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Predicting The Next Moves For MLS Reconfiguration: PSV & St. Louis

News on how Major League Soccer intends to get to 28 teams feels imminent. The biggest question is where. Likely candidates include St. Louis, Sacramento, Detroit, Phoenix, Austin or Columbus. The "when" is a little more clear. The league puts a bow on season number 23 this Saturday with Portland and Atlanta clashing for MLS Cup 2018. With that event comes a host of speaking engagements and camera time for commissioner Don Garber. These are moments that he typically cannot keep from spilling a secret or two.  

As soon as this Friday — during his annual State of the League address — look for Garber to announce the lease/development deal for McKalla Place in northern Austin is a full go. In a halftime interview with FOX's Rob Stone, he might just let that Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) approval slip to a national soccer audience. 

This potential sound byte shouldn't be misconstrued as a final resolution on Columbus or expansion bid 27. The man is simply stating he's going to the Texas capital one way or the other. It is more of an admission that the time is drawing near to get shovels in the North Austin ground. MLS stadiums are taking longer to erect than ever, and lead times must adjust to this fact. I'll touch on that in more detail later.      

The real next piece to the puzzle ironically hinges on, of all things, the playoff chances of the Cleveland Browns (yes, the same Browns that owned one victory over a 32-game span entering 2018). Even with a loss on Sunday, they are still mathematically alive at 4-7-1. There's still hope among my closest friends that 8-7-1, with some help, is a real possibility. 

But what does that have to do with soccer? Well, Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam — who has tacitly agreed to co-finance purchase of the Columbus Crew — justifiably needs all 2018 NFL operations put to bed before any deal can be properly vetted. 

His October 12, 2018 press release sure hung a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the #SaveTheCrew initiative. Supporters have every reason to believe their beloved club is staying put. But who's to say how serious all of this really is? It might prove to be a PR stunt that does little more than delay the inevitable. Not trying to throw a wet blanket on anyone associated with my favorite MLS side, but talk is cheap. 

To score some points with Ohioans, Haslam and Dr. Pete Edwards (of Columbus-based Edwards Companies) may have simply made an impulse decision; one that could soon expose buyer's remorse. Call it riding a high not felt in three years. A few days prior to their MLS pitch, the Browns did earn their first division win since October 11, 2015 — the first victory on a Sunday since Week 14 that same year. I imagine there had to be a lengthy celebration for finally being a .500 team again. 

A few too many brews can make anyone feel like they have the solutions to all the world's problems. Then, a few days later, picture a sober Haslam being informed by a staffer what he promised to the locals. Wait, what did I agree to do?! Cue the "Scott's Tots" embarrassment from The Office. It would be a textbook Browns-ian outcome to this story.    

The reason why this isn't a done deal for me: Haslam/Edwards have to pay the new franchise fee just to retain a current one. Because what they are essentially doing is buying into a members-only club and not purchasing keys to a team. With that acquisition comes all the inherited problems facing the Crew. Namely, the need for a new downtown stadium looming on the horizon. You have to remember why Anthony Precourt felt Columbus was no longer a viable market. He's handled the situation sloppily, but he wasn't without his reasons for relocation. 

Playing in a 22-year old MAPFRE Stadium is the equivalent of still using a flip phone. It was a giant leap forward in its time, but never truly had the necessary corporate buy-in to have staying power. Don't get me wrong; we loved our flip phones. But it was obvious others would leapfrog the advancement in no time at all. Today, it is this relic that feels a world away from the vibrant heart of the Ohio capital.  

If Cleveland does fall short of an AFC Wild Card spot, their season will come to an end on December 30. We'll find out how sincere the Haslam purchase offer is shortly thereafter, when attention turns from football to fĂștbol. Should the Ohio-led group back out, there's still a 25% chance the Crew gets dragged to Austin. The constitutionality of the Precourt roadblock might not hold up in court. This headline would elate the expansion hopefuls, currently playing musical chairs with one seat. An extra chair would suddenly be added to the game.         

Prediction 1: Between January 1 and February 28 of 2019, Haslam/Edwards officially inks the deal. The pros outweigh the cons on this one. It's not the best investment in the history of sports business, but its opportunity to be the hero is too much to turn down. If the local ownership group wants to make the splash before the 2019 SuperDraft, they will have to act fast — before January 11.  

Once this domino falls, the infamous March 2018 lawsuit — citing Ohio Revised Code 9.67 (the "Art Modell Law") — will be rendered moot with the sale of the team. Judge Jeffrey M. Brown will dismiss the state's case against PSV and MLS; Precourt would then have an investor-operator credit to use at his disposal. 

Prediction 2: Before the opening of the 2019 season, in early March, Austin will be formally introduced as an unexpected 27th expansion team — ready for play in 2021. The dust of Columbus settling will clear a path for this award ceremony. I, for one, won't be happy about it, but what can you do? Precourt asked for the moon in his original contract and the league gave it to him. 
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As for St. Louis, the Board of Aldermen approved a first measure in their quest last Friday. But let's pump the brakes on the celebrations. What exactly did the city's politicians vote 26-2 in favor of? A finance plan? The scope and design of the stadium? Nope. In its most reductionist terms: The ownership was granted a non-binding waiver on paying tax for construction materials and 50% discount on ticket tax. Whoa. Really? All that champagne for that? Sacramento has their book complete — waiting for a publisher — and St. Louis just finished a re-write on chapter one. 

However small, the news was a much-needed win for the concept of MLS in the region. The last verdict — rendered by an April 4, 2017 public vote — was so devastating that prospective owners needed to notch a victory in City Hall of any size or type, to get the train back on the rails. Undeniably, new chairperson Carolyn Kindle Betz got the good guys (and gals) back to believing. Having the blessing of the BoA, along with the governor and mayor, is something. 

The first step in a long journey is often trivial in the grand scheme, and likely forgotten, but it has immense value. You can't go anywhere without it.

That's what happened last week; step one. Was it important? Yes, total turning of the tides from the 2016 proposal. Was it a ringing endorsement? Without question; only two nay-saying votes. But the mountain of logistics yet to be waded through is large. For this reason, I don't anticipate Garber selects team 28 until Columbus/Austin is officially sorted out... no matter how much people think St. Louis is some ex-girlfriend the league can't stop texting. 

I'm optimistic this will all get done and St. Louis is the right city for the final spot. But that needs to come with a blue-collar, lunch pail mentality for the next few months. The ownership group should disappear into the feverish details and only resurface when the presentation is ironclad. Let the other expansion cities try to fight what they can't see. 

Certain journalists believe St. Louis should be notified before then. Not only is that an arrogant position to take for a city that still has a bullet lodged in its foot, but it shows a tone deafness to this entire process. I'm embarrassed that someone with that little knowledge and that much petulance is able to represent my local media. That particular author sounds like Violet, the spoiled brat of Willy Wonka fame. Cool your jets, people, it'll happen when it's ready to happen. The ownership cleared the lowest-height bar. There are still five or six to be presented. 

Furthermore, saying that St. Louis is somehow entitled a show of love, or a wink wink that they're in, spits right in the face of Phoenix and Sacramento. Both draw more fans in the United Soccer League and have stadium plans further along than St. Louis. They might have something to say in a debate that MLS needs "The Lou."

It'll be tough enough for Garber to shut the door on the others, given how long each has worked on a plan. It's even more uncouth to gloss right over St. Louis' year-long hiatus from this process. Those that never wavered deserve to see this process out to the bitter end, especially if it means it was all for naught. Remember this isn't spot number 26 in the league; this is allegedly "it." There is no more "We'll get in next round for sure." Knowing that will only exacerbate the emotions at play. 

Garber is like The Bachelor, and he has only one rose to hand to either St. Louis, Detroit, Phoenix, or Sacramento. Each has attractive qualities and each could certainly make him happy. But like the show, you can't expect a decision to come quickly. If it makes for more drama in Hollywood, an overly drawn-out scene is likely to sell intrigue here as well. To adequately present empathy toward the dejected, this selection has to at least appear like it weighed on him.  

And that agony of deciding might not be fake. The race is really that close. In truth, feel for Garber. This is not an enviable position for anyone. I go back-and-forth weekly and I don't have to make the final call. 

Unequivocally, he cannot callously rush to award a winner in 2018. With the assistance of deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, Garber might have his mind made up. But he better sit on it for awhile. There is no measurable benefit to an early release; only lasting detriment. Regardless of when the news comes down, the hate will be loud and severe from those he does not pick. Scorn Sacramento again, as early as next week, and things could honestly get violent. It's why distance away from the Holidays and equal time with each candidate is necessary. 

Like any good politician, personally visiting the cities still in the race is probably a sound idea before anything is decided. Give everyone a final chance to make the sale. That way, the fans who "lose" can hopefully find some comfort knowing their representative group exhausted everything in the tank. That won't all happen within a week. A potential 12-city tour could take months. 

Furthermore, none of these suitors are truly ready to hear their name called right now. Each has flaws they need to address. If they were slam dunks, they'd have clubs playing in United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Tier 1 already. In some ways, they could be better off stopping at 27 entrants.  

Sacramento remains on the lookout for someone with nine- or ten-figure net worth to replace the top financier they lost. 

Detroit has to come up with some way around using Ford Field, now that the proposal for augmenting the existing roof to retract has been vetoed.

If the failed public vote of April 2017 was akin to a serious sports injury, St. Louis has just recently been cleared for light jogging. The road to a full recovery has only begun, but all the signs (so far) have been encouraging. The whole process simply needs more time to get it back to the strength of two years ago. Decision makers haven't peeled back enough layers to say this newest iteration is not without fault. More and more details will soon emerge, but we are in wait-and-see mode until that day.  

Among the favorites for spot 28, the only city that could arguably respond "Okay, we can get started today" would be Phoenix. However, the trouble they can never avoid is the relentless weeks and weeks of 110-degree heat, with even hotter playing surface temps. Air conditioned stadium, you say? Good luck staying solvent with those electric bills. When the Arizona Coyotes move to Houston or Quebec City, this will be included as a culprit. The agenda for Phoenix and Las Vegas: Lobby the league to switch its calendar to a more cold-weather-centric August start date, and maybe encourage a certain president to take this whole climate change a tad more serious. 

Any good commissioner would allow time for those cities to shore up any holes in their presentation. Each deserves one more shot and possibly even a rebuttal. And it is unlikely anyone is being handed the golden ticket until the state of Ohio's lawsuit is either wrapped up or dropped.  

All this means an announcement prior to next spring is undoubtedly out of the question. We're talking about a team that will theoretically kick off in the 2022 season, 39 months away. That's not how this current administration operates. If anything, Garber & Co. will show extra caution; triple check that St. Louis is, indeed, the final answer they want to submit.   

It begins and ends with a little bit of homework done. The following list outlays the last decade of MLS expansion. The first number corresponds with the quantity that each club's arrival brought/will bring the league up to. Note: It does not always follow the chronology of the official awarding of a bid.  
  • 16 - February 28, 2008 - Philadelphia (first match approx. 24 months later)
  • 17 - March 18, 2009 - Vancouver (23 months)
  • 18 - March 20, 2009 - Portland (23 months)
  • 19 - May 7, 2010 - Montreal (21 months)
  • 19 - May 21, 2013 - New York City (20 months)
  • 20 - November 19, 2013 - Orlando (15 months)
  • 25 - February 4, 2014 - Miami (145 months)
  • 21 - April 16, 2014 - Atlanta (33 months)
  • 22 - March 25, 2015 - Minnesota (22 months)
  • 26 - December 20, 2017 - Nashville (27 months)
  • 24 - May 29, 2018 - Cincinnati (10 months)
  • 27 - March 5, 2019* - Austin (24 months)
* Highly speculative 

Notice a lot of February, March, April, and May? Yeah, don't expect to see anything seismic in the news cycle until one of those months. Sure, there are some exceptions to this rule that are worth explaining, but mainly because Austin and St. Louis would not qualify for them. 

Omitted from that grouping is Los Angeles on October 30, 2014. This is because former MLS club Chivas USA was dissolved three days prior to that date. In a perfect world, its replacement in the market (LAFC) would have leisurely been awarded a bid sometime during that upcoming offseason — in adherence to the typical league timeline. Instead, the new team was rushed to be introduced, in an understandable ploy to save face. No commissioner likes the perception of a team folding under his regime. The late October move was more of a Southern California continuation effort than archetype expansion bid. Thus, it was left off the list. 

Other non-traditional announcement dates were included and shown in bold. One such outlier, Orlando, swung the pendulum to the other extreme on lead time. At 15 months, it was the shortest in MLS history; now set to be the second-shortest after Cincinnati. This lack of preparation was because the club had Camping World Stadium — a nationally-recognized, 65,000-seat, open-air venue — collecting dust in the West Lakes neighborhood of town. After the University of Central Florida football program left the site, city officials were dying to regain a full-time tenant. Aside from a few American football games hosted each college season (most notably the Citrus Bowl), the stadium suddenly sat vacant for most of the year.  

This is what made Orlando a highly irregular timeline; Camping World Stadium was ready to go almost immediately. Thus, MLS could get it out to the public without delay for the following spring. That future soccer-specific stadium deal could get done at a less-frantic pace, since they had a fine home of adequate size and function in the meantime. This contingency approach became all the rage for future bidders. It is not unlike the theory of grocery shopping only after eating a fully-satisfying meal; the compulsive buying habits diminish as the concept of what constitutes a need evolves. Recent expansion clubs got away with what they had laying around for longer than any other time in this century.  

The numbers bear this out. Since 2010, only one expansion team has begun its inaugural season in the new stadium it proposed to the league and local government — LAFC, this year, with 29 months to execute. Prior to that, you have to go back a decade to Montreal's Stade Saputa. In between these two bookends, the world drastically changed. Commitment from the league has now become the cart, with a finished product to play in as the horse, trailing behind. 

The stadium can now be the "Yeah, we'll get to it" on the Honey-Do-List. 

These delays are not entire the fault of owner-investors' apathy to get a deal done. The speed of local politics is never what anyone fully anticipates. And Mother Nature can wreak havoc on the construction calendar in an instant. Even the time being measured is a gray area. Does the clock start at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the day the first crane arrives, or simply whenever proper authorities sign a contract? In any event, the research shows that clubs need more time than they are being given. 

To combat this issue, the contemporary blueprint is to have an existing stadium as a Plan B to bridge any gaps that arise. Some only need the rental car for a week or two beyond the estimate, while their beauty gets fully detailed. Other clubs are more like a marooned crew, adrift in a life boat without any idea when the next ship is coming. The next test of the current system is set for March in St. Paul, Minnesota. Will the new Allianz Stadium truly be ready for opening day?   

Modern MLS expansion is full of all types of these safety-net situations. Thanks to several missed deadlines, Philadelphia played a third of its inaugural season in Lincoln Financial Field (NFL). New York City still has a home in Yankee Stadium (MLB), awaiting a finalized plan for new digs. As stated above, Orlando had the former Florida Citrus Bowl (NCAA FBS). Minnesota will retain TCF Bank Stadium (NCAA FBS) just in case. Before Atlanta's robot Pantheon was ready, Bobby Dodd Stadium (NCAA FBS) was utilized for most of 2017. Cincinnati will begin its time in MLS with Nippert Stadium (NCAA FBS), while Nashville should have its options: Nissan Stadium (NFL), First Tennessee Park (MiLB), or perhaps even Vanderbilt Stadium (NCAA FBS). 

This is not a luxury that St. Louis currently has. And it has serious ramifications on when St. Louis could be announced. No, the former home of the St. Louis Rams (Edward Jones Dome) never has been, nor will ever be, a viable option. If your NFL stadium was among the league's worst as far back as the 1990s, how would it possibly be up to any allowable standard for a different sport, three years into the future? Facilities don't magically appreciate in quality, especially when you stop taking care of them. Stop it.

The city does have its fair share of other sports venues, but its oddly devoid of the NCAA football facility you'd find hanging around other metropolitan areas. That is the piece that would really solidify this effort. For a handful of reasons, I believe the juggling act NYC FC pulls off each summer with the Yankees is not able to be replicated. That's a very different town, different tax bracket, different global branding strategy, etc. In short, it's the freakin' Yankees paired with Manchester City money. And even they struggle with executing it. However temporary, sharing Busch Stadium with the Cardinals should not be counted on. The only soccer "stadiums" in the region max out at roughly 6,500 spectators: Saint Louis University's Hermann Field and Toyota Stadium (current home of the USL club). 

Put all this together and St. Louis sure looks like a throwback in the league. They will have to have their stadium completed before match one. That's important to note; it should definitely affect the expected year of entry.    

Atlanta is an interesting case study because the soccer team had to wait for the fifth-largest covered sports field in the the world (71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium) to be built. At a price tag of $1.6 billion, this behemoth clearly has no comp in the league. If you haven't seen it, tune into this Saturday's MLS Cup where it will be on full display. I had the good fortune of taking in an Atlanta United FC match in June — one that drew more fans (71,932) than both World Cup Round of 16 games held in Russia that same day. 

The average construction time for a 20,000-seater will never stack up to the mind-blowing 181 weeks it took to complete this project. Thus, that rule, reserving February-May as the expansion communication window, did not apply to owner-operator Arthur Blank. Garber gave him a 33-month head start. And, of course, he still missed the stadium's scheduled start date of March 1, 2017 by five months. 

Store that eventual total (38 months) under your hat for a later discussion. The league is not in the business of making the same mistakes when it comes to construction deadlines.  

Ultimately, using a professional football stadium was a tried-and-true play from MLS 1.0 — a non-soccer-specific stadium with an NFL franchise as primary tenant; both teams owned by the same person. However, that business model was something we all thought was never to be seen again. No one had proposed such a thing in MLS expansion since Seattle's 2007 bid submission. Note: This is why I use 2008 as my demarcation line for what I'm calling the "modern MLS expansion era." 

Of the bidding cities for spot number 28, only Detroit is daring to emulate this NFL joint-venture plan. Everyone else intends to follow the MLS 2.0 path, blazed by Columbus in 1999. In bucking the current architectural trend, Atlanta's quantity of months had to also look different than the others on the list. 

If you throw out the mess Beckham has made in South Florida, the average lead time for Major League Soccer's modern expansion era is 21.8 months — from formal bid acceptance to first whistle of the regular season. As the newer generation of soccer-specific stadiums become increasingly complex (a nice way of saying more expensive with better amenities) that number will undoubtedly jump by two or three months. You're already up to 25. Add to this the fact that St. Louis can't go without a new stadium to begin play. Call it 26, to be safe. 

Now, even with a financing plan nearing 100% private money, this process is not going to be a picnic for the ownership group. With the City of Saint Louis being independent, the local government is a unique challenge to any other place currently in, or bidding for, Major League Soccer. I'll be nice and leave it at that. But by now, the league should know this and accept it for what it is. We all know: You add a month of running around in circles to whatever is budgeted for "normal" municipalities, thank your lucky stars when it's over, and hope you never have to go back to City Hall. The total is now at 27 months.  

Since they have been burnt by recent construction overruns in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and potentially Minnesota, the league will likely interject an ultra-conservative "fudge factor" into any estimation on time frame. You're now looking well over 30. 

Sprinkle in a dash of indecision, since this is said to be the final expansion selection of Garber's tenure. He might spend an entire month searching for the right words to prevent Sacramento from rioting. 

All told, expect an extra ten to twelve months added to the current 21.8 average. It seems like too large of an increase, but remember: 1) That current number is apparently not providing developers/contractors with attainable checkpoints to hit; 2) An ongoing progression of American soccer-specific architecture means future stadiums will have even more pieces in the proverbial LEGO set; and 3) There's no underutilized, open-air, natural-grass, 50,000-seat football stadium just hanging out in St. Louis. If this project does not budget time correctly, it would be a disaster for all parties associated with MLS. More than most places, St. Louis will require a window with a wide birth.   

Admittedly, the site St. Louis has chosen is an ally in the race against the clock. Demolition and excavation should be a relative breeze. The city-owned land — an interstitial wasteland between Downtown and Midtown — is essentially prepped and ready to go. Only the infamous "spaghetti interchange" of highway on/off ramps need to be cleared. This ease of construction prep and staging will steal some days back. 

We currently sit 27 months out from the start of the 2021 season. That should dismiss 2021 as a possibility right away. It will be 2022. 

Prediction 3: 34 months notice. If you want an official date, so Future You can further point to how incredibly wrong I was, let's go with Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Go ahead and bet the under; I stand by my reasoning. It is the only solution that falls within the established February-May window, while providing more than 30 months lead time. Look at the data. That history is important in my educated guess.  

Anything sooner and the conspiracy/tampering lawsuits, from cities that lose out, will rain down on the league office. "We were just about to send an addendum to our presentation and you made this announcement!" The league is going to want to stew on this difficult decision as long as entirely possible. 

Considering that, simply work the problem backwards from a hopeful start date. Any announcement beyond the first week of May — an unofficial, in-house deadline — would mean you're 33 months out (or less) from Opening Day 2022. That likely forces the 28th team join in 2023. Garber will not let that happen.

No, 34 months feels right. It fits nicely between the 29 months it took Los Angeles — from date of MLS approval to opening a new stadium — and Atlanta's 38. 

Pause for a moment and think about what those numbers actually represent. Not every month consists of manual labor on a job site. Of that 29 spent in LA, construction time (groundbreaking ceremony to first match) for Banc of California Stadium was only 20 months. This means their timeline, upon being awarded a club, was nine months in the red tape phase, while putting it together comfortably occurred in under two years. It might not look that way, but that is a fairly efficient proportion of measurable work to bureaucratic headaches. Don't get your hopes up, St. Louis.  

To further analyze what percentage of overall lead time is building the damn thing, let's look at the three newest soccer-specific MLS facilities to come online. If open in the next 90 days, Minnesota's Allianz Stadium will take exactly 27 months to construct. On the other end of the spectrum, DC's Audi Field recently opened in an astounding 16. Again, Banc of California Stadium was 20. This range shows a variance in climate, site preparation, quantity of skilled laborers, and local government.  

Weighing those factors, St. Louis can expect to fall somewhere between the 16 of DC and 20 of LA. One major reason is cost. At the moment, the ownership group's ambitions are muted in comparison to its contemporaries. With a Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is obvious. Like something out of Star Wars, that dual-sport venue is in its own class. But even St. Louis' soccer-specific peers will likely carry a larger sticker price.  

Banc of California Stadium cost $350 million, $100 million more than ownership in Missouri is looking to spend. DC paid through the nose for its expedited time frame (and Buzzard Point location), with a final figure upwards of $500 million. That's just not St. Louis' style or pace. They are more of the economical "Get it in there in 5-7 business days" than the overnight rush delivery. 

Allianz Stadium is a good comp on price, but not much else. Mortensen Construction is about to enter its second St. Paul winter on the job. Those tend to contribute to construction times larger than most other places in the country.      

Nowhere near as complicated/expensive/wintry, St. Louisans should anticipate the actual assembling of their stadium will only take 18 months. That is nothing. But none of that fact will affect the lead time. Look, I get the desire to make this go quicker, but it's a process moving at glacial speed. The talk is happening in the present, but the action is very far into the future. We haven't even completed the current season, with 23 teams competing. 28 is worlds away.  

And that will be the toughest pill to swallow for local supporters. If my previous calculations are correct — and St. Louis is presented with a 34-month waiting period — it means ~16 months of it will be spent planning and dealing with minutia, compared to a measly 18 or 19 months of physical construction. That proportion of intangible to tangible progress will be agonizing. The site will sit empty for what feels like forever, but then go up in a relative blink of an eye. Build it "too soon" and the depreciation clock starts prematurely; requiring that dreaded upkeep a year earlier than expected. 

Prediction 4: Groundbreaking ceremony on my son's second birthday, Monday, August 24, 2020.  

Settle in for the winter, St. Louis. We're likely in for another four or five months of speculation before we know anything is absolute. I'll be as curious as any to see how well this piece ages. It will either be strikingly accurate or hilariously off-base.    

The only thing that makes me waver on feeling 100% confident is Nashville — the other bold date on the earlier list. I cannot explain why that city was announced so early last year. It still bothers me. Five days prior to Christmas? Made official before Cincinnati, despite entrance into the league a year after them? Curious at best. My only theory: Garber didn't want to break the promise of at least one expansion declaration in 2017. So, down to the wire, he went with the one that was closer to being finalized, despite it being out of chronological order. 

Nashville's stadium, at the city's fairground, will not be ready until the 2021 season. So, to me, the league broke protocol. If they were going to choose a November/December presentation, then the lead time should have been under 20 months. You only deviate if the new club's inclusion is too close to the present to not say something. That was the precedent set. With the timing of this news, one would expect Nashville to be making plans for a 2019 season in Nissan Stadium. Instead, soccer fans got hurry up and wait

On the other hand, the league office stuck to the common springtime script with Cincinnati (club number 24) — even though it equates to an unheard of 10 months between ink on paper and players on pitch. Seems backwards, no? I could have understood them being the December 2017 headline, with Nashville swapped as May 2018. Don't anticipate seeing that gaffe again. Or anyone associated with MLS even calling it a mistake (which it was).  

Granting Nashville this much advanced notice, and having it occur recently, is perhaps why some folks in the media think official word before New Year's Day is the standard. I assure you, it is not. They are clearly new to reporting on this topic. The league office will get back to its long-standing expansion guidelines this time around.  

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These instances can be as innocuous as assigning a plural verb to a singular subject. I recently saw a commercial that aims to dissuade Illinois residents from driving buzzed or drunk. Nothing to really joke about there. And I'll admit that the music, voice-over, and simulated car crash are powerful enough to command attention. If it happens to follow an ad that is frequently mocked in your household, this ominous 30 seconds certainly re-centers the tone in the room. Or at least it should. So what is wrong with me that I now …

The Power That's Returned to 'Flower': Revising Marc-Andre's Postseason Legacy

For the life of me, I cannot come up with anything comparable for what Marc-Andre Fleury is doing in these playoffs. Resurrections of this magnitude rarely appear anywhere outside of the New Testament. Yet, here he is; back from the dead, leading (yes, leading) Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference Final. The liability has been converted to an asset, and share-holders that stuck with him through his penny stock days (i.e. me) are loving it. 

There is a theme of this piece centered on rebounds. On the micro level, Fleury was able to respond from a 5-2 beat down in Monday's Game 6. In a hostile Verizon Center, he stopped all 29 Washington shots in Wednesday's series finale -- stealing the 2-0 victory. He was nothing short of spectacular in Round 2's only shutout. Fleury's name was apropos for the the barrage sustained. Even 5-on-5, the ice tilted in the home team's favor from the onset. To the nervous spectator, the game's first eight minutes read like a continuous…

How The Super Bowl Has Ruined Your High School Football Program

Back to work the day after the Super Bowl is always a tough one. The football season has come to an end and all that's left behind is a bitter chill in the air. There's nothing overly exciting on the sports docket until Major League Baseball's new Thursday Opening Day and the first two days of March Madness — all of which should be national holidays. 

Until then, hockey and basketball teams will either be jockeying for playoff positioning or riding out the end of a disappointing season. That means an awful lot of tanking for Jack Hughes and Zion Williamson (personally I prefer R.J. Barrett), salary cap dumping, or attempting to land Artemi Panarin and Anthony Davis via trade. In each case, February has become more about off-field/court noise rather than the games themselves. Face it, most of the month is a real nothing burger for sports coverage. If you want to hear people talk on screen, your time would be better spent catching up on Netflix stand-up specials.

The fluff of …

Predicting The Next Moves For MLS Reconfiguration: A 33-Game Schedule

It is said that chess grandmasters can visualize the next fifteen moves their opponent will make. Experience is the biggest reason why. Since every player has a finite quantity of options available, the more unique situations a person studies, the more he or she can draw upon patterns from the past. Complemented with trustworthy instincts, and a dash of luck, advanced players can make near-perfect assumptions as to what the future holds. 

At the moment, this is what the expansion of Major League Soccer (MLS) feels like to me. Now, I don't claim to be spot-on with my viewpoints, but I have done enough research to at least say I have an educated hunch. Together, we'll have to see how many moves I am ahead of the league office.

Recently, I've outlined why I believe the MLS should only carry 27 teams in their portfolio. And since that isn't likely to occur, I've also followed up with a timeline for spots 27 and 28. The CliffsNotes synopsis of those college dissertations:…