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Source: St. Louis Will Be Awarded an MLS Expansion Franchise

St. Louis surged to the front of the MLS expansion pack and is poised to have a team debut in 2022.

St. Louis will be awarded an MLS expansion franchise next week and will follow Miami, Nashville and Austin into the league as team No. 28 in 2022, a source with knowledge of the plans confirmed to Wednesday evening. An announcement is planned for Aug. 20 in St. Louis. The news was reported first by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis emerged recently as the favorite for the next round of expansion behind a bid led by Carolyn Kindle Betz, a member of the Taylor family that owns and controls the Enterprise rental car conglomerate. Kindle Betz, members of her family, and St. Louis FC owner Jim Kavanaugh emerged from the ashes of a bid fronted by Paul Edgerley, a private equity investor based in Boston. Edgerley's plan to build a downtown stadium using $60 million in public funding failed at the ballot box in 2017.

MLS retained its interest in St. Louis, however, and Kindle Betz and her partners stepped in (Kavanaugh was part of both bids). They intend to build on the same site next to the city’s Union Station, but they’ll fund the stadium privately. The land was/is due to be transferred by Missouri’s state department of transportation to the city. That was one of a couple small loose ends the group still needed to tighten up when they met with the league’s board of governors at the recent MLS All-Star Game in Orlando, but confidence was high on both sides as that meeting adjourned.

One club owner told that the deal was essentially done, while Kindle Betz said, “We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t confident that we could win this. … I think [MLS] just wants a little bit more proof, which is exactly what we’ve been focused on this entire time.” MLS commissioner Don Garber all but confirmed St. Louis was the best-positioned candidate when he said, “We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis.”

A source said there aren’t any snags expected regarding the property, which is about two miles west of the Gateway Arch. The intention is for the unnamed expansion team to begin play in its new stadium in 2022. There are no alternative or temporary venues envisioned. The future of St. Louis FC, which plays in the USL Championship, is unclear.

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St. Louis, long considered one of the spiritual homes of American soccer, hasn’t had a top-tier professional men’s team since the NASL’s St. Louis Stars left town after the 1977 season.

MLS announced in April that it intended to expand to 30 teams and that St. Louis and Sacramento were leading the race for Nos. 28 and 29. Those spots would come with a $200 million expansion fee. The fee, the schedule, and the candidates for No. 30 remained undefined.

The dynamic has shifted since, however, as Charlotte Panthers owner David Tepper has lobbied heavily for a team that would play at Bank of America Stadium. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Sacramento Republic owner Ron Burkle, who replaced Kevin Nagle as the successful USL club’s lead MLS investor, is ready to agree to that $200 million fee and all the associated commitments associated with expansion.

“These are lifetime decisions for a board to make and for an investor to make,” Garber said in Orlando. “There’s a process that we go through that is really really time consuming. These are massive commitments at this point. When you get involved in an MLS team now with the [$200 million] expansion fee and the stadium, it’s a minimum of $500 million dollars. And finalizing those deals take time."

Garber added that Sacramento, if approved, also was eyeing a 2022 start. He said conversations with Burkle “are positive and they will continue.”

Later Wednesday, Republic released the following statement: "We are in daily discussions with Major League Soccer as we finalize the agreement to bring an expansion club to Sacramento. We are deeply appreciative of the ongoing efforts of Commissioner Garber, his MLS colleagues and owners, the Republic FC investor group, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg, as we work in unison to get the deal done for our city and our incredibly patient fan base."