sports 3 days ago

Sacramento leaders make their case for Major League Soccer with chanting fans on hand

The Sacramento Bee — Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee

Dec. 06--Now, we wait.

After years of pep rallies, City Council votes and sellout matches, Sacramento made its final presentation to Major League Soccer on Wednesday, arguing that it belongs in the nation's top-tier professional soccer league.

A contingent led by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Republic FC chairman Kevin Nagle made a two-hour pitch to an MLS committee inside the league's headquarters on Fifth Avenue. That committee -- comprised of six MLS team owners -- will recommend which two cities should be granted expansion.

The league expects to name the winning cities by the end of this month. The final decision rests with the MLS board of governors, comprised of the 23 team owners.

Steinberg said the expansion committee had a series of questions the Sacramento bid would address over the following week, but said "we're very, very excited about our prospects, it couldn't have gone better." He would not say which questions MLS needs answered before awarding an expansion bid.

"We were very well received and appreciated the committee's recognition about how prepared we were and are as a city," the mayor said. "In two hours, there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of very good questions and we feel very, very good about. We feel great about it."

One concern about the depth of Sacramento's ownership group was addressed during the meeting when Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman announced she and her husband, Griffith Harsh, had rejoined the Republic FC investor team. Whitman had initially agreed to invest in the team earlier this year, then withdrew after announcing her retirement last month from Hewlett-Packard.

The couple joins Nagle, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and Sacramento developer Mark Friedman as lead investors in Republic FC.

Whitman brings not only her deep pockets, but also some name recognition: she is a longtime executive in Silicon Valley and ran unsuccessfully for California governor.

"After careful consideration we are delighted to join in Sacramento's bid for Major League Soccer," Whitman and Harsh said in a written statement. "Sacramento has proven itself a great soccer destination worthy of entry into MLS."

Republic FC officials arrived in a black SUV a few moments before their presentation and were greeted by more than 30 Republic FC fans cheering on the sidewalk. The contingent carried nine large black boxes filled with iPads that they used to show videos of a downtown stadium concept and other elements of the bid. Some of the boxes contained bottles of wine from Northern California to symbolize the regional support for MLS.

The Sacramento contingent was joined by former Mayor Kevin Johnson, who helped launch the city's expansion dream nearly four years ago and remains close to Nagle. Johnson's experience in convincing the NBA to keep the Kings in Sacramento through multiple relocation attempts was also seen as a key element to his involvement in the MLS meeting.

Johnson did not speak to reporters following the meeting. Steinberg said "he started this thing" and "it was pretty cool" to have him involved.

Representatives from groups in Nashville, Detroit and Cincinnati also made presentations. Along with Sacramento, those cities emerged from a group of 12 as finalists for this round of expansion.

"You've got three very competitive cities that we're working against, and that's the reason we're going to continue to punch higher in these last few days," Nagle said.

Decked out in team scarves and sweatshirts, Republic FC fans showed up outside MLS headquarters for an early-morning rally, cheering as league commissioner Don Garber arrived for the day and chanting, "Glory, glory Sacramento." The fans remained outside for hours and their chants could be heard from inside the office tower where the league has its offices.

The Greater Sacramento Economic Council paid for the travel arrangements for most of the fans. No fan groups from the other three cities were present.

Following the presentation, Nagle, Steinberg and other Sacramento representatives met fans at a bar a block from MLS headquarters, entering the room to loud cheers. Steinberg told the group that the fan rally was the first thing the expansion committee mentioned during the meeting.

"This is a tremendous opportunity," said Cornelius Burke, a Republic FC fan who flew through the night to support his team. "Beer, sweat, goals and tears -- we are ready for MLS."

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Fanatic! Sacramento Republic FC fans rally outside MLS headquarters in New York

Sacramento Republic FC representatives arrived in New York on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, to make their final preparations, and a group of dedicated fans made the trip as well. The Sacramento contingent will walk into a midtown Manhattan office tower Wednesday morning for a two-hour presentation, where they will promote the elements that have made the city a front-runner for a Major League Soccer expansion team.

Ryan Lillis

The Sacramento Bee

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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