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Mapping out MLS's next expansion

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

Philadelphia's announcement as Major League Soccer's 16th team will surely serve to redouble the efforts of the cities hungrily chasing the elusive few franchises remaining.

When league commissioner Don Garber welcomed Philly and its passionate fan base (led by the wonderfully choreographed lunacy of the Sons of Ben supporters group) into the MLS family Thursday, it intensified the fight for inclusion and likely left just two slots available in the near future.

Although there may eventually be scope for 20 MLS teams, the immediate plan at league HQ is to take it up to 18 before re-evaluating.

Whereas in the past the league had to actively seek prospective investors, now it can pick and choose from a variety of solid options around the nation and into Canada.

"At one time the majority of our efforts on this front were outbound," MLS president Mark Abbott said. "Now it is largely inbound and is a case of us finding the best options."

The key criteria are a strong ownership group, an appropriate stadium (preferably soccer-specific) and the market of the city itself.

Here's a look at the runners and riders in the race for the next two golden tickets.

THE MAJOR CANDIDATES

1. St. Louis – The strongest candidate left in the field, St. Louis hopes to be ready to start play at a stadium in Collinsville, Ill., by 2011 or 2012. The St. Louis Soccer United group, headed by local attorney Jeff Cooper, is continuing to make slow but steady progress. The city has a rich soccer history and the group received a recent boost when the local council approved a tax increment funding plan for a 18,500-seat stadium. Expansion chances: 80 percent.

2. Montreal – After the success story taking place in front of MLS's eyes in Toronto, branching out further into Canada has emerged as a legitimate possibility. Montreal was only mentioned as an afterthought in most expansion discussions until recently but has got its act together and has a real shot. With a new stadium for USL side Montreal Impact virtually complete – and due to be expanded – and team owner Joey Saputo rumored to be keen on teaming up with Liverpool owner George Gillett, the wheels are already in motion. Expansion chances: 50 percent.

3. Miami – Talk in recent months has been that Miami was gathering pace fast and could be looking good for the 17th franchise. However, the absence of a heavyweight ownership group and a lack of clarity regarding a proposed new stadium dampened the city's hopes. MLS believes the change in the region's demographics – more South American and Caribbean influences since the Fusion folded seven years ago – could be a plus if other issues can be resolved. Expansion chances: 25 percent.

4. Las Vegas – The Las Vegas Sports and Entertainment Group is determined to bring an MLS franchise to Sin City and envisions a $500 million stadium with a retractable roof as part of the overall blueprint. The greatest strength of the plan is the group itself and its vast financial resources. However, time factors could count against it. Expansion chances: 25 percent.

OTHER CANDIDATES

Vancouver, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Phoenix, San Diego, Portland and a second New York franchise have all been mentioned as possibilities but have slipped off the pace for a variety of reasons, including funding, stadium issues and a lack of viable ownership groups. However, all the cities would re-enter serious contention if they were able to resolve some or all of these issues. Expansion chances: 20 percent.