Sacramento Republic FC has been gunning for MLS expansion for a long time, since back in the 2014 season. They've had story upon story written about them and their aspirations on MLSsoccer.com and other big outlets. They've been told that their inclusion in MLS is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. They've even hosted an MLS official or two.
Before yesterday, the one thing that Republic fans had not seen was a visit from MLS Commissioner Don Garber, so when he finally made the trip to Sacramento yesterday, people were understandably excited. To many, Garber's visit seemed to signal that the time had finally arrived and that the announcement they had been waiting for was imminent.
They were understandably disappointed when Garber did not come to town with a one-way ticket to MLS in hand. What he brought instead was a confirmation of something we have expected and even heard mentioned before: that MLS is deciding to expand the league to 28 teams. And that was it for announcements. No mention of a timetable for that expansion, save that the league is working on it and that they've formulated an internal process and formed a committee.
Disappointment is understandable, but we should all not be too surprised that yesterday's announcement was not the one we've been waiting so long for. For one, the expansion beyond 24 teams had not been officially announced, so announcing team 25 before or during the announcement of the next round would be jumping the gun. Furthermore, there had not been an MLS visit to Sacramento since the completion of Operation Turnkey and the release of the fantastic proposed stadium renderings, so it makes sense that the league would want to see the stadium site for themselves before making any decision.
That does not mean that the expansion announcement is never going to come or that Garber left without saying anything of importance though. The phrasing has been updated, which is promising. Instead of it being a matter of when, Garber said multiple times yesterday that he hopes and expects Sacramento to be an expansion city in the next round.
Is that really similar to the whole "not a matter of if, a matter of when" thing? Yes. But it's also much more positive and seems to indicate that Sacramento is the current frontrunner for expansion. Garber himself stopped short of saying exactly that, preferring to say that Sacramento is very high on the list of potential expansion cities.
Both Mayor Kevin Johnson and Republic President Warren Smith have said in the past that 2016 should be a good year for Sacramento's expansion bid. There is still time for their words to ring true.
For now, though, it seems that Sacramento has done just about everything it can to convince MLS that it is ready. There are no more big steps to take and nothing more to show off. The ball is once again in their court. We'll be waiting.
What do you think about Garber's comments yesterday? Disappointed or excited? Did you get what you expected out of the event? Sound off in the comments below.