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MLS expansion update: Miami making progress despite deadline, Minneapolis in play

David Beckham is spearheading a group that's trying to bring MLS soccer to MIami. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images) David Beckham is spearheading a group that's trying to bring MLS soccer to MIami. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

It appears that New Year’s Eve will come and go without an MLS expansion announcement from David Beckham, but missing the league’s Dec. 31 “deadline” almost surely won’t have any tangible impact on his push for a Miami stadium deal.

Securing land and funding for a new facility in time to meet the original terms of Beckham's $25 million expansion option was always going to be a tall order for the former midfielder, who retired only seven months ago. Beckham has been working with Bolivian telecommunications mogul Marcelo Claure and continues to make progress with local authorities, sources tell SI.com.

Two weeks ago, Miami-Dade County commissioners unanimously authorized mayor Carlos Gimenez to negotiate with Beckham and potential contractors, and by all accounts those talks are going well. There's confidence at the league level that the details will be worked out.

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Perhaps Beckham was overly optimistic in late November, when he told Sky Sports, "Hopefully there will be an announcement before the new year." But he certainly wasn't desperate. MLS has no plans to cut Beckham loose on Wednesday and start from scratch in South Florida. In fact, commissioner Don Garber and deputy commissioner and president Mark Abbott are on vacation, not waiting by the phone to hear if the ex-player and the mayor have broken ground.

Beckham's cut-rate entry fee might rise next month, but MLS remains committed to bringing Miami aboard once a stadium plan takes shape.

"We are very excited about the opportunity of David putting together an ownership group and finalizing a stadium site in downtown Miami so that we could end up having what we hope would be our 22nd team in a city that's one of the largest in the country and has a strong and passionate soccer fan base. But there's a lot of work that needs to happen," Garber said this month.

"We can't go to Miami without the right stadium solution," he added. "David understands that. The city understands that. That is an indisputable fact. We can't have different rules for Miami than we'd have for any other city."

Miami and Atlanta are expected to be the league's 22nd and 23rd clubs. Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who hopes to field an MLS team in a new retractable-roof stadium scheduled to open in 2017, has been in talks with the league for years. Falcons executive VP and chief marketing officer Jim Smith, formerly the president and GM of the Columbus Crew, attended the MLS Cup final.

Also in Kansas City for the league title game was a group that might be interested in bringing MLS to Minneapolis -- and it wasn't the Vikings. While Beckham's Miami entry appears to be a matter of "when" and not "if", there's an intriguing contest taking shape in the Twin Cities, where the construction of a new soccer-ready NFL stadium may have lit a fire under the owners of local NASL club Minnesota United.

The Vikings expect to open their $1 billion palace in 2016, and the organization claimed last week that "Conversations regarding securing a soccer team for this market have heated up between the Vikings and MLS representatives." A team spokesperson stood by that characterization when contacted by SI.com on Monday afternoon.

According to multiple sources, however, MLS officials have spent more time with United than the Vikings over the past several weeks. The second-tier club, which won the NASL championship in 2011, is owned by Bill McGuire, a physician and the former CEO of UnitedHealth Group. United plays at the National Sports Center in Blaine, some 14 miles north of downtown Minneapolis, but has acknowledged "preliminary" interest in pursuing an urban, soccer-specific stadium. Representatives were in K.C. to take a look at Sporting Park.

United's long-term viability might depend on beating the Vikings to the MLS punch, one source said, and it seems McGuire has found an ally in the Minnesota Twins. The baseball team's president, Dave St. Peter, joined the United contingent and the head of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority three weeks ago in Kansas City.

Owned by investor Jim Pohlad, the Twins are part of a consortium called 2020 Partners aiming to spur development in the area around Target Field, Target Center (the NBA arena) and the Minneapolis Farmers Market. It certainly wouldn't be cheap to build there, but Pohlad's resources and relationships might make the difference for McGuire and United. Twins ownership has been interested in MLS for a while, a source told SI.com.

In September, 2020 Partners issued a statement "encourag[ing]" United to "explore the Farmers Market site for a soccer stadium as the potential anchor for development of a multi-use complex."

The Twin Cities has had a team playing at the lower levels of the U.S. pyramid since 1994 -- two years before MLS kicked off. After two decades, it seems a race to the top has begun.
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