Major League Soccer awards expansion team to Minnesota

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Major League Soccer announced on Wednesday that Minnesota has been awarded an expansion team that will begin play in 2018. The new club will be owned by a Minnesota ownership group led by Dr. Bill McGuire, and the team will play in a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

“We are proud to welcome Minnesota to Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement. “The ownership group’s commitment to soccer and the community, the area’s growing millennial population and the region’s rich tradition of supporting soccer at all levels in Minnesota were key indicators that this was the right market. The passionate soccer fans in Minnesota will soon have a world-class, downtown soccer stadium that will serve as the home for the new MLS team and become a destination for marquee international sports events.”

McGuire, owner of Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League, will be joined in the ownership group by a group of investors that is still being finalized but that will include Robert Pohlad, Jim Pohlad, Wendy Carlson Nelson and Glen Taylor. McGuire, a physician, philanthropist and former CEO of UnitedHealth Group, has been actively involved in the Minnesota soccer community since purchasing the Minnesota Stars (now United) in November 2012.

“I want to thank MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s owners for helping us bring Major League Soccer to Minnesota,” McGuire said in the statement. “As a group of Minnesotans who love this state and have made a commitment to bring this vision to life, this is a momentous day that we’ve all been waiting for.”

With the addition of Minnesota in 2018, MLS keeps on the path toward the goal of reaching 24 clubs by 2020. The MLS commissioner recently stated that MLS will consider expanding beyond 24 teams.

“Soccer’s broad appeal and youthful orientation is so strong that to bring the game, at its highest level, to our community is a tremendous opportunity,” said Robert Pohlad, president of the Pohlad Companies, in the statement. “Our family believes soccer in this part of downtown Minneapolis can also be a catalyst for development. We look forward to being part of the MLS family.”

Minnesota's soccer tradition includes regular crowds of more than 40,000 to see the Minnesota Kicks in the old NASL in the 1970s, while the Minnesota Thunder were a successful minor-league club in the 1990s and 2000s. Most recently, Minnesota United won the Woosnam Cup as the team with the best regular-season record in the NASL in 2014. The state is also home to more than 70,000 registered youth soccer players.

A key element of the new club's bid was the proposal to build an outdoor stadium that is centrally located and accessible through public transportation. The proposed stadium would be located in the Farmers Market neighborhood on the western side of Target Field and immediately adjacent to Interstate 94. The club is working to finalize the plan for the new stadium by July 1.

“The opportunity to bring the highest level of soccer to our hometown, to inspire our young people, to draw us together in civic pride -- this is a huge win for Minnesota," said Wendy Carlson Nelson, Carlson board member, philanthropist and member of the new franchise ownership group. "We are a diverse community and soccer is the world’s most popular sport, played on every continent – I believe it will bring our 'diverse' Minnesota closer together. This gift will flower and impact beyond the field so let’s come together and make it so.”

Current season ticket holders and individuals who purchase 2015 Minnesota United FC season tickets will have priority for the club’s 2018 MLS season seat selection.