New for 2018 in MLS: Minnesota United FC

MLSWe have the 23rd team in Major League Soccer, as Minnesota United FC will make the leap from NASL to MLS for the 2018 season, beating out Sacramento and Miami for the time being.

The news, announced this morning at a Target Field press conference led by Commissioner Don Garber and lead Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire, calls for the new team to play at a downtown Minneapolis stadium near the home of the Minnesota Twins and the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

This is the latest move in the orderly MLS expansion process. Orlando City FC and NYC FC entered the league this year, while a new Atlanta team and LA FC will be entering the circuit in 2017. Two teams are expected for 2018; Minnesota is the first.

“We are proud to welcome Minnesota to Major League Soccer,” Garber said in a league statement. “The ownership group’s commitment to soccer and the community, the area’s growing millennial population and the region’s rich tradition of supporting soccer at all levels in Minnesota were key indicators that this was the right market. The passionate soccer fans in Minnesota will soon have a world-class, downtown soccer stadium that will serve as the home for the new MLS team and become a destination for marquee international sports events.”

McGuire, former chief executive officer with Twin Cities-based UnitedHealth Group, has owned Minnesota United FC since 2012, with the team competing in NASL and playing at Blaine’s National Sports Center. He’s brought in additional investors in the meantime, including Robert and Jim Pohlad (part of the Minnesota Twins ownership as well as part of United Properties, which is expected to play a development role in the new stadium), Wendy Carlson Nelson (part of the Carlson Companies ownership) and Glen Taylor, owner of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I want to thank MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s owners for helping us bring Major League Soccer to Minnesota,” McGuire said in the statement. “As a group of Minnesotans who love this state and have made a commitment to bring this vision to life, this is a momentous day that we’ve all been waiting for.”

The next issue for the new ownership group: a stadium. A site has been selected, but no funding plan has yet emerged, with state officials looking down on a local sales tax used to finance Target Field diverted to a new soccer stadium. United FC’s owners say they’ll have a stadium plan by July 1. McGuire and crew had been competing with Relevent Sports and the Minnesota Vikings, whose plan had the team setting up shop in the new NFL stadium. But MLS officials decided to go with the group that offered a strong development plan, deep pockets and a commitment to a new high-level facility that is expected to cost between $100 million and $150 million. While there has been some speculation that the team would need a temporary home while a new downtown stadium is built, we’ve been told otherwise: a 2018 opening is well within current planning guidelines.

“Soccer’s broad appeal and youthful orientation is so strong that to bring the game, at its highest level, to our community is a tremendous opportunity,” said Robert Pohlad, president of the Pohlad Companies, in the statement. “Our family believes soccer in this part of downtown Minneapolis can also be a catalyst for development. We look forward to being part of the MLS family.”

As noted, the addition of Minnesota puts MLS at 23 teams, with one more expected for 2018. But recent statements from Garber would indicate that 24 teams is not a hard and fast limit: Sacramento interests has made a play for expansion with a solid financial plan and fan base, while the league is contractually obligated to sell David Beckham and his investors a team as part of his LA Galaxy player contract. Beckham and investors have been casting about for a Miami stadium location; both he and Garber have hinted at an announcement in coming weeks. Add in San Antonio and El Paso groups seeking teams, and 26 squads isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Image of Minnesota United FC’s current stadium courtesy of the team.

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August Publications