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MLS deputy commissioner discusses expansion, scheduling

Mark Abbott explained the league's decision to aim for 24 franchises and reiterated there are no plans to move to the European calendar.

For MLS, the road map to 24 teams by 2020 is nearly set. Orlando and New York City arrive next year. Atlanta is set for 2017. Miami has a tentative place.

That would bring the league to 23. So which team will be No. 24?

MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott cited Sacramento, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Austin as potential expansion markets in a discussion with reporters Tuesday ahead of the MLS All-Star game in Portland, Oregon. But despite the widespread interest, he said there are no plans to expand beyond 24 teams in the near future.

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"When we started the league, we did a lot to study all the other professional sports leagues, and we studied the North American Soccer League, specifically," Abbott said, referencing the league that ran from 1968 to 1984. "We've determined that the right rate of growth for us is to get to 24 teams by 2020. We think that's the right balance for a variety reasons — the player pool that we have, the way our television contracts work."

Another popular topic when discussing the growth of MLS is the potential switch to the European calendar, which would likely see the league start its season in July and end in May, with a lengthy winter break.

The issue was brought up again Monday, when FIFA president Sepp Blatter said MLS was preparing to make the switch. But Abbott refuted Blatter's assertion.

"We looked at it last fall and we concluded that, at this point in time, it was not a change that we could make," Abbott said. "We don't rule it out for some point in the future, but there's not an imminent plan to change to the international calendar."

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