MLS Expansion to 28 Teams Will Do More Harm than Good

Don Garber wants to push MLS Expansion to 28 teams in total, but is that necessarily the right move?

With four new MLS teams in tow, why stop there? At a rally in Sacramento, Don Garber announced that he wanted MLS Expansion talks to extend beyond the franchises that are set to make their league debut in the coming years. Atlanta and Minnesota will be having their inaugural seasons in 2017, while LAFC – which has a ton of celebrities including Will Ferrell invested in it – and David Beckham’s Miami will follow suit within the next two years.

While the plan was always to expand to 28 teams, Garber has now put Sacramento firmly in the running as the next franchise up after what he has seen:

The fans were already there to watch Liverpool’s stunning comeback over Borussia Dortmund, but in the process they displayed their USL team’s colours and gave a hint as to what a football atmosphere would be like. In addition, they already have the groundwork for a soccer-specific stadium.

Unfortunately, for MLS fans, this creates a bit of a dilemma. Most people were already unhappy over the idea of a franchise run by celebrities coming into the league. But now, Garber is pushing the limit. Wanting to showcase how big soccer is becoming in the United States is all well and good. But it’s not a good idea to expand for the sake of expansion.

Without a doubt, creating new teams is a big boost to the local market, but to the national audience, it comes across as over-saturation. Surely you’ve heard the phrase “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The MLS is doing well so far, and they don’t need teams in every single state to prove that soccer is big in the US.

Clearly, Don Garber is trying to make the MLS as big as the Premier League one day, but he needs to recognize that is never going to happen. The Premier League isn’t big because every town in England has a team that represents them. They only have 20 teams, which is as many as the MLS currently has. There is no need to create more teams, and make it look like celebrities care by having them invest in it.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – OCTOBER 30: Owner Los Angeles Football Club Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Executive Chairman and Owner Los Angeles Football Club Peter Guber, Managing Partner and Owner Los Angeles Football Club Henry Nguyen and MLS Comissioner Don Garber attend a press conference to announce the new Los Angeles MLS team and ownership group at Siren Studios on October 30, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for LAFC)

The reality for existing MLS teams is that expansion is a nightmare. Choosing who to protect and risking losing a valuable player to the Expansion Draft is a difficult process, and one that teams hate going through. Add the fact that they will have to do this once over the next couple of years, and league support for these new teams will slowly start to shrink.

In addition, how will having two teams in the same city in LAFC and the Galaxy do any good to that local market? The Galaxy have one of the most dedicated fanbases in the entire league. Good luck convincing any of them to jump off and support a team run by Will Ferrell. There’s a very good chance that merchandise sales for that team will tank. Plus, they already tried to house two teams in the same arena, and it resulted in the folding of Chivas USA.

It appears as though taking USL franchises and moving them to the MLS is Don Garber’s way of mirroring promotion and relegation, since that could never work in the league’s current model. After all, how would investors, who have already spent millions into a team, feel if they all of a sudden got relegated? Instead, it appears that he’s willing to take on teams from a league that’s already struggling, which could see the entire USL evaporate altogether.

Taking on new teams in up to four different cities is a gamble, and one that could very well see the league lose money if a team is forced to fold. For example, Pro Soccer Talk put forth the idea of a team in Las Vegas which I doubt would even last the whole season. And while MLS fans already have a deep history of hating Don Garber, it looks like he’s ready to make some more enemies in USL fans.

Adding four teams was already enough, but expanding to eight more is pouring more water on an already watered-down product. It is also an example of what thinking with your wallet instead of your head looks like, and as a result it will do the league more harm than good.