Looking to the Pacific: The Top 5 Threats from the USL Western Conference

We’re not looking too far into the future, but what teams from the West could stand in the way during the march to the USL Cup?

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Image: Joe Craven Photography

The 2018 season is one that might be giving the typical FC Cincinnati fan whiplash.

While the season started slowly with some questioning what the next step might be, the second half of the year has us looking towards the future and the 2019 MLS season. At the same time, the rearview mirror cannot be ignored—Charleston, Pittsburgh, and Louisville are all preparing themselves for rematches.

With all that is occurring around the club, it’s easy to forget that there is another race towards the USL Cup. The USL Western Conference is starting to create similar distance between the hopeful and the hopeless. Considering that FCC will have to acclimate to games in other time zones next year, it’s time to start expanding our field of vision to look at the bigger USL picture.

Let’s also not forget that the USL used to be a league where there was no division between the East and West. Yes, it’s true that only one USL champion in the past seven years came from west of the Mississippi—we see you, Sacramento—but there wasn’t a legitimate Western Conference until 2015. While the league has expanded by leaps and bounds, it would be worthy to see how talented the other conference is, just in case FCC found themselves having to face the West’s best.

So which of the teams in the West could end up facing the East in the USL Cup final? Here are our safest bets, if you haven’t been following…

5. Reno 1868 FC

Record:               10-4-7 (37 pts), 5th in the West

Truth be told, this spot could end up belonging to San Antonio FC (if they can remain hot), but Reno’s recent 16-game unbeaten streak is hard to ignore.

440px-Reno_1868_FC_logo.svgCoach Ian Russell might not have the same team that destroyed the USL single-season goal record last year (75), but Reno pulled themselves out of an early-season hole to go undefeated so far in 11 away games (6-0-5). Ex-FCC midfielder Antoine Hoppenot shares the lead in the West with 8 assists, and forward Brian Brown has also shown to be dependable recently, scoring 6 goals in the last 8 games.

While this team is disciplined (25 yellow cards, lowest in the West) and consistent in getting points each game, the ultimate concern may be Reno’s schedule. While Reno plays most of their remaining games at home, they have only a +1 goal differential at Greater Nevada Field and have to face in-state rival Las Vegas twice. They also must face six teams on the road that all still have shots at making the playoffs, including three with a +10 goal differential at home (Fresno, Phoenix, Real Monarchs). That’s not good for a team with only 6 clean sheets total.

4. Sacramento Republic FC

Record:               11-5-7 (40 pts), 4th in the West

Last year may have been an anomaly on the radar for Sacramento, but the upset of Real Monarchs in the first round of the playoffs last year was no illusion.

440px-Sacramento_Republic_FC.svgThe team promoted head coach Simon Elliot from the Republic’s academy system and re-signed forward Cameron Iwasa, who failed to really break it big with Sporting Kansas City last year. Iwasa has scored 10 goals and 4 assists in his return to the team, while goalkeeper Josh Cohen has filled the gloves of the departed Evan Newton very well (72 saves, 8 clean sheets).

Sacramento has a very good away record (wins at Phoenix and Orange County) and only faces three playoff contenders down the stretch. Their home record could be better (only 16 points in 11 games), but the team is going to have to convert the opportunities they’re given. While they are third in the West in shots taken (330), they are near the bottom in conversion rate (11%). In particular, the team is going to need more production from midfielder Villyan Bijev (4 goals from 55 shots) and defender Adam Moffat (1 goal in 23 shots).

Phoenix
Source: Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

3. Phoenix Rising FC

Record:               12-5-5 (41 pts), tied for 2nd in the West

Even though the big names on Phoenix may belong to their ownership group, the Rising have become a completely different team since their years as Arizona United. Despite the carousel of leadership, interim coach Rick Schantz has managed to keep Phoenix consistent as an offensive threat, even without Didier Drogba playing every game.

Phoenix_Rising_FCThe team, overall, only fields 21 players on the roster, but Phoenix stays competitive through their offense. The big offseason arrival may have been winger Solomon Asante. While forwards Chris Cortez and Jason Johnson have formed a strong scoring core (18 goals combined), Asante has been arguably the team’s MVP. The Ghanaian national has consistently produced (7 goals, 7 assists) and created 74 chances for the team, first in the West. Bolstered by goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski’s 9 clean sheets, Phoenix enjoys the second-best goal differential in the West.

While Phoenix has similar home and away records, they still have five games left against contenders. Opponents have also been able to take advantage of poor possession numbers (46%) and Phoenix’s inability to stay out of foul trouble. Their last two losses (at Fresno, at Real Monarchs) have been lopsided and stained with straight red cards. If they must hit the road against a more talented offense, they may have to foul to slow the game down enough to stay competitive.

2. Real Monarchs SLC

Record:               14-5-2 (44 pts), 1st in the West

In any other year, a team with the most wins (34) and points (111) in the past two seasons would be the team to beat in the West. However, it’s hard to trust a #1 seed that could not get past the first round last year.

Real_Monarchs_LogoThe production may not be as impressive as Phoenix or as trigger-happy as Sacramento, but the Monarchs are a model of the “MLS 2” team. The team has fielded 36 players at some point during the season, spreading out the minutes economically. Sebastian Velasquez and Chandler Hoffman lead the team with 7 goals each and are the elder statesmen on a fresh Starting XI. The Monarchs also lead the West in passing efficiency (82%) and clean sheets (10), even though the team has started four goalkeepers so far.

While they have plenty of games in hand, the Monarchs are a team that has a two-sided nature. At home, they are untouchable, obtaining 28 of 30 possible points at the brand-new Zions Bank Stadium. However, their away form is comparatively brutal—the Monarchs have lost five of their 11 road games and have a -2 goal differential. Real Salt Lake’s USL affiliate is going to need more production on the road if they do get passed by…

1. Orange County SC

Record:               12-6-5 (41 pts), 2nd in the West

Orange County’s bounce-back season has been remarkable to follow. The team underwent a complete overhaul from their 10th-place finish in 2017 and are four points away from surpassing last year’s total. Braeden Cloutier was promoted to head coach from their academy, and all but four players from the 2017 squad were shown the door. In fact, the entire back and front lines were fully replaced.

250px-Orange_County_SC_logo.svgDanish winger Thomas Enevoldsen has resurrected his career by scoring 5 assists and 12 goals to lead the West in the race for the Golden Boot. However, the biggest surprise contribution has come from former FC Cincinnati midfielder Aodhan Quinn. Along with his 8 assists, he leads the USL in passes and is tied for third in chances created (63). Thanks to goalkeeper Andre Rawls’s 7 clean sheets and OCSC’s West-leading conversion rate (18%), the team leads the USL in goal differential (+22).

While team is rounding into form and shaking off mid-season rust, the only big concern may be the distribution of their remaining schedule. Orange County will alternate home and away trips, having to bounce back and forth from Portland, Seattle, Nevada, Fresno, and Phoenix. The travel schedule might bog the team down and make it hard to get into a familiar groove.


In the end, it may not matter who wins the regular season title in the West. Over the past three years, #1 seeds have not won a single match in the Western Conference playoffs. Orange County’s first-round bye in 2015 led to a home loss against LA Galaxy II, and both Sacramento and Real Monarchs lost on penalty kicks in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Perhaps that might also be a reason the West has never won the USL Cup over the past three years—the #1 seed in the East has won it each time.

Hopefully, that team out of the West will have to go through the boys in Orange & Blue to get it.

What team out of the West do you think will challenge the East for the USL Cup? Let us know what you think!

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Images: FC Cincinnati 2 – 2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Images of the 2-2 draw between FC Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, on Saturday April 21st, courtesy of Joe Craven. Also Nippert Scenes from Joe Schmuck.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-2 stalemate with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, April 21st, courtesy of Joe Craven. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

Also check out these photos Joe Schmuck captured of the scenes at Nippert.

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All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
Pitt 4.21 2_Match Recap
FC Cincinnati 2 – 2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Electric Second Half Comeback Secures Draw

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Images: FC Cincinnati 0 – 1 Louisville City

Images of FC Cincinnati 1-0 defeat at the hands of Louisville City FC, on Saturday April 7th, courtesy of Ryan Meyer.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Louisville City FC at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, April 7th, courtesy of Ryan Meyer. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

Also check out these photos Joe Craven captured of the scenes at Nippert.

All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.

Louisville 4.7_Match Recap
FC Cincinnati 0 – 1 Louisville City FC: Rival Spoils Home Opener

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Images: Indy Eleven 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati

Images of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over Indy Eleven, on Saturday March 31st, courtesy of Joe Schmuck and Joe Craven.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 win over Indy Eleven at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, March 31st courtesy of Joe Craven and Joe Schmuck.

All images are copy write protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following articles.
Indy 3.31_Match Recap
Indy Eleven 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Defense Shines in Second Straight Road Win

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Indy Eleven 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Sacramento Digested: Result in Context, Injuries, Haber, One and Done

A deeper take on FC Cincinnati’s last preseason match including the result in perspective, injuries, Daniel Haber, and one and done regular season scheduling.

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Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Sacramento Republic brings FC Cincinnati’s preseason slate to its conclusion.** Next weekend FC Cincinnati embarks on a long USL campaign starting with a Saint Patrick’s Day opener against the Charleston Battery. Here are a few thoughts to share after fully digesting Saturday’s preseason rehearsal against Republic FC.

The Result

Well, Saturday was a bit disappointing, wasn’t it? After a six-game undefeated run that included a lot of positives and excitement, yesterday’s result was an anti-climatic conclusion to the 2018 preseason. Sacramento dominated play in our backyard, and they were two goals to the good before an 84th minute Keinan header made the final score respectable. While there are certainly areas to be concerned about, there really is no need to panic at this early stage.

Soccer is the ultimate team sport, and to expect a team with 15+ new players to come flying out of the gates is probably unrealistic. Building a high-performing team is just as much about finding the right chemistry and having a game plan that fits the players, more so than having the best raw talent. Even with a long preseason, expect it to take one-third of the USL season to get that mix right. The players need to develop enough familiarity with each other and the system to deliver to their potential. If FC Cincinnati isn’t looking good in the late-May timeframe, the hard questions should come to the surface.

There were some positives to make note of, as well. Another goal means that the Orange and Blue scored in each of their seven preseason matches. The Bailey was rocking again, and you could feel the pent-up energy in the drums and chants after a long offseason. The new kits looked pretty in the cold midday sunshine. There was even a player that stood out despite the result (which we’ll get too soon enough).

From a coaching perspective, Saturday’s result might not be a bad thing heading into the season either. Sure, it would have been nice as a fan to see the team thump an MLS expansion rival to build the excitement heading into game one. But Saturday’s loss knocks the team back a bit and reinforces that, even if they have a lot of talent, they are going to have to work hard and execute every time out. No trophies are handed out for having a good roster.

Injuries

Small injuries are continuing to mount for the Orange and Blue. We expected Lance Laing (bone bruise) and Danni König (back spasms) to miss out, but Emery Welshman was surprisingly absent from both the first team and the bench. The Toronto native took a tumble in Friday’s 11-v-11 training and stayed down for a couple minutes. He continued thereafter but perhaps a small knock kept him out of Saturday’s action. No details are available yet, but stay tuned.

Tomi Ameobi also went down with an injury during Saturday’s match after a collision with Sacramento’s goalkeeper. He recovered and appeared to be ok, but our forward depth is being tested early. It’s worth noting that Manu Ledesma could quite comfortably fit into that role for some cover if needed.

Fortunately, most of these seem like small problems as opposed to more serious damage that could keep players out for sustained periods of time. Tyler Gibson, of course, continues to be out longer-term with a fractured fibula.

Daniel Haber

One player that we called out early and has impressed throughout preseason is another Toronto native, Daniel Haber. The Canadian international finished preseason with five assists and a goal to his name. He’s consistently produced quality service, threatens the opposition on the dribble, makes clever runs off the ball, and has end-product results. He’s beating loudly on the door of the first team right now, and even if he doesn’t start, he should be one of the first substitutes off the bench. He had 30 appearances and seven goals for a good 2017 Real Monarchs squad. This is a player accustomed to starting and is making his case to do so in the Queen City.

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Daniel Haber

One and Done

FC Cincinnati has a strange start to their USL season from a scheduling perspective. They go to South Carolina for another “Groundhog Day” season opener against Charleston. After that, they get a two-week break from league action before their next match away to Indy Eleven. While this calendar wrinkle might be annoying to soccer-starved fans, it could be quite beneficial to a team looking to figure out its identify and solidify its tactical plan for the 2018 season. Hopefully, it will also provide an opportunity for some of these minor injuries to clear up as well, so Koch has the full roster to select from for back-to-back rivalry matches against Indy Eleven and Louisville City.

So that’s a wrap for FC Cincinnati’s third preseason. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue press for coverage of next week’s season opener, including the return of our cheat sheet previews for the Charleston match.

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**In truth, FC Cincinnati also snuck in a Sunday, March 11th friendly against Wright State Men’s Soccer and cruised to a 5-0 win.

Images: FC Cincinnati 1 – 2 Sacramento Republic FC

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Here are thirty-seven images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 preseason loss to Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday, March 10th courtesy of Joe Craven. That was a match to forget honestly, but it’s one bad result in a preseason that has been largely positive, and oh yeah . . . those new kits are GORGEOUS.

Also, see the match recap: FC Cincinnati 1 – 2 Sacramento Republic FC: A Disappointing Finish to the Preseason POST

All images are copy write protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season and next week’s USL opener at Charleston.

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 2 Sacramento Republic FC: A Disappointing Finish to the Preseason

In a preseason match between MLS hopefuls, FC Cincinnati loses 2-1 to Sacramento Republic FC at Nippert Stadium.

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Graphic: Connor Paquette

At the end of the preseason schedule last year, FC Cincinnati made their first trip to the West Coast and scratched out a last-second 2-2 draw against Sacramento Republic FC. With both teams waiting for MLS to make an expansion call, FC Cincinnati played the role of the hosts to close out this year’s preseason.

Unfortunately for the Orange & Blue, they could not duplicate last year’s performance, falling 2-1 to the Republic at Nippert Stadium.

Sacramento had most of the offensive control early in the match, applying pressure in the FCC half for the majority of the first period. Evan Newton was challenged a few times by his former team and appeared to have left the net open in the 18th minute, only for Sacramento forward Cameron Iwasa to muff the shot.

While FCC was laboring to get their passes to connect, Sacramento took advantage of their possession. Midfielder Kevin Aléman got a shot on Newton in the box in the 33rd minute, only for the save to be deflected to Iwasa for an easy rebound to make the score 1-0.

After the goal, Cincinnati appeared to get their bearings, as runs by Corben Bone and Justin Hoyte applied more pressure to Sacramento’s defense. A late first-half header by Forrest Lasso was swung aside by Sacramento’s Josh Cohen with a fingertip save, keeping the score 1-0 at halftime.

The second half led to a bit more physical play from both teams, as FCC tried to pressure the midfield for possession, only for incidental contact with Sacramento to twice halt the momentum. FCC’s best chance, a Jimmy McLaughlin breakaway in the 68th minute, was snuffed out by a fine save by Cohen.

Sacramento increased the lead to 2-0 in the 72nd minute. Kenney Walker was unable to clear out a ball in the defensive half, and after a series of pinballing deflections, midfielder Villyan Bijev fired a shot from the left that snuck under Newton’s sprawling effort to save.

FCC finally made it a game in the 84th minute. A Daniel Haber corner kick sailed high to the left of the box, where Dekel Keinan looped a header past Cohen. Sacramento managed to salt much of the remaining time away, despite a chance by Ameobi to tie it up late, giving the Republic the 2-1 final score.

Key Events

33′ – SRFC GOAL – Cameron Iwasa (assisted by Kevin Aléman)
72′ – SRFC GOAL – Villyan Bijev (unassisted)
84′ – FCC GOAL – Dekel Keinan (assisted by Daniel Haber)

Yellow cards
20′ – Forrest Lasso (FCC)
25′ – Cole Seiler (SRFC)
61′ – Emmanuel Ledesma (FCC)

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati suffered its first loss of the seven-game preseason (4W-1L-2T), while Sacramento heads home with its second win in the preseason (2W-2L-1T). Newton gave up his first goals of the preseason, but FCC still managed to score a goal, giving the team at least one in all seven preseason games. Keinan is the only FC Cincinnati player to bag more than 1 goal. Keinan also sported the captain’s band for FCC.

Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
Newton (GK)
Hoyte – Keinan – Lasso – Smith (Bahner 77′)
Walker (Seymore 77′) – Ryan
Ledesma (Haber 73′) – Bone (Albadawi 77′) – McLaughlin
Ameobi

Of note, Lance Laing (bone bruise) and Danni Konig (back) were left off the starting roster due to injury concerns. Emery Welshman, Sem De Wit, Garrett Halfhill, Josu, and Mark Village were also left off the starting roster.

What’s Next?

The 2018 USL regular season starts next Saturday with what people should be dubbing the “Groundhog Day Derby”, as FC Cincinnati travels to South Carolina to face the Charleston Battery. Both of the past two seasons have started with one-goal losses at Charleston, but hopefully, FCC will have the luck of the Irish on their side this time for the St. Patrick’s Day tilt.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more images from Saturday’s match and more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Sacramento Republic 2 – FC Cincinnati 2: Takeaways and Third Kit Fever

Takeaways and match photos from FC Cincinnati’s preseason stalemate in California. Harrison Delbridge was the difference maker in his return to Bonney.

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FC Cincinnati played Sacramento Republic FC to a 2-2 stalemate at Bonney Field in a preseason showdown between MLS expansion rivals. Aodhan Quinn gave the Orange & Blue the lead in the 21st minute from the penalty spot. The home side then scored two unanswered in the second half to take a lead into stoppage time. Just before the final whistle, former Republic FC defender Harrison Delbridge headed home a late equalizer.

For a full review of the match’s events, see MLS Expansion Hopefuls Rumble in California.

Photos

Takeaways

Delbo’s Return – Harrison Delbridge had quite an impact in his return to Bonney. The foul against him in the 20th minute set up FC Cincinnati’s penalty kick goal. He then salvaged the draw with his last minute header. The Australian has picked up where he left off last season when he earned USL All League First Team honors. Delbridge was part of Sacramento Republic FC’s USL Championship team in 2014. Orange & Blue Press visited Republic FC’s headquarters on Saturday and found this picture of Delbridge near the 2014 Championship trophy.

Berry Worry – Preseason is about gaining form, fitness, and figuring out who the first eleven will be. It’s also about getting to March 25th without injuries. Unfortunately, Austin Berry left the match in the 55th minute after a challenge on Republic FC forward Trevin Caesar. Caesar’s foot appeared to catch Berry in the head. Before he left the field, the medical staff also appeared to be examining him for a leg injury. Paul Nicholson and Matt Bahner can provide cover at center back, but this is an area where FC Cincinnati lacks depth.

UPDATE: Berry has an arm injury. No word yet on the severity or how long he’ll be out.

Starting Eleven – This was the last match of preseason where FC Cincinnati will face professional competition. The eleven that started and featured through 70 minutes (noting Berry’s departure) are likely very close to the eleven that will line up against the Charleston Battery in the season opener.

Defensive Troubles? – No clean sheets and nine goals conceded in four games. It’s preseason so you can’t read into the stats too much. Both goals yesterday could be categorized as defensive mistakes though. For the first, Aodhan Quinn was caught in possession deep in FC Cincinnati’s own half.  For the second, Mitch Hildebrandt couldn’t retain Williams’ shot, although it was hard and from close range. The team showed good character to equalize, but the defense will need to tighten up before the USL kickoff.

Expansion Foes – Sacramento is one of 12 cities competing with Cincinnati for an MLS expansion slot. One strength of Sacramento’s bid is an approved stadium plan that will move forward if they are granted an expansion spot. It will be built at the Railyards site shown below. It’s a large undeveloped area on the north side of downtown Sacramento. The second of the two pictures is where the stadium would stand.

Third Kit Fever – FC Cincinnati unveiled a mostly black third kit with grey sleeves for the first time on Saturday. Here’s a couple of good shots of the new look in action.

What do you think about the new third kit?  Is it a must have addition to a closet full of FC Cincinnati gear, or a fashion miss?  Let us know in the comments section.

FC Cincinnati returns home for three weeks of practice before their opening match of the USL season on March 25th. During that time they will face both UC and Xavier for their final preseason tune-ups.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

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MLS Expansion News – Five Markets

Expansion news from five markets competing with FC Cincinnati for a place in MLS including Charlotte, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, and Sacramento.

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This series of articles from Orange & Blue Press falls under the what have you done for me lately theme, and explores the most recent events in each city’s campaign to gain entry into MLS.

If you’re looking for the basics of the current MLS expansion situation, see our MLS Expansion 101 article.

The expansion landscape across ten cities is complex, dynamic, and several markets have a reasonable chance for a successful bid. Five of the ten expansion markets are covered in this article. A separate article will follow in close proximity and cover the remaining five. Cincinnati will be covered last in order to review how news from other markets affects the Cincinnati bid.

For each market, the TV market size, existing team, venue, and investment group are listed along with a summary of recent developments. This information is followed by links to relevant news articles and resources. It’s important to note that the existing team in a market does not necessarily become the MLS team if a bid is granted, particularly if the team’s ownership is not part of the MLS bid.


Charlotte

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Charlotte, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #22*
Existing Team: Charlotte Independence – USL
Venue: Memorial Stadium, an existing historical stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte that would be renovated and expanded
Money: Investment group led by Marcus and Bruton Smith (Speedway Motorsports)
Summary: Recent news discusses the impact that a successful MLS bid would have on the Independence. There is also news on attempts to secure partial public funding for the stadium renovation. A key funding vote at the county level is scheduled for 1/26. A city vote will follow shortly thereafter if approved.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/15 – Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner of Speedway Motorsports, and his son Marcus confirm they are in talks with MLS about an expansion team. [Charlotte Observer]
  • 1/5  – County commission considers proposal to level Memorial Stadium and renovate with up to $100M with in tax revenue. [WSOC Charlotte]
  • 1/6 – Mecklenberg County will have an open hearing on 1/24 to get input from the public on proposed use of tax money for stadium financing. [Charlotte Post]
  • 1/10 – Charlotte Independence and owner could be out of the picture if MLS franchise is awarded to the Smiths. [Medium]
  • 1/20 – Financial details of Charlotte’s stadium proposal are released. A key stadium funding vote is scheduled for 1/26. [Charlotte Business Journal]

Detroit

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Detroit, Michigan

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #13*
Existing Team: Detroit City FC  – NPSL – Detroit City FC is unlikely to be the MLS expansion team given the ownership group and supporter opposition to MLS expansion.
Venue: Proposed $1 billion mixed-use stadium complex on the site of the stalled Wayne County jail project in Greektown
Money: Investment group led by Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers / Quicken Loans) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons)
Summary: Detroit’s large TV market and pro sports ownership give this bid clout, but the stadium plan has been a sticking point (common theme). There’s not a lot of recent news from this bid except that their application will be ready in time.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/12 – Article explaining the anti-MLS sentiment of Detroit City FC supporters [SB Nation]
  • 12/24 – Report that there is no deal yet for Gilbert and Gores as they attempt to secure the Wayne County Jail Project site [Crain’s – registration required]
  • 1/18 – The Detroit MLS investment group reports that they are on track to submit their MLS application on time at the end of January. [Detroit Sports Nation]

Nashville 

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Nashville, TN

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #29*
Future Team: Nashville SC – USL, to begin play in 2018
Venue: Stadium plans are in the early stages of development. The most promising idea includes a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium at the Fairgrounds in Nashville.
Money: Investment group led by John Ingram (Ingram Industries), no official ties to Nashville SC
Summary: This upstart bid has recently announced Ingram as their leader and is working on both public funding and a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/19 – A bill was introduced to the state of Tennessee legislature that will help pay off future debt on a new soccer stadium. [Tennessean]
  • 12/20 – Local businessman with ties to Vanderbilt University, John Ingram, is announced as leader of Nashville’s MLS bid. [Tennessean]
  • 1/17 – Nashville’s ownership group is exploring a partnership with Vanderbilt University on a stadium, but the site of proposed stadium is still uncertain. [Nashville Business Journal]
  • 1/18 – Nashville MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]

Raleigh/Durham

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Raleigh, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #24*
Existing Team: North Carolina FC previously Carolina Railhawks – NASL
Venue: A proposed 24,000 seat stadium privately financed by the investors
Money: Investment group led by Steve Malik (North Carolina FC and founder of Medfusion)
Summary: Charlotte isn’t the only show in North Carolina, and Steve Malik’s aggressive bid boasts 100% private funding, which few others can claim. His recent purchase of a NWSL franchise shows commitment to the growth of pro soccer in the triangle.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/6 – The Carolina Railhawks re-brand as North Carolina FC in conjunction with their MLS bid, including the sale of various levels of membership that can be bought by fans and companies to show support. [WNCN]
  • 12/16 – Article about Raleigh/Durham bid after December 15 MLS Board of Governors announcement. This article includes comments from Garber about the bid and North Carolina’s controversial HB2 legislation. [News & Observer]
  • 1/9 – Announcement is made that North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik has purchased NWSL team Western New York Flash, which will be rebranded as the North Carolina Courage and begin play in Cary in 2017. [News & Observer]

Sacramento

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Sacramento, California

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #20*
Existing Team: Sacramento Republic FC – USL
Venue: An approved $226M privately funded stadium complex will be built at the Railyards if an expansion slot is granted.
Money: Investment group led by Warren Smith (Sacramento Republic FC) and Kevin Nagle (EnvisionRX Options)
Summary: Sacramento’s bid is likely the most advanced of the ten. They were once considered a lock for the next expansion slot, and likely still are. The emergence of strong bids from across the nation means Sacramento has to play the application game with everyone else.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 11/10 – Sacramento stadium plan is approved by Sacramento City Council [Sacramento Bee]
  • 12/21 – Sacramento MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]
  • Sacramento’s bid is perhaps the most mature of the ten and there are few recent developments outside of the critical stadium approval.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for the second set of five markets which will include Cincinnati.
UPDATE: Part two of this series has been released, follow the link for expansion updates on Cincinnati, Saint Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa / St. Petersburg.

Do you know of recent news or key facts about these MLS expansion contenders not mentioned above?  Let us know in the comments section.

*NOTE: Nielsen DMAs are referenced in this article for TV market size information. DMAs seem most relevant to television advertising, but which market size ranking to use is debatable. Some argue that these markets could be combined with other nearby markets to create a larger market (i.e.: Cincinnati/Dayton). Because DMA’s combine surrounding areas already and there is no clear evidence that MLS is evaluating any markets as combined, this series of articles will not do so.

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Could MLS Expansion Be the Wrong Move for FC Cincinnati?

One supporter offers a different viewpoint on FC Cincinnati’s bid for MLS expansion, and asks what is in the best long term interest of the club.

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Editor’s Note: A lot has been written about FC Cincinnati’s bid for MLS expansion. Many of those articles assume that expansion is inherently desirable and make little mention of possible risks involved in competing in the expansion race. While Orange & Blue press is clearly a supporter of #MLS2CINCY, I thought it was worthwhile to balance the conversation with the voice of a supporter who’s uncertain whether expansion, at the current pace and under the current conditions, is in the best long term interest of the club. He refers to himself as the Losantiville Firm, and submitted the following viewpoint to Orange and Blue Press which we are pleased to share.

You have been to the games and heard the attendance numbers, 15,000…20,000…even 30,000 fans screaming one thing in unison. We represent a teeming grass roots movement akin to Obama’s campaign that summed up a hive mindset with one phrase…“yes we can!” What is the slogan those 30,000 FC Cincinnati fans are screaming?

“MLS or Bust!”

As fans we want to take that next step. We will do whatever we can to make this club a success. Success is making it to MLS, right? Or could the pursuit of MLS be our downfall? Are we so quick to chase the MLS dream that we don’t see any inherent danger in the endeavor? What happens if FC Cincinnati spends all the money, meets every Don Garber sanctioned requirement and then…doesn’t get in? Would there be a point for having FC Cincinnati any longer? I say yes of course, but what irrevocable damage could be done by rushing to make such a speculative gamble?

Let’s take Sacramento Republic FC’s bid as a case study. If Sacramento has taught us anything, it is that we are relying on the fickle requirements of MLS, and they have all of the advantages in this negotiation. MLS has an excessive number of clubs interested in expansion. All of those clubs have strengths and deficiencies, but few have a more complete package than Sacramento. The fact that they have not yet been offered a spot, and have recently fallen from grace as the “expansion darling,” should give us pause.

By holding off on inviting Sacramento, MLS has shown they hold all the cards. We as supporters of the club should not make hitting MLS benchmarks our measurement of success. MLS is looking to advance their own interests with expansion. FC Cincinnati should look to advance its own interests first and foremost. They should do so in a controlled manner that may not include joining in MLS’s near term expansion. They should instead focus on their own infrastructure, financial goals, and carve out their own unique niche in the international soccer landscape.

By focusing on making ourselves a healthy and well rounded club, we stand to make a greater long term impact and create a more attractive club. With the current MLS TV deal coming up for renegotiation in 2022, we could position ourselves as a reliable and growing soccer market. By that time MLS may find fewer desirable expansion markets than what they currently have. Then again, the opportunity could be gone. So I say go for MLS, but I refuse to allow FC Cincinnati to risk failure, just to meet arbitrary benchmarks that may not be in our club’s best interest.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, different viewpoints and ongoing dialogue about what is in the best long term interest of FC Cincinnati is a recipe for a healthy supporters’ culture.