Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber came back to the Twin Cities on Friday, this time to make the definitive announcement on Minnesota’s future in the league.
After a false start in awarding Minnesota a Minneapolis-based MLS expansion franchise in 2015 — a Target Field news conference held then focused on plans for the team to play in a new outdoor Minneapolis stadium — Garber announced that the now St. Paul-based team will open play in 2017.
This time, it appears, all the parties involved are committed. “A lot of work went into the last couple years of putting this together, and these are the days that make all of us at MLS really happy,” said Garber, who joined team, city and state officials at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul. “It brings tears to our eyes.”
Minnesota will play next season, and possibly beyond, at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. United FC owner Bill McGuire, who is heading the MLS ownership group, said he anticipates breaking ground on a privately financed 20,000-seat stadium in St. Paul’s Snelling-Midway neighborhood later this year, and would like to wrap up construction and begin holding games there “sometime in 2018.”
“We’re going to push for that,” McGuire said.
Minnesota’s MLS team will become the state’s first pro sports expansion franchise since the Wild began play in St. Paul in 2000.
The biggest roar from a crowd of about 1,500 fans — more than 4,000 had RSVP’d, but rain likely kept many away — came when McGuire, draped in a team scarf and speaking from a stage constructed in center field, emphatically answered the question of whether the United name would endure. Two MLS teams — D.C. United and fellow expansion team Atlanta — also use the name.
“What’s in a name?” McGuire asked. “In this case, it’s everything. We are United.”
St. Paul resident Bill Schroepfer said, “I’m glad the MLS saw the wisdom of letting us hold onto our brand.”
Minnesota will be placed in the Western Conference, with Atlanta in the Eastern Conference, bringing MLS to 22 teams.
Now Minnesota must wait for a new home. Plans for a soccer stadium previously stalled in Minneapolis in the summer of 2015 due largely to a lack of city and county support.
A July 1, 2015, deadline to secure a financing plan in Minneapolis passed, and the MLS agreed to consider St. Paul before it abandoned Minnesota as an expansion site.
St. Paul had little trouble generating political and community support for the franchise. The team has been designing a $150 million stadium for the Snelling-Midway neighborhood. On Wednesday, the St. Paul City Council signed off on plans for the stadium site and surrounding development.
The 16-acre stadium site would include parking and green space.
Inside, the building would have food vendors, retail space for team merchandise and potentially a craft beer taproom, according to site plan documents.
City leaders who approved the plans said the development would be a “game changer” for the neighborhood and noted that residents are excited about MLS coming to St. Paul.
The next day, the team was dealt a blow when Gov. Mark Dayton announced there would be no special legislative session. A tax bill intended for the special session included a property tax break for the stadium site.
McGuire has said tax relief would be critical to construct the stadium.
“We will get the tax pieces” in the 2017 legislative session, Dayton said at Friday’s event.
McGuire said he remains confident about moving forward with construction despite the tax break delay.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Friday night’s event affirmed how much public interest there is in the sport.
“Once that first game is played in that facility, it’s going to be self-generating, the enthusiasm and the growth,” Coleman said.
Daniel Warner of Minneapolis said he has attended a handful of games at the team’s current home, the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine.
But he anticipates showing up to more games when they are held in the Twin Cities.
A native of Kansas City, a veteran MLS market, Warner said he has seen the excitement that MLS status and a new soccer stadium generated there.
“It made a huge difference,” Warner said. He expects that Minnesota, currently playing in the second-tier North American Soccer League, will see a similar response.
Garber is counting on it. He said Friday marked the largest launch event in the history of MLS, now in its 21st season.
“It speaks to what our hope is for what this team can do to help continue to build our league,” Garber said.