October 21, 2019 / 7:28 PM / 23 days ago

Soccer: Fast-growing MLS awards expansion franchise to Sacramento

(Reuters) - Major League Soccer is heading for Sacramento after California’s capital city was revealed as its latest expansion club on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Oct 8, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; MLS commissioner Don Garber speaks during a press conference at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

The club, which will take over the banner of the Sacramento Republic Football Club soccer team that has played in the lower-tier United Soccer League (USL) since 2014, will begin playing in 2022 in a new downtown stadium as MLS’s 29th team.

“Major League Soccer continues to grow throughout North America and we are so proud to welcome Sacramento as our newest team.” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

“For many years, soccer fans in Sacramento have passionately supported Republic FC and shown that the club deserves to be competing at the highest level.”

Led by an ownership group that includes billionaire Ron Burkle, who co-owns the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and Hollywood film producer Matt Alvarez, the new club joins the NBA’s Sacramento Kings as the city’s major sports teams.

The franchise will be the fourth MLS club in California, joining the LA Galaxy, LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes, the latter which play just 90 miles southwest of Sacramento.

Excitement for professional soccer in the California capital was evident in 2014 when the Sacramento Republic drew more than 20,000 fans for their inaugural match in the USL.

The team went on to win the championship that year and have set USL records in many business metrics, including season ticket sales and merchandising.

“The relationship between Sacramento and our club already is a special one, and I’m committed to deepening that connection for years to come,” said Burkle.

With the addition of the team in Sacramento, 19 clubs have now joined MLS since 2005, fulfilling a vision for strategic expansion that has transformed the landscape of professional soccer across North America.

FC Cincinnati joined MLS as the 24th team this season. Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF will debut in 2020 followed by Austin FC in 2021 and St. Louis and Sacramento in 2022.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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