- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Phoenix is rising, St. Louis had a setback and Miami is well, Miami. As Major League Soccer’s expansion process moves along, there’s been some recent jostling among the cities in contention.

Twelve locations are competing for MLS expansion franchises. Two winning bids are expected to be announced this fall that will bring the league to 26 teams, with two additional teams to be added in the future.

MLS expanded to 22 teams this season with the addition of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. LAFC, which replaces the now-defunct Chivas USA, joins in next year. The Miami bid, led by David Beckham, would bring the league to 24.

That brings us to that Miami effort, which feels like it has been in the works forever and derailed a number of times. Earlier this month, the superstar-led group unveiled plans for a privately financed, 25,000-seat stadium. The ownership group still needs the city to sign off on a part of the land deal, a decision that could come as early as June 6. The stadium would not open until 2021.

While the news coming out of Miami appeared somewhat encouraging, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was ominous when he told reporters: “This is, frankly, I believe our last opportunity here for Miami to have Major League Soccer.”

Meanwhile, expansion efforts seem to be heating up out West.

The Phoenix bid got a boost earlier this month with a visit from MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott. The city is home to the USL side Phoenix Rising FC, which already has a soccer complex that could be expanded - using private financing, again - to big-league standards.

The bid got its own star power with the addition of Didier Drogba as both a player and an investor. Attendance figures have risen this season, another good sign.

If attendance is any indication, a front-runner for expansion could be Sacramento, home of the USL’s Sacramento Republic, which is attracting an impressive average of 11,569 fans to home games.

The hopeful MLS owners, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, earlier this month announced the purchase of the team, which paves the way to the next level.

“No community has worked longer or advanced further than Sacramento to demonstrate our readiness to be a Major League Soccer city. Our record-breaking fan base, shovel-ready stadium plan and committed ownership group are unrivaled,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

A possible team in St. Louis suffered a serious blow last month when voters in that city failed to pass a measure that would have raised $60 million for a downtown stadium. The results were disappointing because the St. Louis area has in the past embraced soccer and there was the potential for a spirited rivalry with Sporting Kansas City.

MATCH OF THE WEEK: Memorial Day weekend features a number of rivalries, and there’s none more heated than the three-way Cascadia Cup race between the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders.

The competition for the supporter-created trophy moves to Seattle on Saturday when the Timbers visit the Sounders.

The Timbers, who were hot to start the season but have cooled off a bit, beat the Whitecaps earlier this month in their first Cascadia match, while the Sounders fell to the Whitecaps to drop to the bottom of the table in the competition.

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was trash-talking this week, targeting Portland mascot Timber Joey: “We don’t even know if he’s a real lumberman or whether he’s just a guy.”

On Wednesday, Timbers coach Caleb Porter clarified Timber Joey’s experience.

“He is a legitimate lumberman, he has worked in the woods, and to quote him he has ‘cut, milled and built things’ out of wood,” Porter said.

BEST OF THE REST: FC Dallas, which dropped it first match of the season last week with a 1-0 loss at home to the San Jose Earthquakes, heads out on the road for a Thursday night match against the rising Chicago Fire, who have won four straight.

Dallas then heads home to face Houston in a rivalry match Sunday. The Earthquakes face the LA Galaxy in a California Clasico on Saturday.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron earned the honor after his first career hat trick in Atlanta’s 4-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo last Sunday.

THE CANADIAN TEAM THAT COULD: The USL’s Ottawa Fury surprised Toronto FC on Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the semifinal for the Voyageur’s Cup - Canada’s club championship. That puts the Reds on notice for the second leg, which will be played May 31 in Toronto.

The winner of the semifinal will face either the Whitecaps or the Montreal Impact in the two-legged championship, which was created by supporters in 2002. The winner wins Canada’s spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“It’s a wakeup call for us that we have to play at our best and not take things for granted and we’re going to have to perform if we’re going to get ourselves through this round,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. The Reds are the defending champions.

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