Assuming a St. Louis Post Dispatch report is true, that city is getting the 28th Major League Soccer franchise, but that still leaves two available spots in the latest MLS round of expansions — and hope for Sacramento.
Sacramento Republic FC has been in talks with the league since 2014 about joining. The team, plus Charlotte and Las Vegas, are all vying to be one of the next two teams selected.
MLS announced it would begin negotiations with Sacramento for an expansion franchise earlier this year, the same time as St. Louis. But with the announcement that city will be granted one, Sacramento fans have expressed impatience.
Mary Lynne Vellinga, a spokeswoman with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg's office, says the news out of St. Louis was neither surprising nor worrisome.
"There was room for both cities in expansion. It was never a competition between St. Louis and Sacramento, because the MLS announced it was going to have negotiations with both cities,” Vellinga said from City Hall. “It wasn't an either-or proposition."
It's been nearly five years since MLS bigwigs visited Sacramento during the Republic FC’s inaugural season, one that would result in record-setting attendance and a championship in the USL Pro league.
MLS announced it would expand from 24 to 28 teams the following year. The Republic FC is still in the running for the 29th and 30th spots.
The city and the team both say they have been in "constant contact" with MLS as they tie up the loose ends of a billion-dollar project, including stadium construction and development of an entertainment district in the Railyards.
Republic FC President and COO Ben Gumpert says he understands the process has taken more time than fans would like.
"There is a lot at stake for everybody," Gumpert said from the team’s new headquarters on 20th Street in Midtown. "These are things that are naturally complicated to get done. We want to make sure we set it up the right way, that we build this the right way, not just for today or tomorrow, but for generation and generations beyond that will be a part of this.”
He paused. “We gotta get it right," he said.
A recent Wallethub study ranked Sacramento as the 25th best soccer city in the United States, even without an MLS team. But instead of taking the ranking as a compliment, Gumpert took it as an insult.
"I would love to see 24 other cities that put forth the effort, the fandom, the community around soccer like this community does. I haven't seen it," he said. “Sacramento is a world-class soccer market. We've proven that. We will continue to prove that."
"We're top 10,” he said. “Top 25? No way. No way."
Development of the 17-acre entertainment district around the stadium at the Railyards is an important part of the sales pitch to MLS. The Sacramento City Council approved a term sheet with the team in April and then a plan to form a financing district and a governing board in July.
"In return for about an investment of about a billion dollars by lead investor Ron Burkle, the team, and developers, the city approved an incentive package worth about $33 million, none of which is a direct subsidy," Vellinga said.
Vellinga says she hopes the next news out about MLS expansion will involve a new team in Sacramento.
"We feel really good about it and we think we're going to have something good to say soon," she said.
MLS did not respond to a request for comment.
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