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Garber Provides Bullish Update on Las Vegas's MLS Expansion Push

Vegas is confirmed to lead the race to land MLS's 30th team, with the MLS commissioner clarifying more about the process and timing of expansion.

The odds appear to be stacked heavily in Las Vegas’s favor once again, and the 30th spot in MLS now seems to be Sin City’s to lose. League commissioner Don Garber lauded Vegas's recent rise as a pro sports market during a Tuesday press conference and said MLS is “making progress” with prospective owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. An announcement could come within the next 10 months, Garber added.

“We’re excited about the market, as are all the other leagues here in North America,” Garber said. “Wes is a guy that we all have long standing relationships with, by the way. He has looked at other MLS clubs over the years. We’ll continue those discussions and continue to try to get something done with our 30th team.”

Edens and Sawiris, an Egyptian multibillionaire, co-own Aston Villa. Edens also is a co-owner of the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. In August, the pair filed a trademark application for the name Las Vegas Villains, an homage to the iconic English club, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

MLS will be at 28 members with Charlotte FC’s entry next season, and it then will climb to 29 when St. Louis City comes aboard in 2023. Garber confirmed Tuesday that a 30th club won’t be ready to take the field by ’23. That means the first edition of the enlarged Leagues Cup, the MLS-Liga MX joint venture, will kick off with just 47 participants. MLS had envisioned an 80-game event comprising 16 groups of three followed by a 32-team knockout, but modifications will be required in the short term.

“We have not determined when that 30th team would start playing,” said Garber, who was speaking ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final between the host Portland Timbers and New York City FC.

While the “when” is uncertain, there’s a bit more clarity about the “where.” San Diego and Phoenix were mentioned once again Tuesday as potential MLS markets (Sacramento’s hopes may have disappeared when investor Ron Burkle pulled out in February), but Vegas has its potential owners in place and apparently has made progress on the stadium front as well.

Las Vegas's Allegiant Stadium

“We hope to be able to have some great news as it relates to our facility plans in Las Vegas,” Garber revealed, adding that it could be “a soccer stadium that looks like a mini version of the Allegiant [Stadium]. … I can’t really comment on what our stadium plans are at this point because they’re still fluid. But hopefully some time in the next couple months we’ll have more to talk about.”

An October report in the Review-Journal suggested that a 110-acre site located a couple miles south of the Strip is the target.

Las Vegas anchors the country’s 29th most populous metro area but it’s just the 40th largest media market, well behind Phoenix (11th), Sacramento (20th) and San Diego (27th). Nevertheless, its reputation as a pro sports city has surged thanks to the successful 2017 launch of the NHL’s Golden Knights, the construction of Allegiant and then the arrival of the NFL’s Raiders last year. The WNBA’s Aces, USL Championship’s Lights and the AAA affiliate of the Oakland A’s, the Aviators, also call the city home. The A’s have been exploring moving from Oakland to Vegas.

“I am just blown away by what’s going on in Las Vegas, and I’ve been in the sports business for a really long time. I didn’t see it coming,” Garber said, adding that the late Lamar Hunt, an MLS founder, was speaking about the league to former mayor Oscar Goodman, the husband of current mayor Carolyn Goodman, back in the mid-1990s.

“We had a number of different goes at looking at Vegas for 5-8 years. This is the approach that we feel the most confident in,” Garber said. “We’re very bullish about the market and we’ll continue to plow forward.”

The commissioner reiterated Tuesday that the league has no plans in place to expand beyond 30 teams. But that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, he added. New investors and new stadium commitments will always be persuasive.

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“Life’s a long time. I don’t know what professional soccer is going to look like 10 years from now or 20 years from now,” he said. “In professional soccer, with all the things that are going on, I’m not quite sure that 30 teams is the ultimate end goal for Major League Soccer. Now that being said, nobody should take away that we have any plans to go to [32] teams. But I think, as our country and Canada continues to evolve and develop—this could happen many, many years in the future—there’s no reason to think that there wouldn’t be more teams that potentially could be part of Major League Soccer in the years, years, years ahead.”

MLS commissioner Don Garber

In other MLS news…

— Garber said the league expects to announce its new package of media rights deals, which will take effect in 2023, during the first quarter of ’22.

— Real Salt Lake, which enjoyed a surprising run to last weekend’s Western Conference final, is still without an owner. The club has been run by former RSL and Utah Jazz executive John Kimball on the league’s behalf since last fall. Garber acknowledged Tuesday that time was running out to meet the goal of selling the team before 2022.

“We continue to be engaged with, in discussions with, potential owners,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get something closed. We had a timetable to get that done by the end of the year. We’ll see if that’s still achievable. It’s only a couple weeks away. If not, I’m hopeful we’ll get something done soon.

“There are multiple folks interested in RSL,” Garber claimed. “It’s a complicated situation for all the reasons that everybody knows. But there’s no question that the level of interest in investing in Major League Soccer is at an all time high.”

— Add Garber to the list of soccer executives who oppose FIFA’s interest in staging a World Cup every two years. Following the World Leagues Forum’s statement last week asking FIFA to “unequivocally abandon” the proposal, Garber, who’s the organization’s vice chairman, said a biennial World Cup, “dilutes what I think is the best sports event in the world.”

He added, “The impact that it has on our players, on our clubs, on our leagues, is something that we think would not be worth what it would take to, in some people’s view, grow the popularity of the sport. … I see the merit in what FIFA is trying to do, which is ultimately to generate a lot of revenue and distribute that revenue to those countries that are developing. I think there are many others ways to achieve that without having to go at it with a World Cup every two years.”

— New England Revolution captain Carles Gil won the Landon Donovan MVP award by a wide margin in voting by fellow players, club executives and media. The 29-year-old Valencia product easily outpolled Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar thanks to a four-goal, 18-assist campaign that powered the Revs to the Supporters’ Shield and MLS’s single-season points record. Gil, the second straight Spanish playmaker to win MVP (Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo claimed it last year), already had earned the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year award and a spot in the Best XI.

— The league unveiled a revised diversity hiring policy that requires teams to include at least two non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black, in the pool of finalists for any open sporting position. All finalists must receive "an equal interview process and comparable interview experience," according to the league. The reporting of job openings and finalists will be standardized, and fines will start at $50,000 for the first offense, rise to $100,000 for the second offense and surpass $100,000 thereafter.

MLS said it "intends to focus next on creating a policy that applies to front-office positions at the league office and member clubs."

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