Minnesota United’s July 1 “deadline” to present a stadium plan to Major League Soccer came and went on Wednesday, but expansion to the Twin Cities remains very much in play thanks in part to interest from the city of St. Paul, deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said.
United, which currently plays in the NASL, beat the Minnesota Vikings in the race to operate MLS’s 23rd team because it pledged to build an urban, soccer-specific stadium. Backed by a wealthy and well-connected investor group led by former healthcare executive Dr. Bill McGuire (and including the owners of the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves), United focused on a plot of land close to mass transit, the Minneapolis Farmers Market and the Twins’ Target Field.
The club offered to fund stadium construction in exchange for property tax relief and a sales tax break building materials. United has claimed that the region’s other pro sports teams got similar deals in addition to “direct cash subsidies from state and local taxpayers.” The Vikings, for example, received nearly $500 million in contributions from Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis for U.S. Bank Stadium, which is set to open next year.
But United was unable to close the deal, in large part because the state legislature didn't take up the issue before its 2015 session concluded in mid-May. MLS officially awarded the franchise on March 25, giving the club less than two months to get the legislation passed.
That tight timeline, in addition to the range of options still available to United, ensured that July 1 was a deadline in name only.
Speaking to local ESPN radio, Abbott said Wednesday that a downtown stadium was a “primary factor” in the selection of United’s bid and that the league had every intention of holding the club to that promise. St. Paul, however, presented a new wrinkle that Abbott felt was worth exploring.
“We do want to come out and have a meeting with people in St. Paul to make sure we can make a fully informed decision,” Abbott explained, saying that he’d be traveling to the Twin Cities in the next few weeks and that a conversation with St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman would be on the agenda.
“If somebody in Minneapolis came forward with a plan that would be tremendous, because that’s what we’ve always wanted,” he added.
According to Twin Cities soccer website Northern Pitch, the potential St. Paul site is just off the interstate, close to light rail and located less than four miles southeast of the University of Minnesota.
"We remain committed to making Major League Soccer a reality in Minnesota. Since being awarded an expansion club three months ago, support for our effort has grown across the state as countless communities, youth soccer associations, and business interests have expressed support for having Major League Soccer as part of our community," United president Nick Rogers said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
"We are pleased that MLS has agreed to meet with officials from St. Paul to learn about the possibility of building a new stadium there as we believe this is an opportunity that deserves to be evaluated further."
Rogers's comments notwithstanding, Minneapolis isn’t entirely out of the running. Although approval from the state legislature no longer is an option, there may be other avenues the club can take to reach a deal. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges opposes stadium subsidies, but the club does have supporters elsewhere on the political landscape (not to mention owners with a lot of clout), including on the city council. And the city itself now has competition.
The Twin Cities anchor the country’s 15th-largest media market, and United has the sort of ownership group MLS covets. The team has been successful at the NASL level and has been pursuing a stadium in earnest for only short period of time. Although Abbott insisted the July 1 deadline hasn’t been extended officially, his decision to head to St. Paul extends it in practice. United now has more time, and perhaps more leverage, to reach the stadium deal it desires. Ideally, it hopes to enter MLS in 2017.
MLS has pledged to field 24 clubs by 2020 and league commissioner Don Garber has said it will consider expansion beyond that number down the road. Miami and Sacramento remain the frontrunners for the 24th team.
New York's Pro Soccer War: Red Bulls, NYCFC, Cosmos
The New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos walk out to line up ahead of their 2014 U.S. Open Cup clash at Hofstra University's Shuart Stadium.
New York Red Bulls' Chris Duvall (25) takes on the Cosmos' Hagop Chirishian in their 2014 U.S. Open Cup clash.
Tempers flare in the New York Red Bulls' 2014 U.S. Open Cup match against the New York Cosmos, which was won by the NASL team 3-0.
Ambroise Oyongo goes airborn in the New York Red Bulls' 2014 U.S. Open Cup match against the New York Cosmos.
Mads Stokkelien celebrates one of his two goals in the New York Cosmos' 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup.
Mads Stokkelien scored twice in leading the New York Cosmos over the New York Red Bulls 3-0 in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup fourth round.
David Villa signs an autograph for a young NYCFC fan at Red Bull Arena in the club's first match against the New York Red Bulls.
Red Bulls fans celebrate a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips in the club's first match against NYCFC.
NYCFC captain David Villa, right, takes exception with Red Bulls midfielders Felipe, Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan in a heated moment in NYCFC's first match against the Red Bulls.
NYCFC's Pablo Alvarez tries to get by a throng of Red Bulls defenders in a 2-1 loss for the MLS expansion club at Red Bull Arena on May 10, 2015.
NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders makes a save on Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips in the inaugural match between the two clubs, won by the Red Bulls 2-1.
Red Bulls defenders Karl Ouimette, right, and Damien Perrinelle congratulate each other while NYCFC's Patrick Mullins looks on after a 2-1 Red Bulls victory.
The scoreboard tells all, as the Red Bulls win the inaugural MLS match against expansion club NYCFC on May 10, 2015 at Red Bull Arena.
The starting XI for NYCFC and the New York Cosmos team take the field, preparing to kick off their U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match
The New York Cosmos supporters' section helps set the atmosphere for their fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match against NYCFC. The game, dubbed the East River Derby, was the first match between the two sides.
The New York Cosmos supporters look on with focused apprehension as they watch their Cosmos fight to come from behind against NYCFC in the second half of their U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match.
Over 1,000 New York City FC supporters made the trip to Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, the home of the New York Cosmos, to witness the inaugural match between the two sides.
NYCFC defender R.J. Allen pushes the ball across midfield surrounded by a trio of teammates and two Cosmos defenders during the first half of their U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match
New York Cosmos defender Hunter Gorskie (3) and midfielder Sebastian Ignacio Guenzatti Varela (13) chase after NYCFC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (88) as he runs toward goal.
New York Cosmos defender Hunter Gorskie (3) and midfielder Hunter Restrepo (20) get into a physical midfield battle with NYCFC midfielder Pablo Alvarez (22) and forward Patrick Mullins (14).
In the 24th minute, NYCFC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (88) successfully executes a bicycle kick, beating Cosmos defender Ayoze Garcia Perez (17) and goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (1) for the first goal in the teams' first matchup.
NYCFC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (88) and forward Patrick Mullins (14) run toward the away supporters section to celebrate Poku’s goal in front of their fans.
NYCFC midfielder Mix Diskerud (10) and the NYCFC supporters join forward Patrick Mullins (14) in celebrating Kwadwo Poku’s (88) opening goal against the New York Cosmos.
In the 57th minute of their U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match, Cosmos star attacker Raul (7) moves the ball into the attacking third, slipping it past midfielder Kwadwo Poku (88), NYCFC’s man of the match.
In the second half of their U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match, NYCFC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (88) fires a shot toward Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (1). Maurer was unable to save it, giving Poku his second goal of the game
The New York Cosmos supporters section reacts to Lucky Mkosana’s (77) equalizing goal in the 91st minute, which sent the game to extra time. The Cosmos would go on to beat NYCFC in penalties, 4-3, to set up a round-of-16 clash vs. the Red Bulls.
New York Cosmos' Hunter Gorskie celebrates after scoring the decisive penalty kick to send the NASL side by NYCFC in the U.S. Open Cup.
New York City FC home fans celebrate midfielder Tommy McNamara’s goal in the sixth minute of the team’s match against the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium, ultimately won by the Red Bulls 3-1.
NYCFC striker and captain David Villa sends a free kick into traffic near the New York Red Bulls’ goal in the first half of their clash at Yankee Stadium on June 28.
New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) beats NYCFC defender R.J. Allen (27) and puts a strike on goal during the second half of their June 28 match at Yankee Stadium.
New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles (right) reacts to receiving a yellow card for a foul on NYCFC striker David Villa (far right).
New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) gets technical with the ball, controlling it while under pressure from NYCFC defender Jason Hernandez (21) and midfielder Javier Calle (30).
New York Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle (55) shakes off Kwadwo Poku (88) and Mix Diskerud (10) during the second half of the season’s second Red Bulls-NYCFC clash.
New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips (left) celebrates with fellow striker Mike Grella (middle) and midfielder Felipe (right) after scoring the Red Bulls' first goal of the match, which tied the game less than two minutes into the second half.
NYCFC striker David Villa (7) takes a free kick in the second half of the home match against New York Red Bulls. Defenders Damien Perrinelle (55) and Matt Miazga (20), midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) make up the defensive wall.
The New York Red Bulls run over to their bench to celebrate defender Chris Duvall’s (25) first goal in Major League Soccer. Strikers Mike Grella (13) and Anatole Abang (9) and defender Matt Miazga (20) join coach Jesse Marsch in the post goal embrace.
The traveling fans sitting in the New York Red Bulls’ supporters section at Yankee Stadium react to the third and final Red Bulls goal of the match, scored by defender Matt Miazga (20) in the 73rd minute of a 3-1 road win over NYCFC.
After a 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls, NYCFC midfielder Mix Diskerud (10) throws a ball into the home supporters section. The gesture earned Diskerud one final cheer from his fans despite the result.
The New York Cosmos (Blue) and the New York Red Bulls (White) shake hands before the beginning of their U.S. Open Cup fifth-round match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
New York Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle (55) and New York Cosmos midfielder Walter Restrepo (20) collide while vying for the ball in the first half of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup fifth-round match at Red Bull Arena.
New York Red Bulls midfielder Sam Zizzo (15), already with a goal to his name in the match, fires a header toward Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (1).
New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty (right) and Cosmos midfielder Andrés Alexander Flores Mejía (center) meet each other at the ball mid-flight in the first half of their U.S. Open Cup fifth-round match.
New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) takes and makes the penalty kick, giving his side a 3-1 advantage over the Cosmos in the 54th minute of their 2015 U.S. Open Cup fifth-round match.
New York Red Bulls striker Anatole Abang (9) goes 1-on-1 against New York Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (1) in the first half of their U.S. Open Cup fifth-round match.
New York Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle (55) and the Red Bulls’ supporters section call for a penalty after Cosmos defender Hunter Gorskie (3) fouled Red Bulls defender Chris Duvall (25) inside of the penalty box. Duvall broke his leg on the play.
New York Red Bulls striker Mike Grella (13) celebrates his goal, the Red Bulls’ seventh in a week against the two other New York teams. The 4-1 result against the Cosmos was preceded four days prior by a 3-1 victory over NYCFC.
Red Bulls striker Anatole Abang (far right), captain Dax McCarty (middle), defender Anthony Wallace (left) and midfielder Dane Richards (far left) make their celebratory lap around Red Bull Arena with the blue jerseys they exchanged with members of the New York Cosmos. Defender Matt Miazga (20) and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) are also pictured.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Bradley Wright-Phillips celebrates his goal that gave the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead over NYCFC in their third meeting of the 2015 season.
Frank Lampard and Dax McCarty battle for the ball at midfield. McCarty's Red Bulls came out on top again, completing the season sweep with an Aug. 9 2-0 win.
Red Bulls midfielder Felipe leaves his feet trying to stop NYCFC's David Villa. The former iced the 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena with a goal.