Sacramento Republic have new hope in Major League Soccer expansion bid

Discussions with Major League Soccer deputy commissioner Mark Abbott have left Sacramento Republic owner Kevin Nagle more optimistic about the club's chances of joining MLS.

Earlier this week, MLS announced that it is engaged in "advanced discussions" with Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire and his partners to become an expansion team.

That appeared to put a crimp in Sacramento's plans. At a news conference held on Tuesday, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said he was "a little disappointed" at losing out to Minneapolis, while also congratulating Miami.

MLS has repeatedly stated that the goal of this current round of expansion would be to have 24 teams by the end of the decade teams. The league added in Monday's statement that, "Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs."

Nagle, in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC, said Abbott reiterated that intention in a phone conversation on Monday.

"Abbot said MLS would immediately start looking at other expansion teams," said Nagle. "He said he could not ignore the fact that our bid and our proposal was highly compelling."

Sacramento appears to check all the boxes when it comes to an expansion candidate. It led the third-tier USL in attendance last year, averaging 11,293 fans, and Nagle says the team has over 9,000 season-ticket holders this season. The team has a deep investor group including Nagle, Sacramento Kings managing partner Vivek Ranadive, and the York family, who own the San Francisco 49ers. It also has identified a location for a stadium near the Sacramento rail yard.

Nagle added, "Abbott said to me, 'We can't ignore that. You guys have done a tremendous job. We understand what you guys have done in relatively short period of time. Obviously you are going to be very much in the discussion.'"

Nagle said that he views Sacramento as being behind both Minnesota and Miami in the expansion race. But at Tuesday's news conference, Nagle introduced what he is calling Operation Turnkey, whereby the team will move forward as if it is going to be an MLS team. That includes continuing to build the club's infrastructure, continuing to move on the stadium, and engaging the city council in terms of what financial support can be provided.

"If by chance either Minneapolis or Miami drops or fails or can't make it, we're going to be ready to step right in," said Nagle. "Our ownership will be ready, our fan base is already ready, and as for a stadium we're already in motion on it."

With Beckham's group struggling to find a suitable stadium location in Miami, Sacramento may well get its shot, though it's unclear just how much time MLS is willing to give Beckham's group to solve that problem.

A league source also said that MLS is giving Minnesota United a deadline in the June-July time frame to get its stadium proposal together. (A Minnesota United spokesman declined to comment on anything related to the team's stadium project.)

"We already have a location identified," said Nagle. "We're waiting to hear from MLS, and as soon as that happens, we'll pull the trigger and transact the financial parts and start to move."