MLS is coming to the Twin Cities, if Minnesota United FC can get past the legislative red tape and build a stadium. We’ve had plenty of stadium debates in Minnesota. Just like the others, this one is taking awhile but seemingly for a different reason.
Minnesota sports fans have been through the stadium wringer again and again. A palatial stadium for the Vikings opens next year. Not one but two new pro baseball stadiums have opened. Even the Timberwolves are committed to a renovation of their aging building.
Squabbles over money have delayed every one of those projects, but a different kind of squabble seems to have the soccer stadium in limbo. This time, we’re not arguing about how much money governments should give up front. United’s request didn’t involve local funding, just common tax breaks that have been approved for the rest of the stadiums — but both local and state politicians dug their heels in all the same.
From a soccer fan’s perspective, it’s impossible to understand. Presumably, as they voted for tax increases or other direct government funding, local politicians decided that every other local pro team brings something to the Twin Cities. Sports give people something to do, follow and be a part of; they give Minneapolis-St. Paul a sense of place, and an identity other than that of a frozen ghost town. All of those things added up to fairly widespread support for new stadiums across Minneapolis-St. Paul. Why not soccer?
There’s no reason soccer is any different these days. Young people follow soccer more closely than any sport save football. Networks fight over the TV rights — and not just for MLS, but for foreign leagues as well. The Women’s World Cup Final got better TV ratings than any game of either the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. There are five major pro sports in America now, not four.
With all that in mind, why Minneapolis resisted soccer so strongly is a mystery. Both the city and Hennepin County, recently so eager to directly fund the Twins, Vikings and Wolves, turned up their noses at soccer — despite not having to reach for their checkbooks. It would seem that baseball, football and basketball fit with their future vision for the city, but soccer doesn’t belong.
United is now looking to St. Paul for support to build on a site near Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94. If we can all agree that the Twin Cities wants to have the other pro sports, it stands to reason that we will want America’s fifth major sport. Now that appears to be up to St. Paul.