Minnesota United FC is exploring Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium as home game sites for the 2017 season as the professional soccer team makes plans for its move to Major League Soccer.
On Tuesday, a member of the league’s operations department visited both venues, primarily to look at infrastructure including data hookups and press boxes. United President Nick Rogers said Thursday that 2017 is the preferred date for Minnesota to join the league.
“As a club, we would like to start in 2017 and I think MLS would like to start in 2017,” said Rogers, who offered no timetable for “finalizing a plan everyone feels good about.”
United would need a place to play in 2017 because its planned $120 million, 20,000-seat stadium in St. Paul won’t be ready. City and team officials have expressed confidence in garnering legislative approval for the project, scheduled to be started later this year and completed in 2018.
Both TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field boast ready-made infrastructure and significantly more seating than United’s current home field at the National Sports Center in Blaine, which was not part of Tuesday’s visit.
And both stadiums have experienced high-profile events. TCF Bank Stadium, a turf field, played host to Vikings home games the past two seasons. Target Field, a natural-grass field and the Twins home, was the site of the 2014 All-Star Game.
“I think MLS felt good before the visit,” Rogers said. “They still wanted to kick the tires and see how these stadiums would work for soccer.”
TCF Bank Stadium played host to a 2014 soccer match featuring Greek club Olympiakos and Manchester City of the English Premier League that drew an announced 34,047 fans. But Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was critical of the sod laid over the artificial turf.
Blaine has a soccer specific, grass-field facility that has been the home of Minnesota pro soccer since 2008. Asked about Blaine, Rogers said, “I don’t get the feeling the MLS is very interested.”
Readying the Blaine venue for MLS would require a new press box plus upgrades to the concessions stands and restrooms, said Barclay Kruse, chief communications officer for the National Sports Center. Parking is also a concern given the myriad events the campus holds.
Then there is seating. MLS averaged 21,574 fans per game this season, more than double what the NSC Stadium holds. MLS teams played a 34-game schedule last season, evenly split between home and away games.
Adding seating, Kruse said, would be the easiest part. Construction would have to begin right after United’s North American Soccer League season ended in the fall.
“We’re moving forward with the assumption that United won’t be here in 2017,” Kruse said.
Minnesota United was approved in March to become the 24th franchise in the MLS. Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles had previously been awarded franchises.
The MLS had originally planned on expansion teams in Atlanta and Los Angeles beginning play in 2017. But while Los Angeles has an agreement on a stadium deal, the construction will not be completed in time to allow the team to begin before 2018.
The league prefers to add two teams in 2017 for scheduling ease, giving it 22 teams. The league added two teams – New York and Orlando – in 2015 for 20 teams. New York plays its home games at Yankee Stadium.
It appears now that if the league sticks to its plan of two teams opening in 2017, the second team will be Minnesota. The other option is to go with a 21-team league in 2017 and have Atlanta as the only expansion team coming in that season.
In Miami, the city has no stadium deal with the franchise, headed by former pro star David Beckham.