the same commitment to the sport and love of the game. As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022."
With MLS adding a 20th team in New York City FC begin with the 2014 season, there will likely be a reshuffling of conferences for each conference to have ten members. Most likely this will involve either Kansas City or Houston (KC is further west but Houston has a natural rival in Dallas) moving to the Western Conference.
24 is very easy. Two 12-team conferences, play everyone in your conf home & away, then all in other conf once (6 h, 6 away). 34 games. Bam.— Matthew Doyle (@MLS_Analyst) August 1, 2013
That's a solid plan for expansion, and would do away with the three match series' that currently are a drag on MLS scheduling. There would still be just one match with each team from the opposing conference, but that cuts down on travel so that's understandable.
That likely means two expansion franchises added on either side of the county. It is known that MLS has a desire to get back into the south-eastern part of the country, likely with one of more franchises in Florida. David Beckham is linked to a possible Miami franchise, and Orlando City FC has been pushing hard to get a stadium built for MLS play.
Sacramento has been making the most noise recently on the west coast. Kansas City and Houston could both move to the Western Conference, if MLS wanted to add Detroit or Minnesota. The stated criteria for future expansion from MLS communications are:
· Committed and engaged ownership;
· A comprehensive stadium plan;
· Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;
· Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;
· Geographic location;
· A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club.
I've spoken to #MLS officials about this. They know advantage they have over Euro leagues is localness, not quality of play— Seth Vertelney (@svertgoalcom) August 1, 2013
Expansion always brings with it, by definition, a dilution of the available talent pool. However, there's a solid point to be made that investment in a local community means more than stock piling of talent. Plus, with each team establishing an academy system, putting franchises in place to cover as much of the country as possible is best for talent development all around.
It's also worth noting that there are current MLS franchises that don't meet that criteria. The Houston Dynamo are still half owned by AEG, by definition not fully committed. Chivas USA and the New England don't have comprehensive stadium plans, and with attendance down 33.9% Chivas doesn't have demonstrated fan support. Nor do they have a television sponsor.
Garber admitted in his remarks that Chivas' connection with Guadalajara hasn't worked, and that fans deserve a successful second franchise in Los Angeles. So huzzah on MLS for pushing forward with expansion, but there's still some work to be done getting their own house in order.