Sacramento Republic FC is hoping to become a Major League Soccer franchise with a 25,000-seat downtown stadium. The City Council has approved a nonbinding term sheet on a $226 million privately financed stadium in the northeast corner of the downtown railyard. HNTB
Sacramento Republic FC is hoping to become a Major League Soccer franchise with a 25,000-seat downtown stadium. The City Council has approved a nonbinding term sheet on a $226 million privately financed stadium in the northeast corner of the downtown railyard. HNTB

Andy Furillo

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Andy Furillo

Andy Furillo: MLS looks inevitable for Sacramento

By Andy Furillo

afurillo@sacbee.com

December 11, 2015 05:22 PM

The possible became probable and the probable now appears to have evolved into a foregone conclusion. Before you know it, and hopefully before the rest of the polar ice caps melt, we’ll have big-league soccer in Sacramento.

London bookmakers haven’t posted a price on it, but, as they used to say in the old gambling columns, be sure to pay the rent first if you go against Major League Soccer being here by 2018. If David Beckham and Miami blow the deal with their new stadium, which wouldn’t be a surprise, you might even see MLS here as soon as 2017, in an expanded Bonney Field, while a stadium is built in the downtown railyard.

We once suggested the smashingly successful Republic FC ought to tell MLS to take a hike and instead book a slot in Liga MX, a better and more popular league than the top flight of soccer in the United States. And last weekend’s cable TV numbers were fairly interesting. According to the Sports TV Ratings website, the Liga MX semifinal between Deportivo Toluca FC and Tigres UANL drew an estimated 1,175,000 U.S. viewers on Univision. The MLS championship match between Portland and Columbus was seen by a measly 668,000 on ESPN.

Be sure to pay the rent first if you go against Major League Soccer being here by 2018.

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But like George W. Bush over Al Gore and Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden, the MLS wins in the electoral college of U.S. soccer promotion. And it is right and proper that we run our own soccer show, even if the honchos of Liga MX put out a better product – and also because the people south of the border have shown no particular desire to expand into el norte.

Sacramento soccer developments have made news most of the month. On Dec. 1, the City Council agreed with Republic FC on the terms for a 25,000-seat, $226 million soccer stadium, at only pennies on the dollar in the prickly realm of public expenditure. On Dec. 3, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Sacramento was “very high” on its list of expansion cities. And on Dec. 5, the MLS board of governors voted to support expansion to 28 teams by 2018, which fits neatly into Republic FC’s construction timeline.

And if Miami’s still-nebulous stadium plan bends like a Beckham free kick but breaks like a beer bottle on a South Beach sidewalk, expect MLS to play the Sacramento card a year sooner.

In the meantime, the local soccer public enjoys its third-division Republic FC. The constituency is patient while the team prepares for the top-shelf league. It awaits the future while focused on the present, content with the progress being made in its favored sport and welcoming of the news that the city’s arrival as an MLS town appears inevitable.

These conclusions were gleaned from a public opinion poll conducted by the scientific selection of a single respondent, local barkeep Knute Knutson, who pulls the handles on brews from around the world at Bonn Lair, an escape on J and 36th where televised soccer is served daily alongside the best fish and chips in town.

Bonn Lair’s wooden booths and comfortable sitting rooms are stuffed with soccer fans before and after every Republic FC match. Its walls are decorated with the colors of soccer clubs the world over. Its owner, David Boyet, also owns five shares of the Glasgow-based Celtic Football Club. The bar is home base for many soccer-crazed British and Irish expats. Players of every adult league age group gather after matches in the 22-year-old pub that can out-pub the pubs of London, according to Knutson. It is a place where they know soccer and know its possibilities.

Asked to provide a consensus of the opinions he considers as part of his job duties, Knutson said his customers are at peace with the pace of soccer’s unfolding in Sacramento.

“People know exactly what we have here,” Knutson said. “People in here are pretty soccer savvy. They know what’s going on, and they’re super excited with what we have.”

They like MLS and recognize that while it isn’t the English Premier League or Liga MX, it’s the best pro soccer league in U.S. history and that it’s getting better all the time. They believe that as MLS grows, it eventually will compete for the best players in the world. They know their sport has gained a foothold in the United States and that it continues to capture a huge and increasing share of interest among younger people.

People know exactly what we have here. People in here are pretty soccer savvy. They know what’s going on, and they’re super excited with what we have.

Local bartender Knute Knutson on Republic FC

They’re OK with the incremental pace of MLS’s expansion, understanding the league has to stay within itself, as athletes like to say. They also understand MLS needs to get stronger elsewhere in the country, like in Minneapolis and Atlanta.

They are optimistic, according to the Knutson distillation, seemingly confident – as they should be. The march of soccer popularity is now 40 years long and into its third generation, each of which spawns a greater number of soccer enthusiasts and players than the one before it, as the culture of American sport changes.

They know that the future is on their side.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo