MLR’s Window for Expansion is Shrinking

July is nearly over. Any chance for MLR expansion in 2023 appears to be facing the same reality.

When MLR Commissioner George Killebrew acknowledged that potential expansion bids in Chicago and St. Louis might not be able be accepted in time for 2023, it should’ve made bigger waves. (There was a little skirmish involving two current teams that took all the air out of the room at that point.) Now, with 2022 ready to enter its eighth month, that possibility is looking increasingly likely.

While the 2023 MLR campaign won’t kick off until February, the key roster building period is quickly approaching. As of writing, the MLR Collegiate Draft is 22 days away. The league has yet to publish an official draft order. Presumably, expansion teams would hold the top picks. While few draft picks make massive impacts immediately, the draft remains a key date in the league calendar. We’ve heard nothing about expansions being present at The Rugby Showcase or scouting draft prospects. If they miss the draft, expansions are surely out until at least 2024.

None of this should be stunning. After Dallas’s debacle of an inagural campaign, (mostly off-field issues that managed to hamper on-field production,) Major League Rugby is certainly going to be more stringent about deeming expansions ready for play. A proper set up would have front office staff in place for a season before the actual team takes the pitch. Unless either expansion bid is truly ready, it helps nothing to push them out into the spotlight and hope they can sing the song without hearing it.

All of this should point to a new model.

The St. Louis Knights wouldn’t be the only new sports team in the city in 2023. That’s also when Saint Louis City SC of Major League Soccer will take the field for the first time. The difference is City has started playing their MLS Next side (essentially a developmental squad in MLS’s official developmental league) in that competition in 2022. The senior squad might need more time, but the pipeline is already started.

(Side note: they’re building a heck of a stadium to play in. I happened to stay across the street from it last weekend. If you’re ever in the area, Maggie O’Brien’s across the street is worth a visit as well.)

That model could trickle into the MLR. Allow expansions a conditional entry one year prior to actual entry into the senior level. It would allow rugby people to have some runway, first with scouting, but second with developing academies. Let them start developing Homegrown Players that they can have some experience with prior to building their first full squad.

None of this is revolutionary. Theoretically, any group could start an academy. However, investing in that endeavor without some degree of assurance from the league regarding entry only raises the financial bar for new clubs.

The point: none of this should be jarring, meaning none of it will come to fruition. Once again, thanks for listing, Cold, Dark Abyss.

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