Cincinnati A Target For MLS Expansion: But Is It A Good Thing?

By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer

Major League Soccer is one of the fastest-growing professional sports leagues in the United States (and Canada). The league began in 1996 with a mere 10 teams. MLS expanded to Canada in 2007 when Toronto FC became the 13th team in the league and the league has added one additional team every year from 2007-2012.

MLS has grown to 22 teams this year. In 2018, we’ll see LAFC, Los Angeles’s second team, kickoff for the first time. 2020 will see two additional clubs begin play, with Nashville, Tennessee recently announced as one of those host cities, and Cincinnati, Ohio a potential for the other. The end goal is to have a league consisting of 28 clubs, with no official timetable for the final three to join.   

The search for the final host city to begin play in 2020 has been narrowed down to three cities: Detroit, Michigan, Sacramento, California and the aforementioned Cincinnati. The Ohio city has been considered the front-runner of that group — but should it?

FC Cincinnati, the Queen City’s present soccer club, would transition to MLS, rather than a new team being built from the ground up. It currently competes in the United Soccer League (USL), which is the second division of professional soccer in the United States.

The club made a shocking run in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a season-long tournament consisting of teams from all three divisions of professional soccer in the U.S. plus one division of semi-pro soccer, losing to well-established MLS powerhouse New York Red Bulls in overtime of the semifinals. Had Cincinnati won the game, it would have marked just the third time in the 21-year history of the U.S. Open Cup that a lower-tier team advanced to the finals.

FC Cincinnati was founded and began play in the USL just two years ago, so it would be an incredibly quick turnaround to see it in MLS by 2020. However, its cup run shows it has potential to be able to compete with the best-of-the-best in North America.

The infrastructure is in place as well; there is already an existing club, with an owner, players and a well-established, passionate fanbase. The University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium hosts the club. With a capacity of 40,000, it would be the eighth-largest stadium in the MLS.
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A potential turn-off for the league is Cincinnati’s proximity to Columbus, Ohio, home of the Columbus Crew SC. But the Crew’s ownership appears dead set on packing up and relocating to Austin, Texas in the coming years.

If the move comes to fruition, it would provide the league all the more reason to add a new team in Southwest Ohio — a region that has been a hotspot for American soccer in recent years. FC Cincinnati joining MLS just plain and simple makes sense.  

There’s no denying that with the current format and state of the league, so much expansion is a positive thing.

More teams in the league means more money and more money means potential for better talent. More teams spread across a larger geographic area also gives sports fans a reason to pay attention to soccer. Expansion plays into the plan of growing soccer as whole in North America.

Expansion, however, is not the answer to making MLS competitive with the best leagues in the world like the English Premier League.

“One of our goals is to be one of the top leagues in the world by 2022,” executive vice president of communications for MLS Dan Courtemanche told BBC in 2014. We’re currently about three years away from the deadline and it seems like we’re about 3,000 steps away from that goal.
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Expansion is attractive from a business standpoint, but to have any chance of competing with the European Leagues in the next 15-to-20 years, let alone in the next three, MLS needs a complete formatting overhaul.

First, expansion actually should stop (and it seems like it might once MLS hits 28 teams). The English Premier League was formed in 1992 as the top tier of English soccer, and has had 20 teams every year. MLS needs to stop Americanizing soccer; get rid of conferences, get rid of playoffs, do away with budget charges and salary caps, substitute NCAA soccer for youth academies and instill a promotion/relegation system.

It simply does not make any sense why the MLS thinks it can use the same league model as most American sports and have success in competing with leagues who have shown that a completely different model works better for this particular sport.

Whether or not expansion is the best thing for MLS is up for debate, but what’s certain is that expansion is happening and will continue to happen at least until there are 28 teams in the league. And because there doesn’t seem to be plans for a formatting overhaul, expansion is definitely preferable to leaving the league stagnant. With FC Cincinnati potentially kicking off as an MLS team in 2020, fans should expect to see the soccer market in Southwest Ohio continue to grow, even if the beloved Crew leaves town.

Photo Taken From Wikipedia