Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott was invited by the Carolina RailHawks, of the NASL, to visit the Triangle area and have an open discussion regarding the potential of MLS expansion. Other attendee’s included David Downs, commissioner of the NASL, and Aaron Davidson, vice president of Traffic Sports. The event opened with a fan forum, and included an invite only meeting of local business, community, and soccer leaders. The day concluded with a media round table at WakeMed Soccer Park, home of the Carolina Railhawks.
“We are not about jumping the gun and putting cart before the horse,” RailHawks President Curt Johnson said. “Those things evolve in time.”
“What we’re trying to do is build the largest possible fan base that we can have here and let other people decide what at the end of the day will be the future. Those people will be the owners, MLS and the NASL and the fans and corporate partners.”
The fan base will now have room to grow as WakeMed Soccer Park, which is owned by Wake County, is undergoing a $6.3 million expansion that will add 3,000 seats and move the capacity up to 10,000 seats. The project is scheduled to be completed by the September of this year.
Abbott said “I’m a firm believer there are markets in the Southeast that can perform at the level of the Pacific Northwest.”
MLS has indicated that it is focused on establishing a 20th expansion team in New York. But an expansion timetable beyond 20 teams, and specifically a plan for the Southeast, has not been established according to league officials.
Abbott also continued to communicate the three key factors that MLS evaluates in potential expansion targets: an ownership group financially capable of operating the team, a stadium seating between 20,000 and 25,000, and a market that can draw roughly that many fans while generating corporate support.
So while the MLS may not have any immediate plans for expansion is seems as though the NASL will be expanding soon. In addition to Ottawa joining in 2014, Indyweek Sports reported that the NASL is poised to announce two expansion franchises within the next 30-45 days. The league has finalized contractual terms with one club and is in the latter stages of negotiations with the other. One is an existing soccer club while the other is an upstart franchise. Moreover, Davidson indicated one will be stationed in the western U.S. while the other will be located within the NASL’s current main geographic footprint.
USL side Orlando City seems to be the most logical team to join the NASL. They have a great team, strong fan-base, and MLS ambitions that would all make sense for them to step up into the next level.
In regards to the western club Downs did rattled off a few potential expansion locations including: Phoenix, San Diego, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Phoenix has shown some great promise in recent friendlies and would give the San Antonio Scorpions a nearby team to help foster a rivalry.
See this MLS article on the visit and vote for Atlanta in the poll “Which Southeast market do you think will emerge as the frontrunner for expansion?”.
Video of the Fan Forum can be located at www.carolinarailhawks.com
So what markets do you think the NASL should expanded to next?