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MLS chief Don Garber still hopeful on St. Louis, San Diego, Miami expansion

LOS ANGELES -- MLS commissioner Don Garber said he remains hopeful that plans for a new soccer stadium in St. Louis will move forward, even after a proposal to ask voters to approve $80 million in public funding was dropped.

In a report by the Associated Press last Tuesday, St. Louis Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia said that the proposal submitted by the investor group SC STL would be too expensive given that the city is already having difficulty paying for public services such as more police.

As a result, she dropped a bill that would have placed the issue on the April ballot. When combined with the vow of Governor Eric Greitens to oppose any state funding for the stadium effort, that's $120m in public funds the project was counting on that don't appear to be forthcoming.

Speaking with reporters at Friday's MLS SuperDraft, Garber said that the dropping of the funding proposal "surprised us a bit."

He added: "We were engaging in lots of productive conversations with a number of different political folks in the city, and we were pretty confident we had a good plan. That being said, the expansion prospect owners have met with the governor and had a number of good discussions. I have not yet been able to catch up with them to get a sense of how it went, but I remain hopeful."

Don Garber
Don Garber is optimistic that Major League Soccer's expansion plans will go ahead.

Garber sounded more confident when the subject turned to the possibility of San Diego getting an expansion team.

The announcement that the NFL's San Diego Chargers would be moving to L.A. has created a sporting vacuum that MLS hopes to exploit, especially with an investor group that reportedly includes San Diego Padres lead investor Peter Seidler, private equity investor Mike Stone, and retired Qualcomm executive Steve Altman.

"We have spent a lot of time down there [in San Diego]," Garber said. "There is a good group that's come together. We know the investor prospects well, and I've been there quietly. I'll be down there for the U.S. game, and I think it would be a great MLS city.

"I think MLS has a better chance of succeeding in markets when a big major league team leaves. It's less competition and I think fans are looking for something else to attach themselves to. We saw that in Seattle. We're hoping for that in St. Louis, and we hope San Diego falls in that category."

Liga MX side Club Tijuana operates just across the U.S.-Mexico border, but Garber said that he didn't think having another professional team so close would be an impediment to the expansion bid.

"I think that's positive," Garber said about Club Tijuana's proximity. "People ask me that a lot and I don't understand [the negative view of it]. We have two teams in L.A., we have two teams in New York. So what could be better than having a Liga MX rival across the border? It never remotely occurred to me that that would be a competitive threat. Frankly, it's the opposite. It's an opportunity."

Garber also expressed confidence that the effort to put an expansion team in Miami was making progress, though he didn't provide much in the way of detail.

"I am confident [Miami] will be our 24th team," he said. " We'll continue to work hard on finalizing a deal there. There are a lot of moving parts, but we are making progress. We need that team to get announced before we make any decisions going forward. We've got all hands on deck."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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