MLS confirms ‘advanced discussions’ with Minnesota United FC for team

Minnesota United F.C. went 16-5-7 this past season and reached the North American Soccer League semifinals.

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MINNEAPOLIS — It appears a return trip from Brazil is one of the only obstacles left for Minnesota United FC’s Major League Soccer bid.

MLS confirmed Monday afternoon its officials are involved in "advanced discussions" with United owner Bill McGuire and officials from the semiprofessional Twin Cities team. Reports surfaced late last week that the league’s next expansion franchise would be granted to McGuire’s group, which has plans for a new stadium to be built in downtown Minneapolis.

"We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club’s home," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "We remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days, though no specific date for an announcement has been set."

That announcement is expected sometime after United returns from its preseason training trip to Brazil. The team is expected back in the United States on Tuesday, March 24.

Finalized stadium details are also necessary before McGuire and the MLS club’s proposed ownership group — which also includes Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, Twins owner Jim Pohlad and former Medtronic executive Dr. Glen Nelson — and the league make their accord official. McGuire’s contingent has its eye on land behind Target Field adjacent to the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and local officials including Hennepin County Board chair Mike Opat have voiced their support for a venue there.

The fourth major sports venue erected in the Twin Cities since 2009 would cost an estimated $200 million, in addition to a near $100 million expansion fee required by the league.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis’ other MLS suitor, the Minnesota Vikings, confirmed the league turned down its proposal for soccer in its new $1 billion stadium opening next year.

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"We have been very excited about the possibility of bringing an MLS team to Minnesota fans and deeply committed to providing a phenomenal stadium experience," Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf said in a statement — the team’s first public comments since last week’s reports. "We offered MLS an ideal situation — a stadium that is certain and will be completed in 2016, a plan that was funded by the public and private sectors to host MLS, and an option that will not require additional government approvals. The new multi-purpose stadium also would have accommodated the length of the MLS season and the growth of the sport in this market."

But the MLS is instead going with United, which went 16-5-7 this past season and reached the North American Soccer League semifinals. McGuire bought the club in 2012 and rebranded it into its current name and colors.

"The Loons," as fans — including a hoard of supporters known as the Dark Clouds — call them, drew an average of 6,100 fans to the National Sports Center in Blaine last season.

Both United and the Vikings met with MLS officials in New York last November, along with representatives from Sacramento and Las Vegas. The Vikings had hoped to woo the league with its state-of-the-art facility and a "house reduction mechanism" that would "shrink" the 73,000-seat football stadium, artificial turf and all, into a 20,000-seat arena with a soccer-specific feel.

But McGuire’s plan, along with a pro soccer history that dates back to the 1970s and the Minnesota Kicks, better fits the vision of a rapidly expanding league that hopes to have at least 24 clubs in place by 2020. United would likely begin MLS play in 2018, and a Miami group led by former soccer start David Beckham is the frontrunner for the other remaining spot. The league will have 22 active teams by the start of next season, with Orlando City SC and New York City FC’s inaugural seasons taking place this year and Atlanta and Los Angeles joining the fold in 2016.

And MLS may not stop at 24, either. Las Vegas has been eliminated from the running, but the league retains interest in Sacramento and has met with representatives from San Antonio and St. Louis.

"Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs," Garber said.

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