MLS expansion to Las Vegas would be interesting - Don Garber

LOS ANGELES -- Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said the league is "really intrigued" by Las Vegas as a possible expansion market, and will continue to focus on the city as it looks to determine MLS's 30th team.

Garber spoke to ESPN at the MLS Works Community Day at Charles R. Drew Middle School in which a new mini-pitch was unveiled, one of over 600 that have now been built around the country. The project was constructed with the help of U.S. Soccer Foundation, LAFC, as well as community and educational leaders, including rapper Stix.

Following the event, Garber told ESPN that MLS has been spending "a lot of time" in Las Vegas.

- Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
- MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

"That market, it continues to explode from a population growth perspective," he said. "We've seen the success of certainly the [NHL's Vegas Golden] Knights and big events. We tested a couple of events with the Gold Cup final. The Leagues Cup final will be there. The Gold Cup final sold out in minutes. Las Vegas is an interesting market. We do want to secure our 30th team so that we can have a fully expanded league by the World Cup in 2026, so we'll continue to focus on that market."

A recent report from Sportico stated that Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens is among those trying to bring an MLS expansion team to Las Vegas. Edens, along with his Aston Villa co-owner Nassef Sawiris, recently filed a trademark application for the name Las Vegas Villains. Garber declined to label Edens as being the leading candidate to bring an expansion team to Las Vegas. Both Knights owner Bill Foley and a group led by the Renaissance Cos. have expressed interest there as well. But Garber made no secret of his admiration for Edens.

"I wouldn't say there's any [leading candidate] at this point," Garber said about the competing bids in Vegas. "Wes Eden's is one of the most respected investors and operators, and clearly a really, really successful sports team owner. I happen to like him a lot personally. We've been intrigued by what a possibility could be with him, but it's way too premature to talk about it anymore than that."

Las Vegas has emerged as a leading MLS expansion candidate after Ron Burkle declined to move forward with proposal to bring an expansion team to Sacramento. The city of Sacramento and the owners of USL Championship side Sacramento Republic continue to try and recruit a primary investor, but when asked if any candidates had emerged, Garber said, "Not at this time."

Garber added, "Sacramento isn't as active as it was over the last couple of years, but I still think Sacramento will be a good MLS market."

Reached by telephone, Sacramento Republic president and GM Todd Dunivant said, "We continue to search for a lead investor, we continue to be active. We continue to believe Sacramento is a great market for MLS."

Garber also mentioned that San Diego remains an expansion candidate. A stadium referendum with MLS expansion in mind was defeated back in 2018 in favor of a competing project backed by San Diego State. MLS held discussions with the university earlier this year about having an expansion team play 35,000-seat Aztec, set to open in September of 2022.

"San Diego continues to be a market of importance to us," said Garber. "We lost the key vote, which was unfortunate, but that doesn't take away my belief in the market."