Cincinnati one of four finalists for MLS expansion team

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Cincinnati one of four finalists for MLS expansion team

As FC Cincinnati finalizes its stadium plans for a possible promotion to Major League Soccer, the second-division United Soccer League club and its fans can breathe a little easier today.

MLS announced Wednesday that Cincinnati is one of four finalists for the two expansion clubs that are scheduled to be named by the end of the year, and FC Cincinnati received important confirmation the local government will support its efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium required for MLS.

FC Cincinnati’s bid — one of 12 submitted in January as the initial application process began — was pushed through to the final stage of consideration along with Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento. Owners and officials representing the four prospective expansion markets will make formal presentations to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s expansion committee in New York on Dec. 6, and a decision will be made following the Board of Governors meeting Dec. 14.

“The leaders of the Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento MLS expansion ownership groups have bold visions and innovative plans for their clubs, stadiums and their involvement in their respective communities,” Garber said in a press release. “We are pleased these highly-respected business and sports leaders have been so determined to bring Major League Soccer to their cities. We have been greatly encouraged by the progress that all four of these groups have made and we are looking forward to their presentations.”

In the meantime, FC Cincinnati is still trying to nail down the last of the expansion requirements set forth by MLS, which prioritizes a soccer-specific stadium. The club originally pitched to MLS a stadium in Newport, but efforts to keep the team in Cincinnati, at a preferred site in Oakley, took a big step Wednesday with infrastructure funding plans passing a vote by the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and City Council.

On Monday, City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed to spend up to $37 million for infrastructure at the Oakley site and a 5-3 vote by Council made it official Wednesday, shortly after Hamilton County Commissioners unanimously approved spending $15 million for a 1,000-space parking garage.

“It’s time for this community now to come together — the city, count an FC (Cincinnati) — to demonstrate to MLS that we want a Major League Soccer franchise to be awarded to FC Cincinnati,” County Commissioner Todd Portune said in the meeting.

FC Cincinnati will be privately financing the $200 million stadium on the former Cast-Fab site but has asked the city and county for $75 million in infrastructure, which means there likely is still a $33 million gap in the funding even if the Council vote goes through.

After the commissioners voted, FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding told WCPO.com the Oakley site is the one the club will pitch to MLS on Dec. 6. The club likely is competing with Nashville and Detroit for a spot in the Eastern Division with Sacramento expected to claim a spot in the Western Division.

The two teams chosen after the Dec. 14 board meeting will begin play in 2020, and two more expansion teams are scheduled to be selected at a later date to bring MLS to 28 teams. The other eight markets still in consideration for the final round of expansion are Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

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