MLS team in Minnesota closer to reality
Atlanta is locked in to be a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in 2017. Minnesota United FC will join them; it just isn't official yet.During halftime of the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., MLS commissioner Don Garber aga...
Atlanta is locked in to be a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in 2017. Minnesota United FC will join them; it just isn’t official yet.
During halftime of the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., MLS commissioner Don Garber again confirmed Atlanta will be the 21st team in the league, adding he has an upcoming announcement circled on his calendar.
“We know we’ll have another announcement in a couple of weeks on who will join them (Atlanta),” Garber told ESPN.
The league currently has 20 teams and prefers to add two teams in the same year for scheduling symmetry. Atlanta is presumed to be entering the now-10-team Eastern Conference, with Minnesota in the 10-team Western Conference.
United President Nick Rogers, who is in San Jose for the All-Star Game, tweeted a photo, writing “expansion technical directors #united” with a photo of Minnesota’s Manny Lagos and Atlanta’s Carlos Bocanegra.
United, however, has unfinished business with the Minnesota Legislature over the proposed property tax exemption sought for its privately funded, $200 million stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. All current pro teams in Minnesota have been granted property tax exemptions in some form. After failing to get a tax bill signed during the regular session, the Legislature has tentatively agreed to a special session for late August.
Garber said Atlanta United has 31,000 season-ticket deposits and has an “unbelievable” technical development and training center. Atlanta also signed its first designated player in 22-year-old Argentinian forward Hector Villalba last week.
There’s also the possible name change to not have two clubs named United enter the league at the same time. In February, MLS registered “Minnesota FC” as the new name for the state’s professional soccer team, according to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing.
After 2017, two more teams are expected after Atlanta and presumably Minnesota. “We’ve got two more teams after that, (Los Angeles) FC is going to break ground on their stadium in two weeks, and we hope to still get something done in Miami,” Garber said.
That would bring MLS to 24 clubs, with Garber saying 28 teams is on the horizon. “We know we’ll have four more teams,” Garber told ESPN. “A lot, a lot of interest. I can’t tell you when that’s going to be. We’re going to be careful to ensure that we manage the technical aspects of expansion, but a lot of interest, probably about a dozen cities for those last four spots.”
United beat out the Minnesota Vikings for the expansion franchise in the state, in part because MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums. The Vikings planned to have their MLS club play in the new U.S. Bank Stadium.
United, which currently plays in the North American Soccer League, was awarded the franchise during an event in March 2015 at Target Field. The plan was to join the league in 2017 or 2018. United initially sought stadium options in St. Paul, Minneapolis, near the Mall of America in Bloomington and other locations.
The preliminary plan presented at the 2015 announcement was to build a stadium near the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, but it didn’t receive enough political support in the 2015 Legislative session or from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. United then went to St. Paul. The club is owned by Bill McGuire and includes partners such as the Pohlad family and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.