Ranking the top 20 cities for MLS, NASL and USL expansion

Interest in professional soccer is growing at an unprecedented pace in the United States and Canada. However, not all markets are created equally. If marketing and stadium circumstances are favorable, almost any metropolitan area over 500,000 citizens could support pro soccer, but some have better situations than others.

While the United States and Canada ended the current regular season with 20 MLS teams, 24 USL clubs and 11 NASL sides, expansion teams have already been confirmed for Atlanta (MLS), Minneapolis–Saint Paul (MLS), Los Angeles (MLS), Miami (NASL) and Reno (USL) with more expected to be announced in the next 12 months.

However, out of the cities in the United States and Canada where there are no MLS, NASL or USL teams, which cities are best positioned and deserving of having their own MLS, NASL or USL team?

I’ve ranked the top 20 cities in the US and Canada that are best positioned for the expansion of professional soccer.

First, some background on the rankings.

I ranked the markets without pro soccer clubs now on the following criteria:

  • Market size

This is based on the size of TV markets and the metropolitan areas including catchment areas outside MSA’s.

  • Existing supporters base

Existing soccer supporters culture in the area.

  • Existing soccer infrastructure

Does the area have strong youth clubs or amateur/semi-pro clubs? Do they have a facility that can be used for either training or games initially?

Each category is scored 1-10.

Why are facilities not ranked?

We have chosen not to rank facilities in these markets because the assumption is that every professional club will need to develop a soccer-specific-stadium and build its own facilities. However a general feel for facilities is placed in the “existing soccer infrastructure” category.

Why is soccer history not considered?

We’ve seen some markets that were strong in the original NASL and early days of the A-League not kick on while totally new markets with no soccer history have been incredibly successful. The new era of soccer interest that began soon after the 2006 World Cup does not connect with historical factors except in some very specific instances.

As a soccer historian and someone with great nostalgia for the original NASL, the recent success of Orlando, Oklahoma City and Kansas City demonstrate that a rich soccer history isn’t required. Historical factors do benefit cities like St Louis but have often been overrated.

Note: Austin not ranked due to possible return of Aztex in 2017.

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