Atlanta to launch Major League Soccer franchise on Wednesday

ATLANTA, April 16 Wed Apr 16, 2014 12:30pm EDT

ATLANTA, April 16 (Reuters) - Atlanta is expected to announce on Wednesday that it has landed a Major League Soccer expansion team that will play beginning in 2017 in the city's new open-air stadium downtown.

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have scheduled a news conference for 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).

They will make "an important announcement Wednesday on the future of soccer in Atlanta," according to a statement by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Georgia Dome, Atlanta's current downtown football stadium, is scheduled to be torn down and replaced in 2017 with a $1 billion open-air facility with a retractable roof.

"We are excited about an historic day for Atlanta sports," Major League Soccer spokesman Dan Courtemanche told Reuters.

Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot Inc, "has long professed an interest in bringing MLS to Atlanta," the league said on its website.

"Downsizing technology" to create a smaller stadium seating plan for soccer fans, could be used at the new football stadium, the league added.

Atlanta would be the 22nd Major League Soccer franchise. MLS currently has 19 teams in the United States and Canada with two additional teams planned to launch next year in New York and Orlando.

Miami is also vying for a franchise led by David Beckham, the former England, Manchester United and Los Angeles Galaxy star. Last month, Beckham's group announced a plan for a downtown stadium which has yet to be approved.

The Minnesota Vikings have also expressed interest in becoming a franchise of franchise at their new football stadium due to open in 2016 and designed to be suitable for soccer. (Editing by David Adams and G Crosse)