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Las Vegas fight for MLS should escalate in 2020

It’s unclear if Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman’s long-held soccer dreams will come true in 2020. But she’ll likely get at least get one step closer.

Goodman has pursued a Major League Soccer franchise since 2015. She’s attempted to do everything MLS has asked of her to secure a team. She appears on the right path. Whether she gets to the finish line is up to the league, and her local competition: Golden Knights owner Bill Foley.

“We’re terribly excited and hopeful we’ll get one of these expansion franchise spots,” Goodman said.

MLS may have reached its stated goal of 30 teams on Dec. 17 by awarding an expansion team to Charlotte, but big-league soccer dreams aren’t dead in Las Vegas. Turning them into a reality requires two things: A stadium and MLS approval.

Goodman is working on the former, as the city is in extended negotiations with The Renaissance Companies Inc. about a soccer stadium near Cashman Field. Their deadline is February 5, though the two sides had talked for 17 months prior to entering formal negotiations in June. There’s optimism a deal will get done.

Goodman said the final conversations concern how the project will be funded. If the two sides can find common ground there, their attention shifts to courting MLS.

The deal requires The Renaissance Companies Inc. to submit an application to MLS within 30 days of the effective date of a deal.

“We are navigating the application process and look forward to unveiling a plan that will not only showcase Las Vegas as a dynamic market suitable for MLS, but will also outline the redevelopment of the Cashman District into a true live-work-play area that will economically benefit all parties,” Rensaissance chairman Floyd Kephart said in a statement.

Said bid, however, will need to trump any proposal by Foley and convince MLS it needs to keep expanding.

Scant details are available about Foley’s plan for a team, though the Knights said in a statement: “We continue to have discussions with league representatives on the possibility of bringing an MLS expansion franchise to Las Vegas and remain interested in the opportunity.”

A Foley-owned franchise could play at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders, or elsewhere. MLS prefers expansion proposals with soccer-specific stadiums, “all things being equal,” commissioner Don Garber said in July.

Goodman believes her stadium plan, which features a location “in the heart of the city,” she says, will win out. She also believes Las Vegas isn’t out of the mix just because the league has 30 teams.

Garber called Charlotte MLS’ last expansion team “in its modern era” Dec. 17 but he’s dropped hints previously that the league could keep growing. He said when announcing the league’s 29th franchise in Sacramento on Oct. 21 that “We are focused on 30 clubs, and have not discussed expanding beyond 30 teams. That said, I think there will be a time when MLS is larger than 30 teams, but I do not see that happening any time soon.”

If and when the time comes for MLS to expand again, Goodman thinks Las Vegas will have a strong case. The city already has the Lights FC, who play in the United Soccer League Championship a step below MLS. The Lights have ranked sixth and fifth, respectively, in average attendance their first two seasons. In addition, the Leagues Cup final — a tournament between MLS and Liga MX teams — drew an announced crowd of 20,132 at Sam Boyd Stadium in September.

Las Vegas’ interest in soccer is real. That’s why it should play a key role in the city’s sport scene next year as multiple parties try to bring it up a level.

“Soccer in Las Vegas, under any scenario, is going to continue to grow in 2020,” Lights owner Brett Lashbrook said. “I don’t see any scenario where soccer becomes less popular in Las Vegas in 2020.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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