MLS Expansion 101

MLS Expansion 101 provides the basics of the current MLS expansion picture to reference as the expansion race unfolds for FC Cincinnati in 2017.


2017 will be an important year for FC Cincinnati both on and off the field. Off the field, MLS expansion will be at the center of the conversation throughout the year. In light of this, Orange and Blue Press sets the stage with the basics of the current MLS expansion picture to reference as the race unfolds.

How Did We Get Here?

MLS was founded with ten teams and played its first season over 20 years ago in 1996. The league has gone through ten expansion cycles since and has 20 teams as of the close of the 2016 season. This article provides a summary of these expansion cycles: History of MLS Expansion

Planned Expansion

The next few rounds of expansion are already planned.

2017 – MLS will expand to 22 teams with the addition of Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC. It’s the year of the “United” teams. For a little more on the historical use of United in team names, see this article.

2018 – Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) will begin play next year, adding a second team to Los Angeles, and bringing the league to 23 teams.

Timeline Unclear – “Miami Beckham United,” the David Beckham led expansion project, will bring the league to 24 teams. This bid has been plagued by problems but MLS seems committed to making it work due to the size of Miami’s market and David Beckham’s influence and appeal.

2020 Expansion and Beyond

Over the past two years, several new ownership groups have formed and many cities have expressed interest in joining the league. In April of 2016, MLS announced that it will continue expansion from 24 to 28 teams. Some expect further expansion, but there is no guarantee that more markets will be considered.

MLS has been criticized for lack of transparency in their expansion process. Following the Board of Governors meeting in December of 2016, MLS announced the rules, expansion fees, and timelines for teams 25 and 26 in an attempt to shed light on the criteria they will use for evaluation. They also provided some, but not complete information, on the criteria for teams 27 and 28.

Criteria for Expansion Teams 25 through 28

There are twelve markets being considered for the next four expansion slots, representing teams 25 through 28.  They are as follows, in alphabetical order:

Markets Being Considered:
St. Louis
San Antonio
San Diego
Tampa/St. Petersburg

Expansion Fee: $150M for teams 25 and 26, likely to increase for teams 27 and 28

Expansion Application Due Date:  January 31st, 2017

Decision Criteria:
(1) Committed ownership with resources to invest in soccer infrastructure
(2) An attractive market that is geographically desirable, has fan support, and is attractive to TV and corporate sponsors
(3) A comprehensive stadium plan

Decision Timeline: Third quarter of 2017 for teams 25 and 26, no timeline yet for a decision on teams 27 and 28

Decision Committee: Owners of 5 current MLS clubs including Jonathan Kraft (New England Revolution), Andrew Hauptman (Chicago Fire), Anthony Precourt (Columbus Crew SC), Phil Rawlins (Orlando City SC) and Jay Sugarman (Philadelphia Union)

Year expansion teams will play in MLS: 2020 for teams 25 and 26, undecided for teams 27 and 28

Recommended Reading

Almost every major sports news outlet has published articles on MLS expansion. Orange & Blue Press recommends the following articles as quality sources if you are looking to dig into the details.

MLS Expansion Press Release (December 15, 2016) – Read this if you want to hear all the details of MLS’ recent rules for expansion straight from the horse’s mouth.

Planet Futbol – Brian Straus – Mr. Straus has been covering the expansion topic on for some time. He is presenting an in-depth analysis of each market in January as the application deadline approaches. You should read them.

Fifty Five One – This article was released right after the December 15 MLS announcement. It summarizes and ranks the ten original cities in contention.

Is there other information that you would like to see in an MLS expansion tutorial? Make a comment below.


MLS Expansion – What Did We Learn About FC Cincinnati’s Bid? (Editorial)

MLS Expansion: 2017 will be a pivotal year on and off the field for FC Cincinnati, with the lens of MLS expansion focusing clearly by year’s end.



In the wake of Thursday’s MLS expansion press conference, let’s review what new nuggets of information FC Cincinnati supporters are left with.

Miami’s Definitely In (…probably,…ok there’s a good chance, we think) – Garber and MLS seem committed to waiting and making it work with David Beckham and Miami in the 24th expansion slot. Beckham’s an international celebrity and the profile and attention his ownership presence would bring is something the league cannot find elsewhere. It’s also a huge TV market. It seemed that there might be a way in for another city, but commandeering the 24th spot seems an unlikely opportunity for FC Cincinnati. Beckham is still messing things up for teams I support three years after his retirement and that’s just annoying

Dates and Dollars – There’s been no shortage of ambiguity and conjecture about what it takes to get into MLS, how expansion candidates will be evaluated, and when decisions would be made. There’s now a clear high level plan for the next two expansion cities including dates, dollars and written criteria related to what’s important. Applications are due on January 31st, the expansion fee is $150M and two cities will be selected by Q3 of 2017. For the 10 cities competing, the playing field is now defined at a high level.

Two Deferred – While the plan is clear for expansion slots 25 and 26, the Soccer Don likes to leave some things unsettled. The decision timeline on teams 27 and 28 is not confirmed, nor is the price tag. I’m guessing the expansion fee won’t go down, just a hunch. On the positive side, we can still argue and write articles speculating about this.

There’s a lot we already knew about the state of FC Cincinnati’s bid due to Don Garber’s recent Town Hall in Cincinnati. Thursday’s press conference re-emphasized several known points.

The timeframe is 2020 or beyond – Think positive and call it 2020. This means at least three more seasons in the lower leagues for FC Cincinnati, and that’s not a bad thing (last season was pretty damn fun right?) Most dedicated FC Cincinnati supporters are bullish on MLS expansion but committed to supporting the club at whatever level it plays. The deferred timetable for teams 27 and 28 also means a successful bid could see FC Cincinnati enter MLS after 2020.

FC Cincinnati is Well Positioned – Many of the criteria emphasized by Garber on Thursday are right in FC Cincinnati’s wheelhouse. The team has influential ownership, strong finances, corporate support, and of course a large and growing fan base (our ace in the hole). There’s certainly no shortage of competition though, and some big kids just got in the lunch line with the entry of contenders Tampa Bay Rowdies and North Carolina FC.

The Stadium is a Big Deal – One of the key pillars for expansion is of course a stadium, and preferably a team-owned soccer specific one. While Nippert is and will continue to be a fantastic venue for our young club, it’s likely the weakest part of the current bid. MLS wants to see a clear path to a soccer specific stadium and that was emphasized again in Thursday’s press conference. FC Cincinnati ownership and the front office will have to make that path clear over the next six months.

2017 will be a pivotal year both on and off the field for FC Cincinnati, with the lens of MLS expansion focusing clearly by year’s end.

What do you think? How strong is FC Cincinnati’s bid? Does the clearer picture of the MLS expansion process make you confident the Orange and Blue will get a spot? Leave a comment below.