With Las Vegas being shown the door as a potential MLS expansion team, it looks more likely that Sacramento Republic FC will be the newest expansion team in Major League Soccer. Why?
In only one year of existence, SRFC has a huge fan base. The only major sports team Sacramento currently has is the Sacramento Kings, and they were on the brink of leaving altogether. The city is eager for a successful professional sports team, and their rallying around SRFC shows Sacramento is #BuiltForMLS. Last year when the Quakes played SRFC in San Francisco, there were as many SRFC supporters, and possibly more, as Quakes supporters. In fact, their supporters’ section were in form a half-hour before the game began, chanting “Where’s your Ultras?” before the Ultras had even exited the bus. They continued to support their team through the final whistle.
In only one year of existence, SRFC won the USL Cup. That’s pretty amazing considering the league is a national league with 24 teams. They have an organization that can find talented coaches and players, and maximize that talent. Last year during the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, SRFC outplayed the Quakes at Kezar Stadium, but the Quakes managed to squeak out a 2-1 win by scoring a PK goal and late game winner.
In only one year of existence, the San Francisco 49ers have invested in SRFC, providing the financial backing MLS favors for expansion teams. Recent expansion teams such as Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Orlando City FC, and New York City FC have all had enough money to make a significant impact in the league. Sacramento has money to play with, they just need the opportunity to get in the game.
SRFC has a stadium site selected and approved. A major roadblock for MLS expansion, other than financial backing, is securing a stadium site, yet SRFC just needs the MLS to hurry up and take their money to begin construction. It is also a “downtown” site, which is even more appealing for MLS.
SRFC sets up the derby. Every team in MLS should have a neighboring rival for featured matches. “Cross town” rivalries have worked in soccer leagues across the world at attracting fans to the games and providing large TV audiences, and it appears MLS is actively trying to create these rivalries: RSL and Colorado, NYCFC and NYRB, Toronto and Montreal, Philly and DC, Chicago and Columbus, Houston and Dallas, Seattle and Portland/Vancouver, SoCal will have L.A. Galaxy and LAFC. Florida may have Orlando and Miami. With the addition of SRFC and the growth of the Quakes in the Bay Area via Avaya (see what I did there??), there would be a NorCal rivalry which means more money for MLS.
Las Vegas is out. Miami is stalled on building a new stadium. San Antonio is stalled due to lack of outside investors in an MLS club. The only competition SRFC has is Minneapolis, and SRFC has shown they are a more viable option to bring cash and fans into the league, so don’t be surprised to hear that Sacramento will be granted an MLS team soon.
Post-Script: I also predict Miami will be the final MLS expansion despite not having stadium plans, setting up the Florida rivalry with Orlando, leaving Minneapolis out altogether.