MLS keeps expanding and with the league already set to go to 24 (Minnesota and Atlanta this season, Los Angeles next season and Miami at a later date), they've set their eyes on teams 25-28. They'll announce teams 25 and 26 later this year, with two more to follow.
But where will those four teams come from? They'll be chosen from this list of 12, the cities that submitted bids to MLS by Tuesday's deadline. Now the jockeying begins, but only between the cities on this list. They're the only teams officially in the mix now.
Money won't be a problem for this bid with Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, behind it. He also has sports experience. But the city has little professional soccer history, with the Charlotte Independence just launching in USL in 2015. They also have a long ways to go on getting a stadium done, but North Carolina is a traditionally strong soccer market.
No lower division team in the U.S. has ever done as well as FC Cincinnati in 2016. The expansion team smashed every USL attendance record and showed that Cincinnati can be an incredible soccer market. All of a sudden, it's the hot city in American soccer, but the amazing support won't mean much without a stadium deal and there's no indication they're particularly close.
Detroit has kind of flown under the radar. They have two NBA owners -- Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert -- who have experience running sports teams, plenty of cash and strong ties in the community. They're working on a stadium too. But they've run into some clashes with fourth division darling Detroit City FC and there hasn't been a lot of talk on the finalization of their stadium deal.
Indianapolis has been very successful in NASL with Indy Eleven. Now they want to take the next step up, but getting a stadium done could be tough. They were turned away in their quest for funding previously, but if they can figure out the stadium, they have a good shout.
Nashville doesn't have a professional soccer team right now so they have to play catch up. They also haven't made much ground on getting a stadium deal. That said, they have wealthy ownership and the market has done a great job showing up for national teams before. They also would only have to compete with the Titans. Nashville could be amazing and while they are behind, that might only rule them out for teams 25 and 26. They can catch up in time for 27 and 28 and potentially have a great chance.
The Triangle -- Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham -- is one of the best soccer markets around. The problem has always been finding the right ownership to push them into MLS. Stephen Malik could be that guy. He bought the North Carolina Railhawks, a lower division team, and rebranded them North Carolina FC. Now he's trying to get them into MLS and, as will be the theme, they have a good chance if they can get a stadium built. That Malik also bought the Western New York Flash and moved them to North Carolina to give the area an NWSL team is a good sign of his commitment to the sport and community.
The USL team Arizona United was bought out and rebranded Phoenix Rising. Now the investors involved in the club are looking to make the jump up. They have a big advantage in that they've secured the land for their stadium already. Now they want to build a climate controlled venue. If they can fund it, they'll have a strong bid.
Sacramento has been waiting for a team for years. They have incredible USL support and a stadium deal buttoned up. They've just been waiting for MLS to officially give them the team and they've long looked like they'd get it, but now they're going through an ownership kerfuffle that could doom the bid.
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio FC is a nice USL team that is owned by the same group that owns the Spurs. They also have their own stadium that is capable of being expanded. The foundation is there for San Antonio, but selling MLS on the market and why they're the best choice for the league could be tough.
San Diego, CA
San Diego is a late entrant to the race. They've never had a strong bid, but new investors emerged recently and have a plan to build a 30,000-seat stadium that they'll share with San Diego St. football on the site of Qualcomm Stadium, the home of the departed San Diego Chargers. The city is stuck between two teams in Los Angeles and a successful Liga MX team in Club Tijuana on the other side of the border, but it's a good soccer market that only has one professional team right now in the Padres.
St. Louis, MO
MLS has been trying to get into St. Louis ever since the league was founded, but have struggled to find the right ownership and stadium situation. It appears as if they have the owners now, but the stadium is a problem. Missouri's new governor is against any public money going toward the project and now there's a funding gap. If they can sort that out, they're a huge favorite to get a team, but getting that sorted out won't be easy.
Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL
Tampa has had professional soccer for decades and the Rowdies are a very good NASL team. Trying to get into MLS might be tough, though. Their ownership isn't especially prominent and their proposed stadium isn't just out in St. Petersburg, it's a renovated baseball stadium that is unconventional, at best. MLS will also already have two teams in Florida if Miami pans out.