MLS says San Diego, Las Vegas top candidates for 30th team
By Ronald Blum
With opening day approaching Saturday, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber expressed hope to pick a 30th team by the end of the year and defended an expanded playoff format in which 18 of 29 clubs make the postseason.
Speaking Wednesday during a kickoff event at the league’s new television studio built together with Apple TV, Garber said he felt relieved MLS avoided the difficulties faced by other sports preparing for the possible bankruptcy of Sinclair Sports Group’s Bally Sports regional sports networks.
MLS has nearly tripled in size from 2004, when it was a 10-team league. St. Louis, the 29th team, starts play Saturday at Austin.
“We do need more teams. The 30th team will come at some point soon. Hopefully, we’d like to get that announced by the end of the year,” Garber said. “We say we’re going to stop at 30 but the other major leagues are larger than that. I never say never in Major League Soccer. There are many other markets that are opportunities for us. I think San Diego and Las Vegas are the most likely opportunities for 30.”
He mentioned Detroit; Phoenix; Sacramento, California; and Tampa, Florida, as other expansion possibilities.
Garber defended the playoff format, announced a day earlier, in which 62% of teams reach the postseason. In other U.S. sports, 14 of 32 teams make the playoffs in the NFL, 12 of 30 in Major League Baseball, 16 of 30 in the NBA and 16 of 32 in the NHL.
MLS used a mixture of two-leg and single-elimination rounds from 2003-18, then went to a knockout competition the last four years. The league is switching to single-game wild-card matchups and a best-of-three round — last used in 2002. The playoffs revert to a knockout competition for the final eight.
There will be a maximum of 33 games, up from 13 last year.
“We have been working on trying to find the right format for a really long time. We are playing here in North America and know the importance of playoffs to drive energy in the latter part of the season,” Garber said. “We wanted more games. ... If this works, we’ll have it forever. If it doesn’t work, we’ll continue to evolve it.”
Garber hopes MLS season ticket holders will have preferred access for tickets for the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Mexico and Canada. No decisions on ticketing have been made.
“It would seem that if you’re a supporter of the game by buying season tickets, whether that’s for Major League Soccer or it’s the NWSL or the various other minor leagues, you ought to be able to have a direct or more direct access to tickets for any tournament, whether that’s U.S. Soccer matches or that’s Copa América-type tournaments or if it’s the World Cup,” he said.
Garber spoke at a 6,000-square foot television studio in the Spanish Harlem area of Manhattan that will host coverage of telecasts by Apple TV, a 10-year deal announced last June. All MLS games will be streamed by Apple starting this weekend.
“It would be unfair to say we were prescient and anticipated a dramatic change in what’s happening with at least one company, but we knew that the market was moving from local to more of a direct-to-consumer offering,” Garber said. “There was such a lack of consistency on the quality of our broadcasts because of the changing dynamic that was happening in the local level. And that was happening for five years. So I’m glad that we’re in the position we’re in.”