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MLS expansion: Miami preps for 2020, and could your city soon be getting a team?

ORLANDO, Fla. — The second of MLS’s thrice-annual Board of Governors meetings took place before the annual All-Star game earlier this week, and while rumblings that the league could announce its next expansion city afterward turned out to be wrong, there were still some updates on the progress being made in a number of cities as the circuit continues to hurtle unabated towards 30 clubs.

Here are the big takeaways.

Inter Miami slowly beginning to take shape

Miami and Nashville will take MLS to 26 teams next season, and Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas (three fellow billionaires and David Beckham are the other owners) indicated that his club will hit the ground running the way recent newbies Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC have in recent years.

“Those are the models I followed,” Mas said of defending champs Atlanta and current runaway league leaders LAFC, which arrived in MLS in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Inter Miami will begin play at a $80 million temporary venue in suburban Ft. Lauderdale that will serve as the club’s training and academy base after the first team moves — pending final approval — into Miami Freedom Park in 2022.

“We’ve been taken aback by support we’ve seen,” said Mas, who added that the club has already received 8,000 season ticket deposits, a quarter of them for high-end club seats, and expects to sell out the 18,000 capacity stadium by October.

Jorge Mas (left), shown here with fellow Inter Miami owner David Beckham, gave an update on the MLS expansion club that is set to kick off in 2020. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Up-and-coming Argentine teenagers Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza became the club’s first two players last week, with many more signings — including one or two high-profile ones, like perhaps Barcelona’s Luis Suarez — to come. The coaching search has narrowed to the final two candidates, with an announcement possible by the end of this month.

“We’re going to have a very, very good team,” Mas said. “We want to help elevate the league.”

No deal in St. Louis — yet

Despite reports it would happen, there was no vote at this week’s meeting to approve St. Louis’ bid to become the 28th MLS team (Austin FC enters as No. 27 in 2021).

But there’s still plenty of movement on that front.

“We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “We look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.”

St. Louis’ ownership group made a presentation to the full board for the first time in Orlando, and the sense is that they are close to getting across the line, if not by the time the U.S. men’s national team plays a friendly against Uruguay next month, then maybe at the board’s final get-together of 2019 in December.

Charlotte gaining momentum

America’s 16th-largest city continues to grow, and so do its odds of landing an MLS side thanks to Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper. Tepper’s aggressive pursuit of a franchise seems to have put Charlotte’s bid ahead of a rival in-state effort from Raleigh by Steve Malik, who owns both second-tier North Carolina FC and the NWSL Courage.

“I don’t think we would have two teams in the Carolinas should we be able to go forward in Charlotte, but if we didn’t have Charlotte we might be more interested in Raleigh,” Garber said.

One factor that could impact the success of Tepper’s pitch is his plan to play in an NFL arena. That’s not the dealbreaker it once was thanks to the huge crowds that fill such stadiums for MLS games in Atlanta and Seattle.

“It’s certainly an aspect of his bid that puts it sort of on a different path,” Garber said.

Another snag in Sacramento?

Like St. Louis, Sacramento — which has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to ascend from the USL since 2014 — was hoping to have had an MLS promotion green-lit by now. But despite the addition of billionaire Ron Burkle to the Republic FC ownership group, financing the $500,000 expenditure appears to have hit a delay, even if Garber didn’t characterize it as anything overly concerning.

“There are no hiccups,” he said. “When you are making an investment like that, they take a while to close.”

Indy, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Diego and Vegas remain in the mix

While Charlotte, Sacramento and St. Louis are the clear frontrunners to fill spots 28-30, other markets aren’t giving up hope. Representatives from Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Raleigh and San Diego were all in attendance for Wednesday’s match. Detroit is still a contender, too.

One of those hopefuls could easily jump the queue if there’s a setback among the favorites. Presumably, most are playing the long game. For while the league currently doesn’t have plans to go beyond 30 teams, an even larger MLS seems inevitable given how many different markets remain eager and able to play the expansion fee of $200 million that will only get higher in the years to come.

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