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MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott talks expansion

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Right now, the race for a new MLS expansion team seems to be in a 12-team tie.

At least, that was the impression from a 45-minute conference call with MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, who was careful not to handicap the race and to say only good things about the contestants.

Abbott did say his Expansion Committee – to be made up of team owners – will want a decision on the next four MLS teams by the end of this year with an eye on 2020. He repeated that his criteria was 1) whether it has the dynamics from a fan support criteria to be successful; 2) whether it can add to the league from a media standpoint; 3. whether it has a solid ownership group and 4) its stadium plan.

Where does that put St. Petersburg? Certainly, it would seem to be in the top half. 1) It’s popular. 2) It has the largest media market currently without a team; 3) Plans have been discussed to add to Al Lang and 4) Bill Edwards has been one of the most dependable owners in the NASL.

“Some of the factors are factors that we talked about,” Abbott said.

Said Edwards: “Today Major League Soccer hosted a media call with MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott to discuss the expansion applications they received. We are very encouraged by Deputy Commissioner Abbott’s comments related to our ownership, media market, stadium plan and team history. Our assets stack up well against Major League Soccer’s criteria for selecting expansion cities.”

Are there problems in other cities?

Sure. Sacramento is still working on a unified ownership group. Miami has had problems getting a stadium. Cincinnati is currently in Nippert Stadium. Charlotte has no history of a pro soccer league.

Look at the 12 cities, and it’s easy to put them into four categories, even if Abbott won’t.

1. The favorites: St. Louis, Sacramento, Detroit.

2. The darkhorses: St. Petersburg, Cincinnati, Minnesota.

3. The longshots: Indianapolis, Raleigh, Phoenix.

4. Thanks for playing: Charlotte, Nashville, San Diego.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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