Minnesota United—and yes, the name is Minnesota United—confirmed its 2017 entry into Major League Soccer at a St. Paul event on Friday evening, celebrating the end of four decades of uncertainty surrounding the status of the pro game in the Twin Cities.
Under numerous names and owners and through just about every league that’s given soccer a go in the U.S., Minnesota has been supportive but also struggled to find stability. As recently as late 2012, the club now called United was in danger of folding. But Bill McGuire, the physician and executive who once ran UnitedHealth Group, rescued the North American Soccer League franchise, renamed it and now, after fending off a challenge from the NFL’s Vikings, will take it into MLS.
United will spend 2017 at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, and most or all of 2018 as well, as it builds a 21,000-seat arena in the Midway area of St. Paul.
McGuire, whose investor group includes the owners of the Timberwolves and Twins, was awarded the rights to an MLS team in March. But Friday’s announcement was delayed as United worked to firm up its temporary and permanent stadium plans. Meanwhile, early objections from Atlanta United (next year’s other expansion team) and the MLS office cast doubt on whether the Minnesota club would keep its name. It wouldn’t be Twin Cities soccer without a bit of uncertainty but answers finally fell into place and United, the league, St. Paul and the state of Minnesota were ready to move forward.
“This club has had support through four or five ownership groups, through different stadiums, through decades and decades and finally, it all leads to this day,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
The commissioner then introduced McGuire, and fans chanting “United! United!” welcomed him to the microphone. The name was the high-profile question heading into Friday—the club was considering ‘Minnesota FC’ when it appeared MLS would limit itself to two Uniteds—but in the end McGuire and the fans got what they wanted.
“What’s in the name? In this case, it’s everything,” McGuire said. “Look across this throng of people. Consider where we’ve been and what is in front of us. Think about who we are. Who we will become, and what we value. You can’t really say it better than, ‘We are United.’”
The club’s popular loon and star logo will remain, with the current version that reads ‘Minnesota United FC’ being streamlined next year to read ‘MNUFC.’
Later, governor Mark Dayton promised the crowd that the property tax abatements sought by the club will be delivered at an upcoming special session of the state legislature. McGuire and his partners are paying for the stadium but requested that the land on which it sits, which isn’t currently taxed, remain so after construction. Dayton was unable to get the legislation passed before Friday’s event, but that wasn’t going to stop a celebration that had been so many years in the making.
“It’s really the sport for billions around the world. It’s the sport of the future. It’s the sport that more than anything else embodies the diversity, the culture, of the society we’re a part of,” McGuire said. “It’s a game of amazing passion. We see that. We see it here … We see it at our own games. And at this point, it’s the game now of Minnesota.”
The Uniteds Minnesota and Atlanta will bring MLS to 22 clubs. Atlanta will play in the Eastern Conference and Minnesota in the Western, giving each conference 11 teams from which six will make the playoffs. The league intends to add Los Angeles FC and David Beckham’s Miami team in 2018 or soon thereafter.
Meanwhile, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson made the following statement as the second-tier league bid farewell to one of its strongest members: “We would like to be the first to wish Minnesota United FC much success in its new endeavors in MLS. Dr. Bill McGuire and his staff and players have been passionate and dedicated partners during their time in the NASL, and we thank them for that. It's also important to recognize the incredible fans who have supported Minnesota's NASL clubs over the last six years. It has been a real joy to watch them develop such a deep love for their club.”