Cincinnati awarded MLS franchise over Detroit

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit's proposal had the MLS team playing its home matches at Ford Field.

Detroit — Major League Soccer isn’t coming to Detroit.

The league Tuesday awarded an expansion franchise to Cincinnati, ending this round of MLS expansion.

Nashville was awarded the other expansion slot in December, leaving Detroit and Sacramento — the other two finalists among 12 cities that submitted formal bids in January 2017 — without teams.

The four available expansion slots are part of the MLS’ expansion to 28 teams.

The MLS has said it would like to award two more franchises this year but it’s unclear as to when that would be.

FC Cincinnati will begin play in the 2019 MLS season.

“You should be extremely proud of your meteoric rise,” commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday during the introductory press conference at a refurbished brewery close to the new stadium. “To your incredible fans, you have shocked the world and showed us that if you have the right city and right ownership and management and right public support and the ability to bring fans together around this sport for a new America, great things happen.

“And the world has taken notice. We’re really exited for FC Cincinnati joining our league.”

Garber praised the public and private sector cooperation in getting a financial deal done to build the new stadium in a growing, developing part of the city.

The Cincinnati City Council recently approved a $33.8 million in infrastructure financing for a soccer stadium, a key hurdle that led to Cincinnati racing past Detroit in the eyes of MLS.

The soccer-only 21,000-seat stadium will be located off Interstate 75 along the Cincinnati riverfront. The proposed stadium faced considerable opposition in Cincinnati because it includes land owned by Cincinnati Public Schools.

“Our community and family couldn’t be more excited,” owner Carl Lindner said. “We did it.”

The Detroit plan — proposed by businessmen and NBA owners Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, and Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford — was prepared in December, the original deadline set by MLS, but never seemed to generate enough enthusiasm from the soccer league.

The Detroit team would have played at Ford Field, after Gilbert and Gores originally proposed playing in a new, outdoor stadium at the troubled Wayne County jail site, near Greektown.

But the decision to play at Ford Field — of which Garber was complimentary — ultimately might have hurt Detroit’s chances.

It would have been the only indoor stadium in MLS — Atlanta United FC plays at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has a retractable roof  — and MLS has said it prefers to expand to cities with outdoor, soccer-specific stadiums in urban centers.

Detroit remains a strong contender, along with Sacramento, in the next round of expansion.

But emerging contenders such as Raleigh, N.C., Phoenix and San Diego have also made headway for possible soccer-only stadiums, and possess strong appetites for the sport.