Monday, November 19, 2007

History of MLS Expansion and Franchises

What follows is an attempt to create a history of how MLS expansion took shape throughout the years, showing which candidates were on the table at which times. There have also been five instances in the league's history where the league committed to giving cities teams only to have them taken away or the agreements fall apart at a later date.

All my sources are from reputable articles or from the commish's mouth himself. I would post the links, but it's a big list and I don't want to match them up as that would take a while (like this hasn't already).


12/17/1993 - MLS announced.

12/22/1993 - 27 cities have expressed an interest for the 12 MLS teams according to USA Today. The following list was posted on Usenet by Chris Allen.

Cities with an asterisk (*) had representatives in Las Vegas for the MLS
meetings prior to the draw:

The following cities have been visited:

Kansas City
Las Vegas*
Los Angeles*
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale
New York*
Philadelphia/New Jersey*
San Diego*
San Francisco
San Jose
St. Louis
Washington DC*

The following cities have been contacted (but not yet visited):

New Orleans
Salt Lake City
San Antonio


5/18/1994 - 22 cities submitted bids for the 12 MLS teams.

Kansas City
Los Angeles
New York
Northern NJ
Raleigh/Durham/Winston Salem
San Jose
Washington DC

6/15/1994 - First seven franchises awarded to Boston, Columbus, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, San Jose, and Washington DC.

11/12/1994 - MLS delays first season to 1996, and will start with 10 teams instead of 12.

"Instead of the 12 teams that were originally planned for play in 1995, it
now appears that 10 will start operations next year to prepare for a 1996
season that will open in April and end in September. The Long Island
franchise will not be among the starters, and may not begin until 1998. "

Chicago and Tampa Bay are added to the league as its 8th and 9th teams.

"Other candidates are Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City,
Miami, San Diego and Tulsa."


5/24/1995 - "Eight cities have been determined: Boston/Foxborough, Chicago, Columbus, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, San Jose and Washington. Two others will be chosen from Denver, Seattle, San Diego and Tampa."

6/6/1995 - Final lineup of 10 teams for 1996 were announced. Due to apparent issues with Soldier Field, Chicago was dropped.

"Dallas, Denver and Kansas City were announced as the final franchise cities. Dallas replaced Chicago."

6/21/1996 - No clue on the specifics of the following quote, which comes from an article talking about how surprising the attendances have been since the start of the league.

"Besides attracting Bic pens and money transmitter Orlandi Valuta as sponsors since the beginning of the season, the early success has sparked 37 ``serious inquiries'' about expansion franchises and about operating the three league-operated clubs: Tampa Bay, San Jose and Dallas."

7/29/1996 - "Logan said expansion would be by two teams, with Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, San Diego and Charlotte, N.C., also in the mix."

8/16/1996 - Grahame L. Jones: "Major League Soccer is expected to announce expansion plans today calling for two teams to be added in 1998, two more in 2000 and another two in 2002, bringing the league total to 16 teams. Chicago is a prime candidate to be the first expansion city, with other candidates under consideration including Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis."

9/9/1996 - Logan: "MLS plans to expand by two teams in 1998, and plans to have 16 teams by 2004."

10/18/1996 - This comes from an online chat. MLS was again having trouble with Chicago, so that's why he says 1999 instead of 1998. See the next item for more details: Eventually it was worked out.

Logan: "There is a long list and it includes: Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Alanta, Miami, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, Minneapolis and Detroit. However we will defer expansion until 1999."

11/11/1996 - Soccer America: "Expansion has been deferred because renovations to Soldier Field in Chicago will tie up that facility for at least the next three years, and the league believes it can still secure a more lucrative TV contract when the current deal expires in 1998 even without the huge Chicago market."


4/9/1997 - Expansion announced as Chicago and Miami will join the league in 1998.

12/16/1997 - Doug Logan promises Seattle an MLS team (see the letter here). "As you know, with the passage of the stadium initiative, Major League Soccer will be in Seattle beginning with the 2002 or 2003 season."

They would get a team eventually. Another quote:

"The 1997 referendum that created Qwest Field was passed on the backs of soccer fans, as Paul Allen secured more than $300 million from taxpayers by pitching the stadium as a football and soccer facility. The MLS commissioner at the time, Doug Logan, even sent letters to Sounders season-ticket holders, insinuating that if they voted for Qwest, they would get an MLS team. The referendum passed, 51 percent to 49 percent, a margin of 36,780 out of 1.6 million votes cast."


4/30/1998 - Logan: ''We've made no secret of what our long-term plans are ... to have a team in New Jersey and another team east of the East River would be our preference. We need to make agreements that make sense for us, where we can play in stadiums where we control our destiny. That includes playing on the same surface for the entire year and controlling marketing rights.''

''A second team located near mass transit could enhance what we do in the metropolitan New York area and not damage the MetroStars (fan base). We've had discussions with Shea Stadium and that could be a good solution. Shea has portions of the stands that roll and would allow for very good soccer dimensions.''

''We currently have teams in seven of the top eight media markets. We have been impressed with the television numbers in Houston on a consistent basis ... also Seattle and Portland are high on our hit parade and another team in Southern California is part of our future.''

''Regarding Southern California, there are some interesting things happening in the sports business in the region. We have had discussions for six months with the people at Disney. We've talked and at the appropriate time and place, we'll be a part of the smorgasbord out there.''


5/20/1999 - "Previously, commissioner Doug Logan has said expansion probably would occur as early as next season. He has said that in the year 2000, the league would go from its current 12 teams to 14; then two years later, in 2002, from 14 to what MLS currently considers its optimum number of franchises: 16. Now it appears that schedule may slide a little. "Expansion is looking far more probable for 2001 than 2000," Logan said recently.

"Philadelphia and Houston are at the top of the list," also mentioned are New York (Queens or Long Island) and San Diego.


7/28/2000 - Garber: "We will expand by two teams by 2002. We are targeting a second team in the New York Tri-state area as well as a second team, likely in either Philadelphia or Atlanta.

We are in active discussions with potential investors for Tampa and Dallas, as well as potential expansion in Houston, Seattle, Rochester, and Sacramento for expansion in 2004."

10/13/2000 - NY is talked about below as a sure thing for expansion, but year later Metromedia sold the team to AEG and it was dead. See here for why that never happened.

Michael Lewis w/quote from Don Garber: On potential expansion teams: New York is definite for 2002 and Stuart Subotnick , investor-operator of the MetroStars, is considering several sites between Philadelphia and Hartford. "Our goal is to have no less than four new teams by 2004. We have many other cities, including a representative from one of those cities who is here waiting for me today, who is from Milwaukee. There are many cities who we have interested investors and public supporters. Winston-Salem is one. They already have begun selling PSL's for a new stadium they hope to build. Rochester is an interested market. Houston is an interested market. Sacramento is an interested market. Seattle is a very interested market. So there are many markets for us to pick from. We have to pick the most appropriate time frame, if you will, for all those markets to fall into place. New York fell into place and hopefully Philly and Atlanta will fall into place."

12/28/2000 - Contraction brought up for the first time a year before it would actually happen:

Jeff Bradley: "Here's what we know as confirmed by multiple MLS sources. At their recent meetings at the Anschutz Ranch outside of Denver, the MLS Board of Directors began to seriously discuss trimming the league back to 10 teams for the 2001 season. The San Jose Earthquakes, Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were all mentioned as teams that could be disbanded, with the Quakes and Fusion taking the early lead as favorites to go."


7/27/2001 - Garber: "We are currently engaged in discussions with interested groups in New York, the Philadelphia area, Houston, Rochester, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Seattle, Atlanta, Louisville and the Carolinas."


1/8/2002 - Miami and Tampa Bay contracted. Great article here by Robert Wagman talking about the potential candidates to be contracted before it actually happened, so if you weren't around then you can better understand the details behind it. Certainly the lowest point in the league's history, and expansion was the furthest thing from peoples' minds, although it was a given that 10 teams was too few.

8/2/2002 - Garber: "This weekend, we have a contingent of interested investors joining us from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Cleveland, Ohio. In the past months, we have visited several new potential new MLS markets, including Toronto, Detroit, and San Antonio. We will not be expanding the League in 2003. We are hopeful to expand in 2004, though we have no specific dates in place."


4/1/2003 - AP article: "Major Soccer League will decide by the end of the season where to place two expansion teams..."

Candidates listed:

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Oklahoma City

8/1/2003 - At the MLS vs Chivas all star game, details about the future Chivas USA were first unveiled.

Garber: "I’m also pleased to announce that we’re in very advanced discussions with Mr. Vergara, the owner of Chivas, about joining MLS as an investor-operator under the Chivas brand name. We are in the process of identifying a market for this new team and in the process of finalizing details. We are close to be in a position where we will add one of the most storied names and one of the most storied brands of soccer in North America into Major League Soccer."

11/21/2003 - Cleveland announced as second expansion team. I believe it was first mentioned by Tim Leiweke to a group of LA fans, and he apparently spoke prematurely. Turns out this announcement was premature, too.

Also, originally there was some talk of Chivas wanting to enter the league in 2004, but this formally put an end to that speculation.

"MLS Commissioner Don Garber announces that Cleveland, Ohio-based businessman Bert Wolstein has signed a letter of intent to become the investor-operator of an expansion MLS team. Also, Chivas owner Jorge Vergara has finalized an agreement with MLS, signing a letter of intent to enter the League in 2005."


5/17/2004 - Wolstein dies, and any hopes of the Cleveland expansion seemingly went with him.

Wagman: "In November, Wolstein signed a letter-of-intent for a new MLS franchise, but the bid unraveled when he was unable to find public financing in Cleveland or its suburbs for the soccer-specific stadium required of an expansion team. Therefore, it seemed unlikely Cleveland would be home to one of two MLS expansion franchises promised for the 2005 season."

Candidates mentioned for the second spot:

Oklahoma City/Tulsa
San Antonio

And, "the initial expansion targets were Philadelphia and Houston."

7/14/2004 - Salt Lake City announced as the second expansion team for 2005, coming out of nowhere. Wagman summarizes the situation and says Checketts and the city were in the right place at the right time. Seattle was also being considered seriously and reports were that it was down to the those two when the decision was made.

8/2/2004 - Surprising no one, Chivas USA announces it will play in Los Angeles. This had been uncertain for a while though, as Chicago, Houston, and San Diego were also candidates. Apparently MLS wasn't too keen on the idea of two teams in the same market at first.


4/14/2005 - Agreement reached with San Antonio for 2006 expansion team, provided goals are met.

6/9/2005 - After the mayoral election where an anti-MLS candidate was elected, San Antonio talks end. Since they were going to play in the Alamodome, it's probably a very good thing this didn't happen.

11/14/2005 - Toronto announced as expansion team, which was made official when the stadium vote passed. The U-20 championship awarded to Canada meant that they had to build a soccer stadium, so the MLS expansion was built on the back of those plans.

12/15/2005 - San Jose moves to Houston (after years of rumors), although promises are made to get a team back to the area in a few years. Few people believed it at the time.


3/20/2006 - Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. announces plans to work with MLS to build a stadium, which would give the Philadelphia area a team. Didn't work out and MLS would look to Chester, PA instead.

8/1/2006 - KC Wizards are sold to Ongoal, which ends long-running speculation that the team could be moved.

10/6/2006 - Garber: "I will tell everyone that the interest in MLS expansion is at an all-time high. This is very different from even just a few years ago when we had to solicit potential expansion markets and owners. MLS President Mark Abbott leads our expansion efforts and discussions.

Our current goal is to have 16 teams by the end of the decade. We’ll then take a step back and put together another 5-to-10-year plan. We realize we need to add more teams to raise the profile of Major League Soccer, but it has to be done in a smart and strategic manner."

Candidates mentioned:

Las Vegas
San Diego
San Jose
Saint Louis


7/17/2007 - Garber: "There's more interest in MLS expansion than at any other time in the history of the sport in the country. Without prioritizing any one market, here is a rundown of the cities: Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego, San Antonio, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Rochester, New York City, Atlanta, Miami and Las Vegas. "

7/18/2007 - It's announced that the San Jose Earthquakes will return to MLS for the 2008 season.

11/13/2007 - Seattle announced as the league's newest expansion team in 2009.

11/16/2007 - News from the state of the league address:

"Garber went on to give a breakdown of the markets that could serve as expansion sites in the future, with the league in talks with potential owners in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia, Montreal, New York, Portland, Ore., St. Louis, Mo. and Vancouver."

"Although he identified Delaware County, near Philadelphia, and St. Louis as the two bids closest to being ready, he warned both they would need to have financial packages and ownership groups set by January 15, 2008 if they are to join.

The plans is to have 16 teams in 2009," Garber said. "If we are unable to confirm a 16th team by the end of the year, I would think by January 31st, we will likely make the decision to play with 15 teams in 2009."


1/31/2008 - Philly's chances of getting a team become almost a certainty.

"A major hurdle has been cleared in an effort to attract the 16th Major League Soccer club to the Philadelphia suburb of Chester. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced plans on Thursday for $47 million in state funding to assist in the construction of an expected 18,500-seat stadium on Chester's waterfront."

2/28/2008 - Philadelphia is officially awarded an expansion franchise. They were always huge favorites over Saint Louis, so it was never a surprise. Also:

"Expansion conversations continue with approximately 10 markets throughout the United States and Canada. MLS officials will continue those discussions as the League could feature as many as 18 clubs by 2011."

7/24/2008 - State of the league address. MLS announcers that two teams will be added in 2011, and 9 candidates listed for two spots.

Las Vegas
New York
St. Louis

"Garber dismissed concerns that the MLS owners would be more apt to favor U.S. expansion teams than Canadian ones."

MLS also announced a bid process, with applications taken until October 15th.

10/15/2008 - 7 cities end up submitting bids: Atlanta, Miami, Montreal, Ottawa, Portland, St. Louis and Vancouver. At this point, Montreal and Saint Louis were probably considered the favorites, with Atlanta and Ottawa as no-hopers who surprised fans by even being included. Here's what Ives had to say at the time.

11/21/2008 - Montreal is out of the race due to money problems. MLS claims they dropped out, while Joey Saputo said that they never withdrew their bid. And the ironic thing is, that $40 million expansion fee did turn out to be negotiable in the end.


1/15/2009 - Atlanta drops out, leaving five candidates for two spots. Given some of the statements made by Arthur Blank, it's unclear why they ever even submitted a bid.

By this time, Miami has risen dramatically due to Barcelona's involvement and is seen as the most likely of the five to get a team.

3/3/2009 - And just like that, Miami drops out. The economy left Barcelona unwilling to support a team. So only four bids for two teams remained. In the aftermath of this, it becomes clear that Vancouver is the most likely to receive a team. In the meantime, Ottawa and Portland both are counting on getting funding deals passed. St. Louis already had a deal in place, but lacked investors.

3/11/2009 - Portland gets their stadium deal, albeit with a $15 million funding gap. It becomes apparent that they will be getting a team along with Vancouver.

3/18/2009 - Vancouver is officially announced as the league's 17th team.

3/20/2009 - Portland is officially announced as the league's 18th team.

4/10/2009 - In what is widely viewed as an idle threat to get a stadium deal passed, Garber mentions the possibility of DC United relocating if nothing gets done.

4/23/2009 - Garber: "I don’tthink we’re near the realm of over-expansion. When is enough? Probably 20 teams in four to six to eight to 10 years.”

"...19 and 20 may not come until 2018, the commissioner said."

5/8/2009 - Montreal seems to be clearly back in the picture, as Garber states: "I believe Montreal is a very viable M.L.S. market and I plan to keep in regular contact with the Saputos as we continue to develop our future expansion plans.”

6/25/2009 - Saputo announces his intentions for a Montreal team: "I'm trying to push for 2011," Saputo said. "I feel very, very comfortable that we'll be ready. We've spoken about that with the [MLS] commissioner [Don Garber], and he understands that."

However, Garber previously said that further expansion would not take place until 2012.


5/7/2010 - Montreal officially announced as the 20th team, to begin play in 2012.

August - Garber states that 20 teams is not the limit for the league, and he expects further expansion.

Also mentioned were other possibilities other than the second NY frontrunner:

"Garber said the league’s immediate priority is to add a 20th team, which he hopes will be in New York. The league remains in discussions with the Wilpons, owners of the Mets, about bringing a team to Queens. If the effort to place a team there fails, it will explore expansion in other markets such as Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego, Miami or Ottawa."

11/16/2010 - "Garber said despite the push for a second New York franchise, the league continues to have discussions about Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and San Diego." (also mentioned was Atlanta)


Comments on "History of MLS Expansion and Franchises"


Blogger GS-1 said ... (7:32 AM, November 19, 2007) : 

Nice work! Thanks for doing this.


Blogger SoccerPrime said ... (8:30 AM, November 19, 2007) : 

Great job Scary.

Just one comment, why do ppl continue to say Chester or Delaware County where referring to Philly MLS but never mention Collinsville, IL when talking of St Louis bid?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:39 PM, November 19, 2007) : 

More great work from one of the top 3 soccer blogs in the country.

It was fun, those few months when it looked like the San Antonio mayor was going to drag an MLS team in one way or another. Damn term limits.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:49 PM, November 19, 2007) : 

Great work. With so much talk about expansion, when is the league going to start talking about creating a single-table competition format, instead of the East/West format. A single table would not change the playoff format, it would just be the top 8 teams.

Just a thought.


Blogger scaryice said ... (1:10 AM, November 20, 2007) : 

Yeah, I should include the possible franchise moves as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:26 AM, November 20, 2007) : 

I noticed some ?? regarding the Logan letter from 1997. From the Seattle Pitch archives (, here is what went down in Seattle in 1997:

1997 Feb 28: Paul Allen's Football Northwest proposed building the new stadium (now called Qwest Field) for MLS soccer and pointy football. "Allen might consider acquiring an MLS franchise if a new Seahawks stadium is built." (

1997 Apr 7: The Sounders urge voters to support the stadium initiative. "... this new facility would allow Seattle the opportunity of attracting a Major League Soccer franchise. The Sounders, who this year announced an extensive player and marketing association with MLS, are in ongoing discussions with various partners regarding locating an MLS franchise in Seattle...We ask that fans show support by contacting their legislative leaders and by voting for the new stadium." (

1997 May 5: From a Seattle Times article: "Major League Soccer, the national league that established in 10 cities last year and is looking to expand, says it will 'strongly consider' Seattle for an expansion franchise." (

1997 Dec 16: The famous Logan letter promises that, "... with the passage of the initiative, Major League Soccer will be in Seattle beginning with the 2002 or 2003 season." (


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:41 PM, September 12, 2008) : 

Oh this is brilliant! did you hear? Major League Soccer has granted an expansion franchise to Seattle that will begin playing at Qwest Field in 2009 and will be owned in part by Paul Allen, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder.

"I can confirm that commissioner Don Garber is going to travel to Seattle for an announcement Tuesday of the expansion of Major League Soccer for the future into the Seattle market," Dan Courtemanche, MLS senior vice president for marketing and communications, said Friday by phone from league headquarters in New York.

Gary Wright, a spokesman for First and Goal, Inc., the subsidiary that operates Qwest Field for Allen's Vulcan, Inc., said Allen will be one of the team's owners. Allen already owns the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL, who play at Qwest Field, and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.

Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders of the United Soccer Leagues, confirmed Friday night that he and Joe Roth, a Hollywood mogul, will be the other owners of the new team.

"[It's] been a lot of hard work, but something the city deserves,"


Blogger Unknown said ... (3:50 PM, May 28, 2010) : 

needs an update with montreal joining in 2012 with garber actually mentioning other candidates for #20 (NYC, Detroit, Ottawa, Miami, Atlanta and St. Louis)


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:48 AM, August 14, 2010) : 

What happened to Pittsburgh? Weird to think they were one of 22 cities to originally submit a bid, then just dropped out. Is there any chance of them getting a team?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (6:36 PM, December 02, 2010) : 

Pittsburgh Sprit Come on we need team ion pittsburgh we dont need pirates.....PITTSBURGH rebid


Anonymous price per head services said ... (4:04 PM, January 26, 2013) : 

thanks, you did a great job with this post. Also I bet that you have to work a lot to check all those article to make a great post like this. I didn't expect that MLS has that kind of story.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:54 AM, August 03, 2013) : 

Tulsa. Very successful in the old NASL. It would be the only major team in the market. OKC is not a good choice. The MLS team would be at least the third team in the market after the NBA Thunder and the Oklahoma Sooners.


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Blogger Unknown said ... (2:09 AM, November 29, 2018) : 

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