MLS commissioner Don Garber, left, and new MLS Atlanta franchise owner Arthur Blank talk during the Nigeria-Mexico friendly in Atlanta last month. (Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)
MLS commissioner Don Garber has spoken at length over the past number of years about wanting the league to re-establish a footprint in the southeastern corner of the United States. With his third expansion-related announcement in five months regarding that portion of the country, he has surely gotten his way.
Garber and MLS awarded an expansion franchise to the city of Atlanta Wednesday evening, opening the lid on the worst-kept secret in the league. Atlanta's team is MLS' 22nd franchise, and it will begin play in 2017 at a downtown stadium being built for club owner Arthur Blank's other team, NFL's Atlanta Falcons. The 65,000-seat stadium will be limited to 29,322 capacity for MLS games, according to a league press release.
Between Orlando receiving an expansion team last November and David Beckham exercising his ownership option to place a team in Miami -- the city getting a team is still entirely contingent on Beckham and his ownership group cementing plans for a stadium -- the league has made a concerted effort to back to where two previous franchises folded. The Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion both tried and failed within the first six years of the league's operations.
With New York City FC, Orlando City SC (both starting play next season) and now Atlanta on board and Miami in the mix as well, that leaves one more expansion team for MLS to lock down to meet Garber's vision of having 24 teams by 2020 (unless Miami falls by the wayside). SI's Brian Straus reported last week that Minneapolis is currently the frontrunner for that 24th place, though the league has made no definite indication that expansion will cease there.