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Stabilized Sacramento maintains a quiet confidence, poised for MLS expansion

It wasn’t too long ago that Sacramento Republic’s transition to MLS seemed inevitable.

It wasn’t too long ago that Sacramento Republic’s transition to MLS seemed inevitable. Don Garber certainly left that impression.

“This is a soccer city, and frankly we don’t see that very often,” the commissioner said when visiting the city last year. “They’ve been able to check the boxes that are required,” he added. He called the corporate support in California’s capital “kind of unprecedented,” and even revealed at one point that MLS hoped to admit Sacramento while Mayor Kevin Johnson was still in office. Johnson left in December.

“We believe and hope and expect that Sacramento will part of that next round of expansion,” Garber also said.

“Not if, but when” may as well be the Republic club motto.

But all that came before 11 other cities lined up to apply—before the multi-billionaires in Detroit, Cincinnati in Nashville declared their intentions, before Landon Donovan and Footy McFooty Face, before eye-catching stadium projects in Phoenix and Tampa Bay, and so on. Then, there was the awkward January presentation of Sacramento’s bid sans Republic branding. The USL team’s subsequent surprise stoked the flames, and the city’s new mayor stepped in to facilitate negotiations between Republic’s current chief owner, Warren Smith, and the man who will take the club to MLS, Kevin Nagle.

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Since then, it’s been pretty quiet. But that's not because Sacramento’s bid has weakened. If anything, it’s a result of the city being ready so soon. They’ve been forced to wait while MLS established its expansion parameters and while other markets worked to catch up. Those cities have had make a case that Sacramento closed a year ago. Naturally, much of the conversation has focused on the newer bids.

But Sacramento’s remains the only “shovel ready” stadium plan among the 12 expansion prospects. The $180 million Railyards facility, which will be part of a development including 6.8 million square feet of office and retail space and 6,000 new housing units, already has been designed. Blueprints are nearly finished. The land is under control, financing has been arranged and all regulatory approvals have been received, including the environmental impact review that arrived last November.

Within the next couple months, work will begin on basic infrastructure at the stadium site—roads, utilities, etc. That would set up the club to begin construction by next spring for a 2020 opening.

That’s money already spent. Nagle has put some $8 million into the bid already. Meanwhile, the health care and pharmaceutical entrepreneur and Smith, who launched Republic in 2014, have reached an agreement on the transfer and are expected to finalize and sign the deal in the next couple weeks. Smith may retain a small stake in the MLS club, but it will be Nagle and his partners who will take charge.

The “delay,” for lack of a better term, hasn’t dented fan support. Republic has sold out both home games at 11,569-seat Bonney Field so far this season, and although FC Cincinnati draws larger crowds, SRFC leads the 30-team USL in ticket, sponsorship and overall revenue. This is Republic’s fourth year in the league.