Nashville MLS expansion bid receives major boost following Garber’s first visit

The Nashville MLS expansion bid received a boost this weekend following the first visit of league commissioner Don Garber. Nashville is one of 12 cities fighting for four expansion slots and it’s chances of success look to be on the up.

Garber admitted that the MLS front office was surprised when it received an expansion bid from Music City back in December. But after seeing a “committed ownership group”, who are hopeful of securing a public-private stadium financing plan later this year, Tennessee might just be getting a Major League Soccer team.

“Nashville is very much like Major League Soccer: It’s a city on the rise,” Garber said during Friday’s visit.

“When we think about expansion in North America, there’s an incredible energy here. There’s the strength of the entertainment and music business and there’s a great public-private approach to getting things done. That character of the city is very much about our league.”

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The MLS commissioner toured Nashville on Friday and will be at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, where the USA face Panama in the Gold Cup.

Nissan Stadium is the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, but Nashville’s potential MLS team would need to have its own stadium. Garber reiterated that any expansion side needs to secure a soccer-specific stadium site to enter MLS.

“If a very promising market can’t have a stadium, they’re not going to be an MLS expansion team. If Nashville’s able to achieve that, it’s going to be a very positive aspect for their bid.

“When we founded the league, soccer stadiums were not part of the original plan. The plan was to play in NFL stadiums. Now, we realise there’s no reason to go into a market until you get that locked up.”

Nashville mayor Megan Barry is well behind the push to bring soccer to the city. While MLS bidder John Ingram, who has teamed up with businessman Bill Hagerty, is doing all he can to secure an expansion slot.

They hope to have a funding package for an MLS stadium in the next few months. While Ingram recently bought controlling rights to Nashville Soccer Club. Nashville SC will enter the USL in 2018 and would become an MLS club if a franchise is awarded to the city.

Nashville SC is run by former MLS executive Court Jeske. While the team will be coached by Englishman Gary Smith, who famously won the 2010 MLS Cup with Colorado. Smith remains the only English coach to ever win MLS Cup.

Nashville, San Antonio, San Diego, Sacramento, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Charlotte, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Phoenix and Indianapolis are the 12 cities battling for four MLS expansion slots.

Garber is expected to announce the league’s 25th and 26th teams at the end of the year. Several cities are struggling with stadium deals, but Garber doesn’t expect that to delay any decisions.

“We are very confident we’ll have two that we’ll be deciding on,” he said.

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Drogba to help Phoenix Rising chase MLS dream by joining USL side on three-year contract – report

Didier Drogba looks to have found himself a new club at last. The Ivorian striker has been without a team since leaving Montreal Impact at the end of his contract in December but looks set to remain in North America with USL club Phoenix Rising.

The 39-year-old has signed a three-year contract with the Arizona-based side, according to France Football, and will have the option to become the club’s sporting director from the second season onwards.

Phoenix Rising FC – who were formerly known as Arizona United before this season and are owned by a group including American DJ Diplo – have been making headlines over the past few months as they look to prove they mean business as they grow on and off the field.

Phoenix is one of 12 cities fighting for four MLS Expansion spots as the league looks to expand to 28 teams over the next few years. If Drogba has indeed signed – and more importantly signed with a clause allowing him to become a director – then the move makes a lot more sense than it does on the surface.

The former Chelsea star had long been linked with a return to the West London club in a coaching role but it would appear his future off the pitch could now be based in the USA.

Drogba reportedly turned down an offer from Brazilian side Corinthians, instead choosing to join former Chelsea teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips and former Mexico international Omar Bravo in Phoenix.

The USL club opened their 2017 season with a 1-0 home loss to a Toronto FC II side this weekend, playing in front of a sell-out crowd in their home opener at their brand new soccer specific stadium.

The club have permission to build a climate-controlled stadium on their current plot of land, that would seat between 20,000 and 30,000 fans if they are given an MLS team in the current round of bidding.

Getting stuck in: Could MLS survive with promotion and relegation?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether promotion and relegation is a possibility for Major League Soccer…

Every weekend from August to May I sit on my lumpy couch, remote in hand, ready to watch Premier League matches until my eyes bleed. Liverpool games are always my main meal, but I have some other dishes I like to munch on. Maybe a U.S. player like DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Brad Guzan or Matt Miazga is playing? Or I might dig into an intriguing Manchester derby. This year I will watch anything Leicester City. But nothing gets the little hairs on my head to stand up more than a relegation battle.

Ah, promotion and relegation. That strangely un-American and un-Canadian system that has been exhaustively debated from coast-to-coast since MLS came around 20 years ago. In a recent ESPN poll, MLS players were asked if they would favour promotion and relegation in MLS. The results saw 49 percent say “yes” and 51 percent answer “no”. And that seems to be where we are: pretty much split down the middle.

But the person who really counts is MLS Commissioner Don Garber. He recently said: “We play in a country where the major leagues are really successful. There is no promotion and relegation in hockey and basketball and they work really well. It is not happening in MLS any time soon.”

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So we are stuck with a quirky playoff system that rewards 60 percent of the league, with very little punishment for the remaining 40 percent. But could promotion and relegation work? No is the answer with the way the league is presently constructed. No owner would pay an expansion fee of $100 million just to be relegated. That is what would’ve happened to NYCFC last season when they amassed a paltry 37 points in their inaugural season.

Ok, let’s start with the basics of how relegation and promotion might work. First, you need a league for MLS teams to be relegated to. Like in the Premier League, there needs to be tiers. Could MLS (Division I) work with the NASL (Division II) and USL (Division III) to form a three-tier system? It would certainly take a lot of work from all three leagues to get aligned, but it is doable.

Now for the stadium issue. The USL and NASL, for the most part, play in – and I use this term loosely – small stadiums. Here’s a scenario: FC Edmonton win the NASL and gets promoted to MLS. They make peanuts on tickets sales, concessions and parking because their rinky-dink stadium holds a mere 5,000 people. They won’t be staying up for long with that kind of revenue.

Let’s look at the reverse. NYCFC gets relegated to the NASL. I doubt David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo will accept going down when they have to play Rayo OKC at the Yukon High School. While I seriously doubt they will be able to convince their European pals to join them with this kind of pitch: “Hey Ronaldo, you should really come check out soccer in America. Not sure where I am, but I think I am playing on a high school field in front of a few friends and family.”

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Ok, teams like AFC Bournemouth in England, who are NASL-esque, made it work. They climbed up the divisions and brought along a dated ground with them to the Premier League. But they didn’t have to rely on gate receipts. The amount of money they got for being promoted is substantial. The pittance teams would get from getting promoted from USL to NASL to MLS would be laughable. And where would the parachute payments come form? TV money?

MLS has come a long way with securing decent TV deals. Fox, ESPN and Univision pay $90 million a year, which is a huge amount compared to what MLS was getting in 1996. But compared to the Premier League’s shiny new multi-billion dollar TV deal, well, the MLS TV deal looks pretty puny.

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For all the reason stated above, and many more I left out, I don’t see promotion and relegation happening in my lifetime. But there’s a good argument for it to happen sooner than later. One anonymous MLS player put it this way when talking to ESPN: “Whether you’re playing for promotion or to avoid relegation, it makes every game that much more important. In MLS, if you’re having a bad season, some guys just ride out the last couple [of] months because they know they’ll be in the league next year.”

MLS is two decades old, so maybe it’s just too early for such a radical change. But to truly be accepted as a top league in world football, it probably has to happen one day. There’s just too much at stake.