MLS president talks expansion

Updated: April 12, 2012, 4:41 PM ET
Associated Press

CARY, N.C. -- The president of Major League Soccer says he believes Southeastern markets would support teams from his league -- if it ever decides to expand again.

Mark Abbott visited the North Carolina Triangle on Thursday as a guest of the Carolina Railhawks and met with fans and local business leaders to "get a sense of the community."

He said he's "a firm believer" that MLS would work in the Southeast, but stressed there's no timetable for growing beyond 20 teams and called it "premature" to speculate about Raleigh, Charlotte or any other city.

"Today was about really coming down and getting a deeper understanding of soccer in this community," Abbott said. "It wasn't a sort of checklist-type of exercise on the road to making an expansion decision. It was an opportunity to learn more about this community and what's happening here in soccer."

The Triangle has a strong soccer history, with Cary playing host to either the men's or women's NCAA College Cup -- soccer's version of the Final Four -- for eight consecutive years from 2003-10.

The Carolina Courage played all three years in the short-lived Women's United Soccer Association before that league suspended operations in 2003. The Railhawks started up in 2006 and now compete in the North American Soccer League, one step below the MLS.

"We've known for a long time that this is a community that has a long tradition of supporting soccer," Abbott said.

MLS has had teams in the Southeast before, with franchises in Miami and Tampa Bay being eliminated after the 2001 season. The most recent expansions added teams in Portland and Vancouver in 2011 and in Montreal this year to bring the league to 19 teams.

Abbott, who earlier addressed a fan forum of about 100 at a restaurant in Raleigh, reaffirmed that MLS wants to add a second team in the New York metropolitan area to join the Red Bulls as the 20th team. The buy-in price would be $100 million, he said, adding that entry fees for further possible expansions have not been discussed.

He also identified three key factors that MLS evaluates in potential expansion targets: an ownership group financially capable of operating the team, a stadium seating between 20,000 and 25,000, and a market that can draw roughly that many fans while generating corporate support. The average attendance in MLS last year was 17,800.

The Railhawks' home venue, WakeMed Soccer Park, is undergoing a $6.3 million expansion that will add 3,000 seats and raise capacity to 10,000.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press