The Tampa Bay Rowdies are starting to get the feeling that they could very well be an MLS team.  And the sentiment is being felt in other parts in the world of MLS.

According to a source, the Rowdies are believed to be among the “Top 4” teams being considered for MLS expansion.

The well-known virtual lock is down in Miami with David Beckham's team. "Miami Beckham United" is said to be the overwhelming favorite to be given an expansion franchise, because it basically already has one. Just a matter of getting the land squared away (and seems to be) and getting the stadium built. 

It is believed that after Miami, Sacramento has the best chance to be an expansion franchise in MLS. Sacramento’s current team, Sacramento Republic FC of the USL, has long been a favorite of MLS commissioner Don Garber.  The commissioner is even on record as saying he hopes “that Sacramento will be part of the next round (of expansion).”

Sacramento Republic FC is currently second in USL in attendance, averaging 11,569 per home match in 2017, per Soccer Stadium Digest. The team will play the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday night in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup. This game gives Sacramento a chance to show it’s worth on the field.

The next team on the ladder is most likely FC Cincinnati, which leads USL in attendance with an average of 19,678 per match and over 177,000 total fans at home matches this season. Once Cincinnati’s ownership group can finalize their stadium design and location it will be right next to Sacramento as a prohibitive favorite for expansion.

After that comes the Rowdies and fellow USL team Phoenix Rising FC. Right after these two would be Detroit. The interesting part with Detroit is it has a team, Detroit City FC, which is in the National Premiere Soccer League. It would be tough to see another coming in without some type of compromise on the name. Interestingly enough, Tampa/St. Pete, Phoenix, and Detroit are the number 11, 12, and 13 TV markets in the country, respectively.

This is how it appears to be as we approach July: 

1. Miami (lock)

2. Sacramento

3. Cincinnati 

4. Tampa Bay 

5. Phoenix

Confidence has been growing from within the organization ever since team owner Bill Edwards announced his intentions to seek placement in MLS back in December.

The announcement was made at The Birchwood in downtown St. Pete on December 6, 2016. Edwards, in front of supporters and ticket holders, pulled out a green shirt that said “#MLS2STPETE”, which was followed by roaring applause.

The Rowdies received a huge boost on May 2nd in a public referendum vote where an overwhelming 87% of St. Petersburg voters said “Yes” to allowing the city to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the team for Al Lang Stadium. This cleared a major hurdle for stadium expansion along the waterfront in St. Pete.

One major reason for this passing was no use of public funds to expand Al Lang Stadium.

There are still questions surrounding the Rowdies bid for expansion:

Entry Fee

- Starting at $150 million.

- There is a strong feeling that this fee could climb to as high as $200 million to get a team into MLS.

- Owner Bill Edwards may have limited funds to accomplish the feat of bringing MLS to Tampa/St. Pete.

Stadium Plans

- While a plan to expand Al Lang Stadium is in place, the cost could exceed the estimated $80 million figure put out by the team.

- Completing the renovations and expansion of the stadium in time for 2019 season. This is a minor issue where the team could begin it’s first season in MLS with a long road trip to allow for full completion of the stadium.

Fan Support

- The Rowdies currently rank 7th in USL attendance for 2017 with just under 5,600 fans per home match.

- Al Lang currently holds roughly 7,200; the expansion plans for the stadium has that number growing to 18,000 seats. Will the fans show up?

We will not know what MLS will do until this fall. One Rowdies official says nothing has changed, in terms of when MLS will make any sort of expansion announcements. It is expected that the team could know its fate, privately, some time in October, with a public decision and announcement in November or December.

These are the questions being asked every time expansion talks come up for MLS. It is a long process and the evaluation is ongoing.

The one big question no one knows, as of now, is: will MLS take two teams or four teams in expansion this time around?

Stay tuned, Rowdies fans.