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Sacramento joining MLS, will begin play in 2022

By ANNE M. PETERSON

AP Sports Writer

Major League Soccer has awarded its 29th franchise to Sacramento.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced the league's newest team Monday, joined by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Sacramento Republic FC is set to begin play in 2022.

The team's ownership group includes lead investor Ron Burkle, an owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as entertainment executive Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, an investor in the NBA's Sacramento Kings who has spearheaded the bid for MLS expansion since 2014.

The addition of Burkle and Alvarez earlier this year accelerated negotiations. The Sacramento Republic currently plays in the lower-tier USL Championship league.

The group's plans include a new $300 million soccer-specific stadium on a 14-acre site downtown. The team has already secured commitments for more than 10,000 season tickets. Additionally, UC Davis Health signed a multi-year deal with the team to become the sponsor of Sacramento's jersey once it joins MLS.

"We always believed in the city and always really had faith in this community as one that would support our league and come out and add to all the passion and momentum that we have for our league," Garber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "What brought it over the finish line was Ron Burkle and his partner Matt, and their desire to really take over the ownership efforts. They formed a great partnership with the mayor, and the city to really close this deal. Without Ron and Matt and the mayor's commitment, we're not here today."

The Republic currently plays at the 11,000-seat Papa Murphy's Park and has regularly sold out matches since moving to the stadium in 2014.

Garber first visited Sacramento in 2016. A group led by Nagle submitted an expansion bid in 2017 that was later withdrawn, then a new bid was submitted this April.

"Soccer has gotten to a point now where I think you hit the turning point, where I think it's going to be one of the top two or three sports in America," Burkle said. "And this was a chance for us to be part of that growth."

Major League Soccer has expanded by 17 teams since 2005. FC Cincinnati joined the league this season. Nashville and Miami are set to start play next year, with Austin FC coming aboard in 2021. St. Louis, which was awarded an expansion team in August, will kick off in 2022 with Sacramento.

"I've seen up close and personal how the `beautiful game' can bridge diverse populations, build lasting relationships, and create a shared sense of community," Newsom said in a statement. "With Sacramento Republic FC officially joining the ranks of Major League Soccer, California is now the only state in the nation with four MLS clubs, and I'm excited to watch the Golden State rivalries thrive in the years to come."

Carolina Panthers owner Dave Tepper has pursued an expansion team for Charlotte, while two ownership groups in Las Vegas have also expressed interest in a team.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Updated October 21, 2019

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