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Detroit — Cincinnati is edging Detroit and Sacramento as the leading candidate for Major League Soccer expansion, the league said Wednesday.

The decision, originally expected last year, is delayed again, past the start of the season this weekend, MLS also said.

“Although we have not finalized any agreements and all of the finalist markets remain under consideration, we have made the most progress in Cincinnati,” MLS said, in a statement released by executive vice-president Dan Courtemanche.

Cincinnati is still sifting through a complex stadium siting process, as Sacramento searches for deeper pockets to finance its bid.

The proposal by the Cavaliers owner and Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert, Pistons owner Tom Gores and Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford to play in Ford Field is the other bidder.

A spokesman declined comment.

The two bidders not selected will remain eligible, with eight other cities, for an award of two additional expansion franchises later this year.

“We don't have, and don't need to have, a fixed deadline, and we will wait until all of the necessary elements are in place before selecting the next club,” MLS said, in the statement.

“Whether the announcement is in a few weeks or a couple months is dependent on finalizing the details, but we do not anticipate that it will be an extended period of time."

The Cincinnati bidders have three potential stadium sites under consideration, including their preferred location in the West End.

There is local opposition.

Meanwhile, the local government officials signaled this week they will not be rushed into a decision.

But MLS has said it would allow the Cincinnati FC to play in a retrofitted Nippert Stadium, used for NCAA football, for a couple of seasons, while a new stadium is developed.

The Detroit bid may have suffered a setback last year when Gilbert and Gores abandoned an initiative for a new soccer stadium at the site of the troubled Wayne County jail.

They then proposed Ford Field, after interesting Ford in the bid.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said he is impressed with both how the bid proposes to stage soccer in the indoor stadium, and how a similar approach has begun to work in Atlanta, where MLS and NFL franchises share the same facility.

But Garber and other MLS officials are also adamant that their now years-long campaign to expand the major professional soccer league in North American through small, soccer-specific venues, well-financed by deep-pockets owners will continue.

Gilbert, Gores and Ford bring significant financial punch to the bid, compared to many others MLS is considering and has previously awarded.

Whether Ford Field and the soccer market in Detroit ultimately fit the plans of MLS remains unclear.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/greggkrupa

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