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5 things to know as Las Vegas pursues MLS expansion team

Updated June 17, 2019 - 12:32 pm

The fight for Major League Soccer’s 30th franchise has commenced in Las Vegas.

The city began an 180-day window for talks with The Renaissance Companies Inc. on June 5 about a proposal to build a new stadium downtown in the hopes of luring an expansion franchise. Meanwhile, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley is trying to secure a MLS team of his own that could play in Las Vegas Stadium — the future home of the Raiders — or elsewhere.

What happens next? Which plan has the better chance to succeed?

Some quick answers to key questions:

When could Las Vegas get a team?

A stadium plan needs to come together first.

The city still needs to come to an agreement with The Renaissance Companies Inc. on how to move forward with their downtown redevelopment plan and many questions — like how much public money will be involved? — remain unanswered.

Likewise, Foley needs to decide whether he will pursue a proposal that will involve being a tenant in Las Vegas Stadium or look elsewhere. He said he’s seen “five sites in and around the tourist district” where he could build a soccer-specific stadium.

If and when either plan gets ironed out, there’s no telling when MLS might approve an expansion franchise. The league’s last nine expansion franchises were announced in seven different months — January (twice), March, April, May (twice), October, November and December.

It also remains to be seen what the league thinks of either local plan, especially as it relates to competing expansion efforts in cities like Phoenix, Charlotte and Detroit.

“Major League Soccer appreciates the recent interest in securing a future MLS expansion club for Las Vegas,” MLS said in a statement June 6. “We look forward to speaking with interested ownership groups, Mayor (Carolyn) Goodman and Las Vegas business leaders in the coming months to further understand the potential for Las Vegas as home for an MLS expansion team in the future.”

Which Las Vegas plan is more likely to entice MLS?

Impossible to say as each have a lot of blanks that need filling it.

A plan that involves playing in Las Vegas Stadium isn’t likely to succeed, though.

Of MLS’ last nine expansion teams, only two do not play in a soccer-specific stadium or plan to in the near future. New York City FC, which counts Yankee Global Enterprises as a minority owner, plays in the baseball park Yankee Stadium. Atlanta United FC, which Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank controls, plays in the NFL venue Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The last six MLS expansion teams included a soccer-specific stadium as part of their pitch. St. Louis and Sacramento — the favorites for the 28th and 29th teams in the league — also plan to build soccer-specific venues.

When would they begin play?

The past six MLS expansion franchises had an average of 732 days between the date they joined the league and the date of their first game. The three expansion teams currently in the pipeline — Austin FC, Inter Miami FC and Nashville SC — will all have more than 750.

So, if MLS does award Las Vegas a franchise, expect the team to kick off about two years after an announcement.

How many Lights players would stay with the team?

Hard to say without knowing who’s making decisions on players.

One point of reference: FC Cincinnati, Minnesota United FC and Orlando City SC — the last three expansion teams to be raised from a lower division to MLS — kept eight, seven and 10 players, respectively, on their rosters while jumping up a level.

It’s worth noting that all three teams struggled early. Minnesota (10-18-6) and Orlando (12-14-8) missed the playoffs in their inaugural seasons, and Cincinnati is currently 3-11-2 with the fewest points in MLS in its first year.

Is this their only chance for a team?

Not likely.

MLS keeps expanding, so Las Vegas can still get involved even if it isn’t awarded the league’s 30th team.

“I don’t know that we have a firm handle yet on what the final number of teams in the league ought to be,” commissioner Don Garber said on April 18. “We have a lot of work to do to determine what the future state of Major League Soccer is in 10 years and in 20 years. We continue to believe that there are many, many cities across the country that can support an MLS team with a great stadium with a great fan base and with great local ownership that will invest in building the sport in their community.”

Ben Gotz can be reached at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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