As Sacramento awaits word on its bid for a Major League Soccer expansion team, Sports Illustrated reported on its website Friday that the league is set to award a team to a group in Minneapolis.
SI.com, quoting anonymous sources, said the owners of minor-league Minnesota United are expected to be awarded a franchise “in the coming weeks.”
If the report is correct, it would appear to diminish Sacramento’s chances for a team. The league has said it wants to expand to 24 teams by 2020, and Sacramento and Minneapolis have been competing for the 24th spot. However, an additional spot could open up if Miami, which has been awarded the 23rd franchise, is unable to build a new stadium.
MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche declined to address the Sports Illustrated story, other than to say in an email that the league is “on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days.” That suggests the MLS is accelerating its timetable slightly; Commissioner Don Garber earlier this week said the decision would come in 45 to 60 days.
Minnesota United is owned by William McGuire, a successful health care executive. The owners of baseball’s Minnesota Twins and basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves have reportedly agreed to invest in the team as well.
It’s been widely believed for months that Minneapolis had the inside track on expansion, despite the strong bid by the owners of Sacramento Republic FC. Garber has been vocal about MLS’ interest in the Minneapolis market, in part because the league has a relative scarcity of teams in the Midwest.
Republic FC spokeswoman Erika Bjork said the team wouldn’t have any comment on the Sports Illustrated story. “Unless we hear something from Minnesota United or MLS ... we’re speculating upon speculation,” she said.
A Minnesota United spokesman, Eric Durkee, declined comment.
Minnesota United is one of two competing groups from Minneapolis. The other is led by the owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, who are proposing to house a soccer team in the new indoor stadium they’re building.
According to Sports Illustrated, league officials have opted for the Minnesota United bid instead, sending the team a letter of intent to award the franchise if it can show that it is ready to build a stadium. The team currently plays in a small suburban stadium but is proposing to build a new facility downtown, near the Twins’ Target Field.
The wildcard in the expansion race remains Miami, where soccer legend David Beckham has been awarded a franchise contingent on securing a deal for a downtown stadium. So far, Beckham has been unable to come up with a stadium plan. MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott has said the league could award two expansion teams, not one, if Miami can’t deliver. That would greatly improve Sacramento’s chances.
Other cities seeking a team include San Antonio and St. Louis, although they’re believed to be far behind. Sacramento jumped into the expansion derby based on the remarkable popularity of Republic FC. The Sacramento Kings and San Francisco 49ers owners have signed on as minority investors in the club. The team plans to build a new stadium at the downtown railyard if it gains admission to MLS.
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.