Major League Soccer hopes to push forward with plans to bring a new club to St. Louis as early as 2020, commissioner Don Garber says.
With MLS looking to grow to 28 teams in the near future, Garber met with the chairman of the St. Louis Sports Commission, Dave Peacock, in New York on Thursday to discuss possible expansion to the Missouri city.
Garber, who has also spoken recently with Gov. Jay Nixon and Mayor Francis Slay, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the city has "a unique moment in time where we can really, finally see if St. Louis is MLS-ready."
Last month, the NFL's St. Louis Rams announced they were leaving the city to move to Los Angeles, leaving a sports vacuum that MLS hopes to fill, as long as the city can fulfill three key factors, according to Garber: fan support, local ownership and a stadium.
"We are very excited about the possibilities in St. Louis. We believe it's MLS-ready," Garber told the Post-Dispatch. "We've got a lot of work to do as it relates to determining a stadium solution, and figuring out who ultimately can be the owner of the team. But, overall, we're very focused on St. Louis as a potential expansion market."
The Rams departed in large part because they could not get the funding they desired to build a new stadium, and an MLS stadium would also need some public assistance, said Garber, who sees the downtown riverfront near the city's famous Gateway Arch as an ideal location.
"I'm very intrigued about being adjacent to one of America's great national treasures and being a part of what we've heard is a major revitalization of the riverfront," he said. "That would give our club the opportunity to be a really deeply connected, important part of the community.
"We want our club to be the center of gravity."
According to Garber, multiple potential owners have reached out to the league about bringing a team to St. Louis since the Rams' departure.
St. Louis also recently proved a potential fan base exists in the city by selling over 43,000 tickets for a United States World Cup qualifier at the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium in November.
"Nobody argues that St. Louis is not a great soccer market," Garber said, who also cited attractive rivalries with the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City.
MLS, currently at 20 teams, hopes to reach 24 by 2018 with the additions of Atlanta United in 2017, Minnesota United and LAFC in 2018, as well as David Beckham's Miami franchise.
To get to the stated plan of 28, Garber said that Sacramento, San Diego, San Antonio and Detroit are all under consideration along with St. Louis.