Minnesota United FC ownership group gains leg up as MLS decision nears

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twin Cities’ Major League Soccer fate likely will be decided within the next two months, and it appears one of the market’s two bidding groups has gained a firm leg up on the other.

According to multiple reports, a consortium led by Minnesota United FC owner Dr. Bill McGuire has received written support from the MLS to build a stadium in downtown Minneapolis that will house the league’s 23rd or 24th franchise. McGuire’s group, which includes Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, Twins owner Jim Pohlad and former Medtronic executive Dr. Glen Nelson, has purportedly been looking at land behind Target Field — the current site of the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market — for a soccer-specific stadium.

They’ve been in direct competition with the Wilf family and the Vikings, who hope to secure an expansion franchise to play in their $1 billion stadium that opens for (American) football play in 2016.

When reached by FOXSportsNorth.com, United and Vikings spokesmen both declined comment. MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said in an email "we remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days.  No specific date for an expansion announcement has been set."

McGuire’s group and the Wilfs both presented proposals to the MLS last November in New York, along with representatives from Las Vegas and Sacramento. The league announced last month it had ruled out Las Vegas, and the latest reports suggest Minneapolis is a near lock for top-tier pro soccer, likely to kick off in 2018.

The soccer blog Northern Pitch as well as American Soccer Now both cite sources saying McGuire’s group is the frontrunner. United officials themselves have been mum on the subject, although McGuire hinted at an MLS bid while addressing members of the supporter’s group Dark Clouds earlier this month.

"What we’re trying to do, and as you know we are pretty quiet about this, is fairly straightforward," McGuire, wearing a 2014 MLS Cup scarf, told fans gathered at the Surly brewery in Minneapolis, according to mls4mn.com. "We’re trying to do something that will bring soccer to the community at an increasingly higher professional level and make your bus trips from the Nomad (a soccer bar located just east of downtown Minneapolis) shorter."

Loons president Nick Rogers has told FOXSportsNorth.com something similar on several occasions, albeit without distinctly mentioning MLS.

The Vikings have been much more public, proclaiming their plan to host an MLS team in the Metrodome’s private and publicly funded replacement. McGuire and friends’ new digs would likely cost around $200 million — in addition to a near $100 million expansion fee — and require a significant, if not all-encompassing, amount of private financing.

It’s those details the United group and MLS would have to iron out before an official announcement can be made. According to Courtemanche, the league seeks "a committed local ownership group with the appropriate financial resources, a comprehensive stadium plan where ownership controls the venue, an appropriate market that is attractive to sponsors, television partners and located in an appropriate geographic location," as well as a "history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events."

United has been playing in the Division II North American Soccer League since 2010. Pro soccer here dates back to the 1970s and the Minnesota Kicks.

MLS commissioner Don Garber — who just helped negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and oversaw the start of the league’s 20th season — has expressed his keen interest in the market and securing the Upper Midwest as part of the league’s North American footprint.

"There’s enormous momentum in that market," Garber told Sports Illustrated last month. "They’ve got a great NASL team. There’s a really cool dynamic happening in the downtown area. There’s a ton of millenials who are moving in there. There’s a lot of corporations and young people, particularly people from many different countries, who are moving to that part of the country, so we think Minneapolis would be a great market."

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