Major League Soccer expansion is happening and it's happening rapidly. Since 2009, the league has introduced seven clubs - contracting one - and two more teams are set to begin play in 2017.
"Expansion continues to be a priority for Major League Soccer," MLS commissioner Don Garber said recently. "We have all witnessed the resounding success that Orlando City SC and New York City FC have experienced as their expansion clubs debuted to record crowds at the start of the 2015 season."
Orlando City hosted fellow expansion side NYCFC on the first Sunday of the season in front of 62,358 fans at the Citrus Bowl. A week later, New York played their first home game at Yankees Stadium with 43,507 fans in attendance.
While these debuts are impressive, this is nothing new for expansion sides. In fact, since the introduction of the Seattle Sounders in 2009, huge crowds have become the norm for new teams.
The Sounders made their MLS unveiling in front of 32,523 at CenturtyLink Field and the subsequent demand for tickets in Seattle caused the front office to increase the seating capacity.
The bar was set and since then, MLS teams have continued to raise it.
"I think it's great. I think it's great for our league," Columbus Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay said of the recent expansion. "I think it's great for our sport in North America, and I think the important thing is making sure that the new teams that are coming in are going to just continue to raise the bar. It's obviously been raised with what New York has done and what Atlanta's doing and what Orlando City's done."
Not only will the future teams have to meet these expectations, but the existing teams have to keep up as well.
"I think it's fantastic. When you see the excitement around these new franchises and what it does in terms of broadening our platform in America and Canada, I think it's exceptional," Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said.
"Some of these teams coming in, if you look at the addition of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, what they've done, to the rest of these teams, it's a wakeup call. It's saying, ‘Let's go. Let's keeping pushing.'"
As Garber said, expansion is a priority for the league. Franchises have already been announced in Atlanta and another in Los Angeles for 2017 with David Beckham leading the way to get a stadium built in order to confirm a club in Miami. MLS will not stop there either, as talks are ongoing in other cities.
"During the past several months, we have conducted expansion meetings with representatives from Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Sacramento and visited all three markets," Garber explained. "We have also met with representatives from San Antonio and St. Louis. We recently announced that Las Vegas is no longer being considered for this round of expansion.
"We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club's home. We remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days, though no specific date for an announcement has been set.
"Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs."
As the league grows, it creates more opportunities for players to play in North America, but could it water down the product?
"I don't think so," Finlay said. "More jobs is always better for us. I don't think you'll ever see anyone complain about that."
Finaly believes that some players will continue to look to go overseas, but more franchises means more development of American and Canadian players, which is a plus for MLS.
"I think, as more money and more teams start getting pumped into this league, you're going to see more quality players be developed here as well as quality players choose to come to this league versus playing over in Europe," he said.
The expansion of the 20-team league will continue and there is already talk about how MLS will look in future years. It the growth continues as it has in the past, it appears to the league is only moving forward and improving.
"I think it's really good," Berhalter said. "It's just going to keep getting more important, which is just going to drive TV viewership and it's going to increase the popularity of soccer, so I think it's a good thing."