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MLS Expansion could bring new neighbors to Crew SC

Three expansion bids have decidedly local feel

MLS: All-Star Press Conference Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer released the cities that submitted expansion bids and there a plenty of natural rivalries for Columbus Crew SC among the bidders. The following 12 cities Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa submitted for consideration. The league will expand with Los Angeles FC joining in 2018 and Miami's expansion effort currently slated as the 24th team. The 12 will compete for four spots as the league expands to 28 teams over the next several years.

The eastern half of the United States is well represented with eight of the cities east of the Mississippi River (or straddle it in the case of St. Louis). The list also includes three cities that would make excellent rivals to Crew SC, all within a three hour car trip. Currently, the closest rival is the Chicago Fire and both team's supporters have made the five hour trip for a road game. Detroit, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati would be far closer and be built on existing friendly enmity.

Indianapolis was a late addition to the expansion process despite having the oldest MLS aspirations and existing soccer team. Indy Eleven started play in 2014 in NASL, their opening game was again Crew SC in a scrimmage at Obetz. Owner Ersal Ozdemir expressly desired to jump to MLS when starting the team. A setback in a bid for a stadium in 2015 cooled MLS aspirations, but with the prospect of a settled stadium situation, Indianapolis jumped back in.

Cincinnati has a long history of lower league soccer, a forgettable list of teams. The Cincinnati Riverhawks were a perennially under supported USL team between 1997 and 2003. The Cincinnati Kings played in the USL between 2005 and 2007 before dropping to the PDL in 2008. The Cincinnati Dutch Lions played in the PDL beginning in 2014 while the Cincinnati Saints played in NPSL. None of the teams could draw a crowd. With a history like that, the improbable success of FC Cincinnati is that much more confounding.

FC Cincinnati was able to pack Nippert Stadium to an average of 17,000 people, setting USL attendance records in the process. With the backing of Cincinnati scion Carl Lindner III, the team is well financed and has close ties to the city. Without the success of FCC, Cincinnati's MLS ambitions would have been remote at best.

Detroit doesn't have a team that would move up to MLS, but it does have two very high profile owners in Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert. Both are professional sports owners with NBA teams. Gores owns the Detroit Pistons and while Gilbert owns the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both have strong ties to the city and Gilbert has poured millions into investments and real estate around Detroit in an effort to help revive the ailing city. They do lack a soccer background and the NPSL team, Detroit City FC has been very cool to the idea of partnering for an MLS bid.

Beyond Detroit, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, there are still several prospective rivals. St. Louis would be a natural rival to Chicago, but at five hours away, it would still be a closer trip to Crew SC fans. Likewise, Nashville extends MLS into new areas and would be another regional rival that's a weekend trip away.

MLS will choose the 25th and 26th entrants into the league this year with a target starting date of 2020 for both teams. After over 20 years of long distance rivalries, Crew SC could have some new neighbors in a few short years.