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St. Louis hailed as 'great soccer city,' but MLS vote on expansion is a ways off

St. Louis hailed as 'great soccer city,' but MLS vote on expansion is a ways off


NEW YORK • Major League Soccer team owners discussed several competing expansion proposals on Thursday and came away with a glowing impression of the St. Louis bid, owners and league officials said.

“You’ve got a great city, a great soccer city,” said Bill McGuire, owner of Minnesota United FC and a member of the league’s expansion committee. “And a great group of owners.”

“It’s a good group,” said Cliff Illig, owner of Sporting Kansas City, which is poised to gain a rival if St. Louis gets picked. “I’m impressed.”

Still, a vote by the owners is a ways off, said owners and league officials who gathered in New York on Thursday for the league’s December meeting. At least a half-dozen cities are competing to win two coveted franchises. League Commissioner Don Garber said recently that picking expansion cities and growing the 26-team league to 28 could take as long as another year.

The league has not publicly described the process yet. Several owners uniformly declined further comment on Thursday.

But details are beginning to come out.

The St. Louis ownership group, made up of World Wide Technology chief executive Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family, presented its plans to league officials in September.

The next step for the group will land it in front of the league expansion committee, which the league is reorganizing now. Jonathan Kraft, president of the National Football League’s New England Patriots and owner of the New England Revolution, has served as chairman. Chicago Fire’s Andrew Hauptman, the Seattle Sounders’ Joe Roth and Philadelphia Union’s Jay Sugarman, plus Illig and McGuire, have recently served with Kraft.

The expansion committee has, in the past, recommended finalists who then present to the full league ownership. It also has picked recent team winners Nashville and Cincinnati.

The St. Louis ownership group did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

But league executives and owners continued on Thursday to call St. Louis’ bid a front-runner.

Kavanaugh briefly played professional soccer and owns the minor-league St. Louis Football Club. The Taylors bring a net worth that has been reported as high as $13.8 billion and a deep commitment to St. Louis. Their plans have recently won support from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and St. Louis aldermen, two entities that dogged last year’s failed bid for a team. And the ownership group has promised to pay out-of-pocket for a $250 million stadium on Market Street downtown.

Still, it’s unclear whether owners think St. Louis gives the league the best chance to succeed.

The league now has 23 teams, with three others — Cincinnati, Nashville and Miami — approved and set to start playing by 2020.

Garber has in recent weeks said publicly that Austin, Texas, has the greenlight to start a team.

That likely leaves at least six other cities — Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Raleigh and San Diego — vying for one last spot, not two.

A league official confirmed on Thursday that Sacramento, Calif., also has an active bid.

Carl Lindner, owner of the new Cincinnati franchise, wouldn’t say on Thursday which city he favors. Still, he had a message for St. Louis:

“St. Louis is one of the great Midwestern cities,” he said.

“Hang in there.”

Soccer in St. Louis has a rich history

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