Disappointed fans leaving the Minnesota United FC’s worst loss in four years Saturday night in Blaine had their spirits lifted as they received save-the-date cards that point to a long-awaited announcement set for Aug. 19:
The team will move to Major League Soccer in 2017.
One side of the card included an MLS shield, the date, the letters “STP” and the words “Be there.” The other side featured the hashtag “#NextStopMLS.”
The event, to be held at a St. Paul venue likely to be announced this week, will include team owner Bill McGuire, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Team and league officials did not grant interview requests Sunday.
Garber said during the recent MLS All-Star Game that the league will add Atlanta United FC as a franchise in 2017. He said “another expansion announcement” for next season will be made “in a couple of weeks.”
Minnesota landed a franchise in 2015, with Garber saying the timing of the move hinged on the team’s getting a stadium. A $150 million, approximately 20,000-seat stadium for the club would be at the heart of redevelopment planned at Snelling and University avenues in the Midway neighborhood.
That project includes tax breaks that passed through the State Legislature in the spring with little opposition but got hung up in a post-session veto — unrelated to the stadium — by Gov. Mark Dayton.
If Minnesota joins MLS for next season as expected, a flurry of activity will follow. Players must be signed to new contracts. The fate of first-year coach Carl Craig must be decided. MLS scheduling begins in September. The league likely would announce 2017 home opening matches in December with full schedules to follow in January. The MLS season begins next March.
Until its stadium is ready, Minnesota United has been making plans to play at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.
When Garber awarded Minnesota a franchise at a soccer rally held in March 2015, it was held at Target Field, amid talk that the team would play in Minneapolis. But it could not secure the Farmers Market location in Minneapolis.
The proposed stadium in St. Paul received a better reception. Last spring state legislators agreed to a property tax exemption for the land where the team wants to build the stadium and approved a liquor license for it. The team is eligible for a sales tax exemption on construction materials.
Dayton’s veto stemmed from a $100 million error unrelated to the soccer facility. The situation will be the subject of a special legislative session likely to happen in late August.
Also coming this month, the St. Paul City Council will vote on the stadium site plan and a master plan for the superblock. Last week, the council held a final public hearing on plans involving the stadium.
TCF Bank Stadium is likely to be Minnesota United’s home for the entire 2017 soccer season and a portion of 2018, since ground has not been broken at the St. Paul site. The university has been in talks with United officials about parameters for using the stadium, including how to handle scheduling when Gophers football overlaps the soccer season.
Then there’s the United name, noticeably vacant from the save-the-date card. It’s expected the team will drop the nickname, which is used by current MLS franchise D.C. United and Atlanta’s incoming expansion franchise. “Minnesota FC” is the name MLS registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
McGuire, formerly the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, had previously said calling the soccer team United was about bringing the soccer communities of Minnesota together. Past Minnesota professional soccer teams were known as the Kicks, Strikers, Thunder and Stars.