Cincinnati, Nashville make moves in busy week for MLS expansion

The MLS expansion picture gained some clarity this week, with signs of forward movement in Cincinnati, Nashville and Miami, while Austin began to explore the viability of a relocated Columbus Crew.

Potential ownership groups in twelve locations are vying for four MLS expansion slots, with the first two expected to be chosen sometime around the MLS Cup final in December.

MLS has made it clear that the construction of a soccer-specific stadium is critical to any bid, and Jeff Berding, the president of popular USL club FC Cincinnati, said on Thursday that he expects to announce a $250 million financing deal.

"Some time next week we'll announce publicly the financing plan," Berding said. "That will start a process where legislative hearings are held, public input is gathered, and ultimately there will be votes by Nov. 30; in time for the MLS decision-making process."

The club is focusing on the Oakley neighborhood over earlier plans in the city's west end and one across the river in Newport, Kentucky. An announcement could reportedly come next Thursday.

One potential obstacle is the Hamilton County Commission, which continues to encourage the bid to either continue playing at the University of CIncinnati's Nippert Stadium, or use the NFL's Paul Brown Stadium.

Berding rejected the possibility of sharing a stadium with the Bengals, saying: "There is no opportunity to secure an MLS bid at Paul Brown Stadium. There's no opportunity for us to operate an MLS team at Paul Brown Stadium."

However, commissioner Chris Monzel told WLWT that refusal could be a problem.

"FC saying it's not possible, well, that's going to make it difficult then," he said. "Just go up north to Detroit where they're bidding for an MLS expansion. They're trying to put Ford Field into play where the Detroit Lions play."

In its lukewarm esponse to Detroit's plan last week, MLS warned that it "continues to prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criteria for the selection of MLS expansion markets."

Cincinnati's push comes as nearby Columbus is in danger of seeing Crew SC move to Austin, Texas. Owner Anthony Precourt has said he would simultaneously explore his options for a new stadium in Austin and Columbus.

And Austin's city council took a first step on Thursday by approving a resolution for the city manager to explore potential local sites the team could use.

A week earlier, the Columbus city council approved a resolution vowing to "do everything reasonably possible to make sure that the Columbus Crew stays."

On Tuesday, Nashville made the biggest push yet in securing an expansion team when the city's Metro Council overwhelmingly approved a $275 million stadium project.

That puts the Tennessee city firmly among the front-runners to land one of the first expansion slots, along with Sacramento, California, which has already begun pre-construction on a $226 million privately financed downtown stadium.

Meanwhile, MLS provided an update on David Beckham's plans for a Miami franchise, telling the BBC on Friday: "We expect to make an official announcement to launch a new Miami expansion club in the coming months."

In August, commissioner Don Garber had said he expected to confirm Miami "perhaps by the end of the summer." The MLS Board of Governors has already voted to authorize Garber to "finalize the details" on the team.

The Miami group, which has been in the works since 2013, is separate from the 12-city race for other new teams. Los Angeles FC will be the league's 23rd team when it joins MLS next season, with Miami expected to be the 24th.

Besides front-runners Cincinnati, Nashville, Sacramento and Detroit, the other locations still hoping to becomes teams No. 25-28 are: San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio, St. Louis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, and Indianapolis.