TORONTO Major League Soccer fired a warning shot across the bow of David Beckham's plans for a franchise in Miami on Friday, with the MLS chief saying the clock was ticking down on time to get a deal done.
"There is a deadline on the Miami deal," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in his annual state of league address ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup final between Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders.
Garber, abiding by a confidentiality agreement between the league and Beckham's group, declined to say what exactly that deadline is but confirmed Miami will be on the agenda when the MLS board meets next week to discuss expansion plans.
Beckham's Miami team is slotted in to become the league's 24th franchise following Atlanta and Minnesota United, who are set to start playing next season followed by a second team in Los Angeles scheduled to begin operations in 2018.
"I have said before we need to resolve the Miami situation so we can go forward with our expansion plans from 25 to 28 because they are team 24," said Garber.
"If they are not going to be team 24 there are going to be a lot of things that need to move around.
"We all know how teams evolve in certain markets and the challenges of getting stadiums built, we try to do everything we can to ensure we have the right recipe for success."
Beckham, who obtained the rights to buy into an MLS franchise at a discount as part of the deal he signed to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, has been frustrated in attempts to secure a home for his team.
The former England captain and his partners in Miami Beckham United (MBU), agent Simon Fuller, Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure and Tim Leiweke, who masterminded the midfielder's move to the Galaxy in 2007, recently purchased a parcel of land in the Overton area of Miami.
MBU, however, is facing further delays, according to a report in the Miami Herald, as the group searches for new investors to help fund the building of a stadium and the purchase of additional land.
The MLS board is due to meet on Thursday in New York to discuss the process, timetable and fees for bringing on board four new franchises to take the total number of teams to 28.
At least 10 markets are looking into joining the MLS, including Austin, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa.
Interest in the league has skyrocketed, Garber said.
For the sixth time in seven seasons the league smashed total and average attendance records with almost 21,700 fans per game, which Garber said put the MLS sixth among global football leagues.
Merchandise sales rose 25 percent over last season, while franchise evaluations have jumped 80 percent from 2013.
"We're continuing to evolve and develop and remain focused on building a league that can be among the top leagues in the world," said Garber. "It seems there is no city in America where you can't have a viable professional soccer team."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Ken Ferris)