MLS downplays friction in Sacramento expansion bid

MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said the league isn't alarmed by controversy surrounding Sacramento's bid for an expansion team.

MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott moved Wednesday to downplay an apparent fracture within Sacramento's bid for an expansion team, expressing optimism that the market's ownership groups can move past current tensions.

Investor Kevin Nagle submitted a bid before Tuesday's deadline for expansion applications under the name "Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings," with no mention of the "Sacramento Republic" brand that has thrived in the second-tier USL since 2014.

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Nagle later told The Sacramento Bee that he remains in talks with Republic co-founder Warren Smith, saying his "preference would be to keep the Republic name."

The development came as a surprise to the USL franchise, which released a statement Wednesday calling the situation "deeply troubling."

"We are just as surprised as our fans to hear that various news outlets are reporting that a bid was submitted to MLS for Sacramento which does not reference Sacramento Republic FC," the statement read. "If these reports are true, this is deeply troubling to us. The journey has always been an endeavor to elevate your team, Sacramento Republic FC, to MLS.

"If the bid submitted yesterday by Mr. Nagle did not include Sacramento Republic FC, it was in violation of our agreements and without our authorization; and we will take this up with the appropriate parties immediately."

Abbott attempted to soften concerns about Sacramento's bid, which already includes city council approval of a proposal to build a soccer-specific stadium.

"They've put a lot of work into a stadium site and a stadium plan and securing approvals for the stadium and assembling an ownership group," Abbott told reporters. "So I think it would be hard to say that there was miscommunication about the fact that Sacramento was filing an expansion application yesterday.

"I think what is clear and what has unfolded over the last day or so is that although there was not yet an agreement between Kevin's group and Warren's group about putting forth a unified bid ... those discussions are going to continue."

MLS currently stands at 22 franchises, with Los Angeles FC kicking off in 2018 and David Beckham's Miami team tentatively tabbed as the 24th club.

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The league, which received 12 expansion applications by Tuesday's deadline, plans to select two teams by the end of 2017 and have those clubs kick off in 2020. MLS then hopes to choose an additional two teams from the existing pool of applicants, though the time frame for clubs No. 27 and 28 remains undecided.

As Sacramento bids for one of the four expansion slots, Abbott confirmed that MLS commissioner Don Garber personally played a role in discussions between Nagle and Smith.

"From the league's perspective, we should give those discussions time to play out," Abbott said. "So I'd like to minimize some of the brouhaha and hysteria around this. I actually think it's really straightforward when you take a look at it."