MINNEAPOLIS — After preserving a professional soccer team for Minnesota, Bill McGuire soon began to think bigger.
He wanted to be in the major league. The desire was mutual.
Major League Soccer formally awarded an expansion franchise Wednesday to McGuire’s group of investors in Minneapolis with the expectation an outdoor stadium will be built in time for the 2018 season.
“It’s hard to be anything but humbled, I think,” McGuire said, his voice cracking as he addressed hundreds of grass-roots supporters and prominent local figures who attended at the celebratory event at Target Field, the home of baseball’s Twins.
McGuire, a physician who became chief executive officer at UnitedHealth Group before leaving the post in 2006, rescued Minnesota United FC with his purchase of the financially struggling North American Soccer League franchise a little more than two years ago.
The NASL is a level below MLS, which began to eye the Twin Cities market after seeing United’s success under McGuire.
“We have deep confidence in this ownership group,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
McGuire’s group still was being finalized, but already included were Bob Pohlad and Jim Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins ownership family, owner Glen Taylor of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and Wendy Carlson Nelson, a third-generation family member of Carlson, the local hospitality and travel company that owns Radisson hotels and other brands.
“If we didn’t believe that they would finalize the stadium project in time to launch their team, we wouldn’t be here today,” Garber said.
Garber also, however, said MLS would re-evaluate the franchise award if a plan were not finalized by July 1.
“No league can play if they don’t have a stadium that they believe in. We would then as an ownership group take a step back and decide whether we wanted to come to Minnesota. We have other options around the country,” Garber said.
Beginning with the popular Kicks in the late 1970s, then to the Thunder and the Stars and now United, Minnesota has had several iterations of professional soccer. With growing immigrant populations and an increasing segment of 18-to-34 adults, the Twin Cities market has key MLS demographics covered.
Thumbnail photo via Leila Navidi/The Associated Press