Among the many big news items to come out Columbus this past week as part of the build up to the 20th edition of the MLS Cup Final, the biggest item might have been announced less than 24 hours prior to the big match itself.
Major League Soccer announced in a release on Saturday that the Board of Governors agreed to eventually expanding the league to 28 teams some time in the near future.
That’s great news for places like San Antonio and Sacramento that already have stadium plans and MLS ambitions in place, but might have been rejected by the previous 24-team cap that the league already had in place. It’s also great news for fan of the sport in general who want to see the sport continue it’s rise to the top of American sports.
First off, the fact that this league is on the verge of welcoming a 28th team into the fold is an incredible feat given where the league and the sport itself was eight or so years ago. You’d rarely see a highlight of a soccer match on SportsCenter, let alone a highlight from an MLS match. Soccer supporters were seen as hippies following a cult-ish type sport by those who were fans of the more traditional American sports.
Now, that’s changed. Baseball’s numbers are slowly but surely dwindling. Football might be going through some issues with off-field distractions and the concussion saga. Basketball is growing, but the growth is slowing. And hockey still hasn’t taken great roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But soccer is growing all over the place.
You now have great markets in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Orlando and Kansas City — places that are overlooked by many other sports. And other markets are growing. FC Dallas could be one of those teams if the ownership gets its act together. New England could do the same if it gets a soccer specific stadium. Heck, both New York teams and Los Angeles are quite successful.
And the expansion to 28 teams isn’t going to hurt the league at all. For one, the markets proposed to fill out the 28 team league are successful cities. Sacramento has a huge following and a great plan for their own stadium that’s sure to be a hit. San Antonio has a plan for expanding its stadium and can certainly reach the untapped south Texas market. And the other possibilities — Louisville, Phoenix and St. Louis — have the potential to be outstanding markets as well.
Of course, there’s the chance that the talent pool could be depleted. In the Arena Football League just a few years ago, the league expanded, but the quarterback pool was completely worn out and resulted in terrible play. And it’s a legitimate fear in a country that’s still working on developing talent.
But that 28 number is still a ways off. It’s not like there will be 28 teams tomorrow and the current field of players will be stretched between all of those teams. It’ll be awhile before that number is hit and, as a growing soccer nation, the United States should be expected to have a great number of players able to play at a high level by that time (and that’s not counting foreign players).
So as this season finally draws to a close, this news about the league expanding even further gives the casual fans and diehard supporters a great deal of excitement going into the cold, wintery offseason.