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LAFC's stadium deal and what it means for Minnesota, MLS expansion

Major League Soccer’s expansion timeline came into further focus on Monday as Los Angeles FC announced its plan to construct a stadium on the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, which is adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and about five miles south of downtown.

The expansion team expects to begin play in its new facility in 2018. MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed the timing at a Monday afternoon news conference.

The new, 22,000-seat, natural grass venue will anchor a larger complex expected to include restaurants, retail, conference space and what LAFC co-owner Henry Nguyen called a “world football museum” that will be “unique to both North and South America.” The entire project will require $250 million in private investment, according to an LAFC news release.

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​The club originally was scheduled to enter MLS in 2017 alongside the unnamed Atlanta franchise, but the scope of the Exposition Park stadium project has pushed the timeline back. According to a Sunday report in the Los Angeles Times, the additional year is required in order to complete an environmental impact assessment and demolish the Sports Arena, which was home to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984-1999, the Lakers in 1960-1967 and numerous other teams.

The LA Galaxy play 12 miles to the south at the StubHub Center in Carson.

LAFC said Monday that it’s operating under “tight deadlines” and must meet “a series of benchmarks by the end of July.” The club called on the city council to “to act quickly to complete environmental reviews, entitlements and infrastructure investment to make the project feasible at this location.” No money from LA’s general fund will be used, the club said, but there will be discussions with the city and state "to identify opportunities that the project will be qualified for under their guidelines."

LAFC’s ownership group, led by Nguyen, former NBA executive Tom Penn and Mandalay Entertainment chairman and CEO Peter Guber, had indicated that progress on a stadium was needed before the club settled on a brand. The Times on Sunday quoted Penn, LAFC’s president, as saying, "It became clear we had to make this decision first. Because then every other decision became easier." As of now, LAFC is expected to stick with that name and the black and red colors featured prominently at Monday’s event, on the stadium renderings and on its website.

Last week, LAFC announced the hiring of COO Carl Schloessman, a local entertainment executive.

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It remains to be seen whether the 2018 launch will have a domino affect on other incoming expansion teams. Whether Atlanta starts alone in 2017 now likely depends on Minnesota United, the NASL club that was awarded an MLS slot in March. Although the league initially said United would come aboard in 2018, commissioner Don Garber then told reporters, “It could be as early as 2017 … We have a number of moving pieces. That’s part of the dynamic with a young sports league. The target is no later than ‘18 and it could be as early as 2017."

Garber added, “Los Angeles is coming into our league and they are either ’17 or ’18 and Minnesota will be either ’17 or ’18.”

United has committed to building an 18,500-seat, outdoor, soccer-specific stadium next to the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. While the club has promised to put $120 million toward facility construction and another $30 million toward the purchase of the property, its request for the sales and property tax relief awarded to other local stadium projects still hasn’t been approved. Thus, there’s no guarantee regarding the potential stadium’s timeline.

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Could United start life in MLS in 2017 at its current home, the 8,500-seat National Sports Center in suburban Blaine? Upgrades on seating and lighting would be required. It would be a similar setting to Buck Shaw Stadium, where the San Jose Earthquakes played from 2008 through last season. The strength of United’s existing brand and fan base might make that feasible. But there’s no guarantee the club will be allowed to keep that brand.

Existing teams entering MLS from another league have changed their logo for trademark reasons, and there’s some concern at MLS that two teams called ‘United’ might create confusion.

The schedule regarding David Beckham’s Miami franchise is even less clear. The group continues to pursue a stadium site, without which the club will not be given the green light. Although land next to Marlins Park in Little Havana is available, Beckham and his partners so far have refused to settle on that location and are continuing their search.

MLS has committed to fielding 24 teams by 2020.