Reports: Atlanta Is Up Next For An MLS TeamS

Local and national reports say MLS is relatively close to an agreement with Falcons owner Arthur Blank to bring an MLS expansion team to Atlanta, one of the five new franchises coming in the next seven years. The two would share the billion-dollar retractable domed stadium—aka, "The Sphincter"—that's scheduled to be completed in 2017.

At this summer's all-star game, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced plans for an aggressive expansion that would make MLS the largest top-tier soccer league in the world. In addition to NYCFC, which intends to start play in 2015, four new teams are expected to begin play before 2020. Orlando is almost certain to be one of them, and a Miami side—part-owned by David Beckham—appears to be preferred by the league. Garber said this week that three of the four expansion cities are "already spoken for." That third appears to be Atlanta.

It's not clear whether it would be the NASL's Silverbacks, or an entirely new team.

As first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and then independently by SI.com, MLS is "deep" into "significant" talks with Blank, talks that have accelerated as the new stadium becomes closer to a reality. Back in November, Garber said it was a prerequisite for a potential franchise. Just this morning, the city announced it had reached deals to purchase both churches that stand on the land planned for the stadium.

The lack of a soccer-specific stadium doesn't appear to be an issue for MLS. The Atlanta stadium will be designed to accommodate soccer, with a wide pitch and separate locker rooms, and the upper deck can easily be closed down to reduce capacity. A similar situation is in place in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps play in a CFL stadium.

More of a leap is the geographic confluence of these three proposed teams in Florida and Georgia. The Southern Strategy worked well for Republicans, offered mixed results for the NHL, and was initially a disaster for MLS—franchises in Miami and Tampa were contracted in 2001. But it's the largest, most populated, most underserved region of the country, and a financially healthy MLS is going to give it another go.