Commentary

Minneapolis move ratchets up the pressure for Miami

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

News broke last week that MLS very close to approving Minnesota United of the NASL as its next addition and that isn't good news for Miami.

One of two groups bidding to bring an MLS team to Minneapolis has apparently taken the lead, and it’s not the Minnesota Vikings.

The group is headed by William McGuire, a former health care executive who owns Minnesota United. United currently plays in the National Sports Center, a small facility in suburban Blaine, but Northern Pitch confirmed last week it has acquired an option on a parcel of land downtown near Target Field, home of the baseball Minnesota Twins. No ownership group has been officially identified, but McGuire has reportedly lured partners with sufficient financial clout to fund a stadium -- estimated cost of $150 million – with private money if necessary.

MLS released a statement Monday citing a timeline on an expansion announcement of “30 to 45 days.” McGuire’s efforts have steadily gained traction since last summer and will apparently supersede an alliance with the NFL, such as exists with the Patriots and Revolution and will be in force when Atlanta joins MLS in 2017.

The Vikings have proposed an MLS team share a new stadium that is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2016. It has already been awarded the 2018 Super Bowl and is being partially funded by public money. Several local officials have informed McGuire that they won’t approve public subsidies for his soccer project.

An MLS statement issued Monday quoted commissioner Don Garber thusly: “We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club’s home.”

That statement serves the league on several fronts: a) it mitigates fears somewhat that the league is overly eager to jump into large facilities just to attract NFL money; b) it strengthens the presence of mid-market cities that already house teams in other pro sports; and c) it fires another warning shot in the direction of Miami, which is losing ground as rival cities package together the holy trinity of deep-pocketed owners, political support and suitable stadiums.

McGuire has run into opposition from political leaders who are mindful that public money is funding a portion of the Vikings’ stadium and aren’t willing to pony up for his project. As of yet, however, there doesn’t seem to be any organized resistance to planting a soccer team in the Twin Cities area.

Si.com reported MLS has issued a letter of intent stating it will award McGuire’s group an expansion slot once sufficient details regarding construction of a stadium are tendered and vetted. A letter of intent isn’t binding yet it’s a crucial indicator of a bid gathering momentum.

Doing the math, Minneapolis would be the 24th MLS team, assuming Miami stays on board. Atlanta is slated to join in 2017 and to operate an even number of teams (22) that year the league could green-light Los Angeles FC (working title) even if a long-rumored soccer-stadium project that would replace the L.A. Sports Arena doesn’t progress swiftly enough.

Speculating on what happens after the membership grows to 22 centers on the other “news” that really wasn’t news coming out of the league office Monday: Garber’s confirmation the league will – if it hasn’t already – discuss expanding beyond 24 teams, a target the league set for 2020 several years ago.

Many news outlets misreported this target number as a finite limit not to be exceeded, which awakened proponents of promotion-relegation from a expansion-induced slumber. Garber’s statement confirms that a bigger league is more than a theoretical possibility and suggests not so subtly the topic has already been discussed. A year ago (before Atlanta was announced) a team executive told me he thought a 30-team league, someday, was a viable possibility. Unlike its target date of 2020 to be a 24-team league, MLS has not set its sights officially on 30 teams nor any other number. MLS would reach 23 if and when McGuire’s group is approved and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the league ratcheted up the pressure for Miami to nail down the 24th spot.

Though in just in its second year of operation as a USL team, Sacramento Republic FC is armed with heavy political support as well as moneyed backers. It, too, has a letter of intent; signed in September, this one cites the acquisition of a site at the Sacramento Railyards for a stadium to house an MLS team. (The team's reputation may have suffered when head coach Preki took his players off the field during a preseason game with UC Davis when play got too physical but that's not a deal-breaker for expansion.)

Several other potential expansion cities are also in play but they are well behind Sacramento, and seeing as how quickly Minnesota United has assembled its project, so is Miami.

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