MLS expansion to Cincinnati? No decision until 2018, league says

The waiting continues for FC Cincinnati, but those anxious for word on whether the third-year club will be awarded a Major League Soccer franchise might as well sit back and enjoy the holidays.

MLS announced Thursday there will be no decision on the next expansion club until 2018.

The league introduced Nashville as its 24th team on Wednesday during a press conference in Music City and originally planned to name a second franchise before the end of the year. Cincinnati is competing with Detroit and Sacramento for the next spot, which is now expected to come in January.

“Following the announcement of Nashville as our newest club yesterday, Major League Soccer remains in discussions with the other three finalists for the next team to be awarded during this round of expansion — Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento,” MLS said in a release. “All three submitted impressive bids which the league will take additional time to review before announcing a final decision in the new year.”

FC Cincinnati CEO Carl Lindner III, investor Scott Farmer, President and General Manager Jeff Berding and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley presented the club's bid to MLS on Dec. 6 in New York City, as did groups from the other three finalists that were decided late last month.

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The league’s Board of Governors met Dec. 14 to discuss the bids, but left a decision hanging in the air until announcing Nashville on Wednesday.

“There’s no doubt, and everyone in our country knows this, that Nashville is a city on the rise,” Garber said in the press conference streamed on the league website. He also praised the city’s swift support of a public-private partnership and “passion for sports and culture” as key factors in the decision.

Berding has long called Cincinnati a “city on the rise,” and remains humbly confident about the club’s bid.

“I’ve never wavered in my confidence because it’s a story that sells itself,” Berding said in an interview on 700 WLW, referencing a club that averaged 21,199 fans in its second season. “I’m humble about it. I’m not going to get over my skis because sometimes you crash over the mountain, but I’ve never wavered in my confidence.”

Garber told media in Nashville the delay in deciding on the next franchise allows the three remaining finalists time to firm up their bids. Each finalist reportedly had minor details to iron out before a decision could be made.

Speculation arose on social media that MLS was not happy with the Oakley site pitched for FC Cincinnati’s soccer-specific stadium plans, but Berding said in his interview on 700 WLW that is not the case.

If passed over this round, FC Cincinnati still has a shot at a rise to MLS, as two more expansion clubs will be selected at a later time, but the competition then grows back to a larger pool with the other eight original applicants back in the mix. MLS had cut the field of 12 to four at the Dec. 6 expansion committee meeting.

“Our MLS opportunity is still very competitive,” Berding said in a statement sent out to local media Wednesday. “The expansion franchise award was not as simple as a meeting followed by an announcement. It is a process, and involves ongoing communication.

“We have much to be thankful for during this season and that should be our focus. I intend to enjoy the Christmas holidays and encourage all of our supporters to do the same.”

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