Sacramento’s MLS expansion bid looks to be back on track … for now

The Sacramento Republic and the investor group vying for MLS expansion have reached an agreement to settle the dispute that threatened to torpedo Sacramento’s MLS bid. Now, a bid that looked like a mess days ago should be back on track.

After lead investor Kevin Nagle surprisingly submitted an MLS expansion bid without the Republic – upsetting fans and earning a sharp rebuke from the Republic – two days of marathon meetings have apparently settled the issue. Nagle and Republic president Warren Smith agreed to a deal where the Republic would be “the name and brand of Sacramento’s potential MLS team,” the Republic announced Saturday.

“At long last, Sacramento stands before MLS as one team and one community,” Nagle said in a statement. “From day one, my hope and expectation was to come together with Sacramento Republic FC as a united front. While it took longer than I had hoped, we’ve now reached our goal and delivered the result that Sacramento and Republic FC fans deserve.”

It took Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg bringing Nagle and Smith together for two days of intense negotiation to reach a compromise. Under the agreement, Smith and his group would own the Republic until the club made the jump to MLS, when Nagle and his investment group would become team owners of the MLS team. The deal will be finalized in formal documents in coming weeks.

Although MLS is looking at a lot of factors in granting MLS franchises, it looks like having the Republic on board will be vital to Sac’s bid. Although the investor group recently added billionaire Meg Whitman and already includes Jed York, the CEO of the San Francisco 49ers and the Sacramento Kings, the 11 other candidates vying for MLS include deep-pocketed heavyweights too. The most unique part of Sacramento’s bid has been the Republic’s track record of proven fan support and success as an organization in a market with little sports competition.

The Republic have set attendance records in the USL and the organization itself has done an impressive job of building from scratch five years ago to become key players in the Sacramento community. Add in that they’ve had strong support from the city in securing plans for an MLS-ready stadium near downtown, and the Republic look ready to make the jump to MLS at any moment.

It’s still not entirely clear exactly why the expansion bid was thrown into chaos in the first place. Even just last year, Nagle and the Republic were still closely affiliated and working together on the MLS bid, but things apparently broke down at some point before the bid deadline Tuesday. Reports suggest there were disagreements within the partnership and Nagle removed the Republic named from the bid for legal cover, a move that the Republic called “deeply troubling.” Nagle later said if Sac won the MLS expansion slot, he would prefer it be the Republic. Now, there seems to be an agreement to ensure just that.

It remains to be seen whether this deal will allay any concerns MLS executives have or whether the damage was already done by the conflict in the first place. But getting the power struggle settled and bringing the Republic on board seems crucial to Sacramento’s chances of getting an MLS expansion franchise.