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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).

MLS extends commissioner Garber's contract through 2023

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announces in January that Austin, Texas, will be an expansion franchise for the 2021 season. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Everything's great until it isn't.

As a previously suggested and apparently quite fluid deadline came and went, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber downplayed the significance of a delay in announcing St. Louis as one of the league’s expansion cities.

Garber still can’t (or won’t) say if and when St. Louis will get a team, but he sure has plenty of nice things to say about the ownership group from St. Louis.

Garber told reporters covering this week’s MLS All-Star game in Orlando that the league is “in very advanced discussions” that occur “almost on a daily basis” with the St. Louis ownership group, which presented to the league’s expansion committee in mid-July and sent leaders Carolyn Kindle Betz, Jim Kavanaugh and Andy Taylor to meet with league officials during a board of governors meeting at the All-Star game.

That meeting Wednesday marked another step toward landing a team, as the St. Louis ownership group presented to the entire board of MLS owners, a much larger group than the expansion committee. That's significant. No other ownership group in Orlando did that. Yes, there were other groups in Orlando. A bunch.​

Representatives from eight potential MLS expansion cities attended the event, a 3-0 defeat of the MLS All-Stars by Atletico Madrid. A report from Sports Illustrated citing Garber and anonymous sources said St. Louis is now ahead of Sacramento and all other expansion hopefuls in terms of being officially announced as an expansion team recipient. Sounds optimistic. That meshes with the guarded enthusiasm ownership group members have had for some time now.

“We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis, and we really appreciated the details that they provided,” Garber told Sports Illustrated. “We look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.”

“When we say advanced, we are running fast,” Garber added in an interview with Fox Sports. “We just want to get it right. That’s important.”

"Their project is amazing," Garber gushed to Fox. "It’s a massive downtown stadium project. The Taylor family really is St. Louis."

Pause here.

Whether Garber’s word means much is still to be determined.

The commissioner once said he hoped the league would have its decision made regarding teams No. 28 and No. 29 by Wednesday’s All-Star game. That didn’t happen.

Garber also revealed a different stance on St. Louis and Sacramento being blocked off from outside competition. After telling the Post-Dispatch in April that the league had entered “exclusive, formal discussions” with St. Louis and Sacramento for expansion spots No. 28 and No. 29 as the league widened its expansion plans to 30 teams, Garber now says no such restriction exists.

“We are in advanced talks with both of them,” Garber said to Sports Illustrated about St. Louis and Sacramento. “They are not exclusive talks. Exclusive means we’re not talking to anybody else. It doesn’t mean anybody’s leapfrogging anybody else. We are in discussions with Charlotte, but we are also in discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis.”

See how this works?

On expansion, Garber often sounds part politician, part teenager explaining the rules of dating in 2019.

Everything was great for Sacramento, until everything became great for Charlotte.

Everything's still great for St. Louis, right?

Seems like it at the moment. Charlotte is coming on strong. St. Louis is ahead of Sacramento. That should mean more trouble for Sacramento than St. Louis.

Garber is telling St. Louis and Sacramento to refrain from sweating, though it seems like Sacramento should be sweating more than St. Louis. No one should wipe their brow until MLS plants its flag. The sooner, the better.

“It just means that the investment stake required to come into MLS, that process of finalizing deals is getting more and more complicated,” Garber told ESPN. "In both of those cases (St. Louis and Sacramento), you're looking at between $550 million and $650 million in investment. When you're making an investment like that, they take a while to close. That's the process that we're going through now, and it's not remotely alarming to me or anybody else."

The St. Louis ownership group, unlike the Sacramento ownership group, returned home with good vibes intact.

Onward to the launch of a team in 2022.

Everything's great.

For now.


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