MINNEAPOLIS – For years in Minnesota, the only thing the soccer community could count on was uncertainty.
Their pro team, which has existed under several different ownership groups, changed names every few years and switched leagues on multiple occasions, was always one wrong move away from disappearing. Funds were perpetually low, investors were revolving in and out, and, in 2012, it looked like it was all coming to an end.
The North American Soccer League had assumed control of the team in 2011, operating the club while it searched for an owner during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. With NASL's deadline to find a new operator fast approaching and prospects looking bleak, fans were convinced that the team’s penalty kick loss at Tampa Bay in the league championship in the fall of 2012 would be the club’s final game.
Then, Dr. Bill McGuire came in, buying – and saving – the club in November 2012.
Scarcely two years later, Minnesota United FC – the team that nobody wanted – is coming up to Major League Soccer.
“[The owners] are totally committed,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday at the expansion announcement at the Twins’ Target Field. “They love this game, they love this city and they’ve got a great plan for a building. They represent exactly what we want and what we need to continue this momentum that we have, that’s really stimulating the growth of our league.
“We have total belief in the Twin Cities. This is a market that is young, that is diverse, that has more people riding their bicycles around than they do in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is a pretty hip place. It has an incredible international flair too. It is a city that represents all of the things that we have been able to capitalize on that are allowing our league to be a sport for a new America. It’s diverse, it’s young and it is empowered by people who are the next generation of great sports fans.”
McGuire’s group has plans to build a soccer-specific stadium at a site they control adjacent to the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, a local landmark near downtown. They were awarded the franchise after a lengthy bid process that included bids from Sacramento, Las Vegas, and a second one in Minnesota headed by the NFL Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who are constructing a $1 billion, indoor facility at the site of the old Metrodome.
Minnesota United FC’s plan for an outdoor, natural grass stadium won over MLS, which preferred their proposed open air facility over the Wilf’s dome.
“We were fortunate to have a competitive environment and that’s very different from where we were in the past where we didn’t have any folks interested in investing in our league,” Garber said of the competing Minnesota proposals. “We had two very strong ownership groups. The Wilfs have a great relationship with our ownership groups across the board. I’m friendly with Mark, I have a great relationship with him, but at the end of the day we wanted a plan for an outdoor soccer stadium and that’s what Bill and his partners are focused on providing.”
Minnesota will remain in the NASL until they move to MLS. Although announced as beginning play in MLS in 2018, their arrival date to is fluid, Garber said. It depends on whether or not fellow expansion club LAFC is ready to move into their stadium and enter the league in 2017. Either LAFC or Minnesota United will enter MLS in 2017, with the other club starting their tenure in the league in 2018.
Atlanta’s expansion team will begin play at the facility they’ll share with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2017, and Garber said on Wednesday that the league will not have more than two expansion teams enter the league that year.
“It could be as early as 2017,” Garber said when asked by reporters when Minnesota will enter MLS. “We have a number of moving pieces. That’s part of the dynamic with a young sports league. The target is no later than ‘18 and it could be as early as 2017."
Garber added that the timing of Minnesota’s and LAFC’s entry into the league will not be related to David Beckham’s expansion project in Miami.
“Los Angeles is coming into our league and they are either ’17 or ’18 and Minnesota will be either ’17 or ’18. It’s not related to Miami.”