This is shaping up to be a fascinating summer of soccer in the Twin Cities, and the impending World Cup, which starts Thursday, is only a small piece of it.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said Tuesday that his organization is partnering with Relevent Sports, a heavy hitter in international and U.S. soccer. It’s part of a “strategic alliance” aimed at promoting major soccer events in the area — including an Aug. 2 match at TCF Bank Stadium between Olympiakos and Manchester City — but also in ultimately landing a Major League Soccer franchise.
A Vikings group including Mark Wilf met with MLS President/Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott on Monday in New York to give the league a status update on soccer-specific design elements of the new Vikings stadium. While there is no timetable for the Vikings to make a bid on a franchise that would play in the new facility — Minneapolis is considered a front-runner in the league, which has plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020 — Bagley said this will be a busy summer.
“Certainly our intention is to work through this stadium design with MLS and our architects to get it in position,” Bagley said. “I think we’re going to be busy, aggressive over the next two to three months.”
Also on Tuesday, the existing soccer team in town — Minnesota United FC, which plays in the North American Soccer League — held a news conference to celebrate its spring season championship, which guarantees the club a spot in the playoffs later this year. United has several major matches on its summer schedule, including bringing in Swansea City from the English Premier League to the National Sports Center in Blaine on July 19.
United’s ownership is also considered a contender to make a play for an MLS franchise — in an outdoor, soccer-specific stadium — and already has the kind of grassroots fan support that the Vikings are trying to build. The main advantage the Vikings have over the United group is a stadium that is already in place.
United’s leadership, however, continues to be far more quiet on the subject of MLS than the Vikings, preferring to do its work on the field and behind the scenes.
“We’re out there doing the hard work to show this is a great market for pro soccer,” United President Nick Rogers said. “The message is that we’re here playing professional soccer at what we hope is going to be a very high level for a very long time, and we’ll see where that takes us.”