In the Face of Stadium Questions, Patience is a Virtue

Wishes have been granted. In the Star Tribune yesterday, Bill McGuire has broken his silence (though the Tribune didn’t seem to listen) With the announcement of a stadium being approved in Las Vegas, the pressure seemed to be on Minnesota United FC to break their silence regarding their bid to bring MLS to Minnesota. This is doubly true regarding the press the Vikings have gotten recently with the release of the design of their “Soccer Specific Stadium.”

The reaction has been lukewarm at best. United fans seem to be reacting with a unison “that’s it? That’s not good…” while non-united fans read this article and react with some combination of rage and fury at the possibility of publicly funding yet another stadium (and in a sport that has ties can you imagine???)

While that reaction is understandable, Minnesota United FC’s management is not likely to rely on public funding for a stadium. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the public funding of a stadium for a team that, quite frankly, has significantly more support spelled doom for publicly funding a soccer stadium. The team McGuire has assembled indicates his understanding of the situation; the United FC proposal his backed, in some fashion, by the owners of the Twins and Timberwolves in addition to McGuire’s own financial strength.

Some United fans, understanding this, instead are focusing on the lack of substance in McGuire’s statements (it should be noted, there is speculation that some or many of these quotes are from some time ago, and are not current). Some fans of the team are focusing on the lack of a plan as a negative indication. Some speculate that, without an approved stadium plan, MLS will award its franchise to the Vikings.

The answer here must be patience.

Minnesota United FC gains nothing by revealing their plans early, and they gain nothing by stating facts before they are true. Worse, announcing a plan and then not being able to follow through actively hurts the team; making MLS less likely to award a franchise to MNUFC. It gives confidence to those looking for reasons to doubt proposers of another new stadium.

Instead, Minnesota United stands to gain capital by saving their announcements for when they can follow through on their statements and claims. It’s far better publicity to make a statement that is true than to release a statement saying nothing, or release a statement that ends up being false.

Yes, it would be calming and comforting to know the ins and outs of United’s plan, but we don’t need to know it. In fact, the fact that United seems to busy to hold press conferences could well be taken as a sign that they are hard at work to make their MLS bid a reality (as well as prepare for next season).

Lastly, as has been said many times before, the last thing MNUFC wants to do is alienate the NASL by focusing publicly on MLS, and then not get the bid. United has proven an effective and high-quality NASL organization, and they are not likely to abandon that in an effort to find greener (or simply different) pastures.

Star Tribune gets Minnesota United FC Bill McGuire talking about MLS and a downtown stadium, still misses the point

Late Wednesday night fans of Minnesota United FC were “blessed” with an article from the Star Tribune with the most explicit statements yet by owner Bill McGuire about their efforts to secure a downtown, outdoor stadium and about their competing bid against the Vikings for an MLS team. Unfortunately, instead of discussing the important statements that Bill McGuire made about the future of soccer in the Twin Cities, most of the discussion was about the headline.

The headline states “United owner says public money might be needed.” Did Bill McGuire actually say that?

From the article we find out that Bill McGuire has stated: “We’ll see when we confirm in our own minds the where’s and why’s of all of that. And depending, who knows? We haven’t asked [yet for public money]. I mean, there’s no formal ‘ask’ out there,” he said.

This quote seems to say that McGuire might ask for public money for a stadium. Talking with fellow Loon Call writer Alex Schieferdecker earlier today, he pointed out that McGuire never says that. On closer inspection, the only part of that quote that actually says that public money might be needed in the future is the part in brackets, and was not actually said by Bill McGuire. Instead, it was the interpretation by the writer as to the intent of what Bill McGuire said.

We don’t have the entire taped interview, so the bracketed words might have been warranted based on the question or other statements by McGuire, but nothing else in the quote could be taken as an assertion that “public money might be needed” as the headline states.

The team may need assistance from public sources in securing and building the infrastructure for the stadium, but nothing the team has done or said so far has suggested they will be asking for the stadium to be partially or fully paid for by public moneys.

The Vikings were explicitly asked by the former head of NASL to buy the Stars and they refused

It’s been thrown around a number of times recently that the Vikings had been offered the Stars and they refused to buy them, but there wasn’t much that would confirm that. This article includes quotes from David Downs, former head of NASL about the efforts:

The Vikings ‘showed no interest in doing a deal,’ he said. Downs said he contacted the Vikings in August 2012, shortly after the Wilfs won legislative approval for a new football stadium.

The Vikings clearly didn’t see a need to buy a soccer team and engage directly with current local soccer fans. They likely expected the Stars to fold and then would be seen as saviors of local soccer when they brought an MLS team to the area with the opening of their new stadium.

While that might be reasonable from a business standpoint, no soccer fan could like what former commissioner Downs said next:

“At the time I was worried that [the Vikings’ interest in soccer] was — and it appears it may have been — ‘How do we fill this building [with tenants]?”

That is a pretty damning statement about the Vikings’ commitment to soccer. In the case that the Vikings do end up winning the MLS franchise, we here at the Loon Call hope that it is not true. Still, it seems consistent with what the Vikings have done since then, as one of their selling points for an MLS franchise being a chance to fill dates throughout the year and earn more revenue from the rent.

The Vikings obviously have a different reason for their apparent indifference towards soccer, but fans of soccer in the twin cities want a team that will be valued and treated as the most important facet of the business. They aren’t as interested in filling dates, but in competing for championships.

Bill McGuire was thinking about MLS from day one

While many of us had heard that Minnesota United spoke with the Vikings about a possible combined effort in landing MLS, we did not know the details or exactly when that discussion took place. It turns out that Bill McGuire spoke with the Vikings before he purchased the Minnesota Stars, and was looking to combine efforts and offered the Vikings a minority stake in the venture.

The former UnitedHealth Group executive said he initiated talks with Vikings President Mark Wilf two years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to combine efforts before McGuire bought Minnesota United FC, a lower-level pro soccer team.

Minnesota United has been very coy when speaking about MLS, and rightly so. They have employees and fans that care about the team and the product they are putting out today, and talking repeatedly about MLS only devalues the team they have right now.

Still, a running theme in discussions about the two bids is that the Vikings forced Minnesota’s hand. It appears that might not be as true as once thought, as MLS has been something that McGuire has been thinking about since before he purchased the team. To an outsider, Minnesota United might have actually forced the Vikings hand with the success they have had on and off the field. There is a chance that neither side necessarily was ready to speak with MLS about a franchise yet, but were forced to by each others interest in high level soccer in the Twin Cities.

Take Aways

For supporters of Minnesota United, once we look past the clickbait headline, we see a lot of confirmation to rumors we’ve been hearing. NASL went to the Vikings and explicitly asked them to purchase the team, which the Vikings refused. Before purchasing the team, Bill McGuire went to the Vikings and asked if they would have interest in joining his ownership group at a 35% minority stake, which the Vikings again refused.

It’ll be a long couple of months before we hear any news on if either side will win a MLS franchise or if Minnesota United FC will be building a stadium on the Farmer’s Market site. Stay tuned, because there are sure to be more interesting nuggets seeing the light of day in the coming months.

NASL Announces 2015 Spring Season Schedule

On Wednesday morning, the NASL announced the 2015 Spring Season schedule. The release confirmed that the league would once again play a split-season format. Eleven teams, including expansion side Jacksonville Armada FC will contest the spring, while twelve teams, including a yet-to-be-announced LA team, will play in the fall.

After a 2014 spring schedule that was extremely poor for Minnesota, featuring only four home games when other teams got five, this year’s slate of games is much, much more favorable. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a better way to start the season on paper for the Loons.

Lets take a look:

April 4th – BYE

Because there are an odd number of teams in the league, each team will have to take one week off as a bye. While taking a week off in the middle of a season to recover can be beneficial, in the short spring season it only looks to us like a disadvantage. Better to play your games uninterrupted, because momentum will be key in the spring sprint.

Instead, getting a first week bye means, United can benefit from an extra week of training and the unique opportunity to scout their opponents before playing them.

April 11th – @ Tampa Bay Rowdies

 TampaBayRowdies150That extra week of preparation will come in handy because the Loons’ first opponent will be the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Under new head coach Thomas Rongen, the green and gold are rebooting most of their team after a dumpster fire of a 2014 season. Nobody has any good idea quite how this team will play, and being able to see how the Rowdies approach San Antonio in week one should prove invaluable to the Minnesota coaching staff and players.

This ought to be a fun atmosphere as well. The Rowdies have been completely renovating Al Lang Stadium this offseason, and their 2015 home opener will be a great occasion for the team.

April 18th – @ Ottawa Fury FC

 OttawaFuryFC150Just like last spring, Minnesota will spend the first part of the year on the road, as the league gives the maximum amount of time for the field at the National Sports Center to recover. In the meantime, the Loons will again travel to Ottawa, playing spoiler for yet another home opener.

Like the Rowdies, the Fury are making big roster changes after a lackluster 2014, although head coach Marc Dos Santos is still in charge. The Fury played Minnesota very tough in all three games last season, and a trip to Ottawa is one of the longest trips in the league. This will be a difficult match, but again Minnesota gains from experience and a head start in preparation.

April 25th – HOME vs San Antonio Scorpions

SanAntonioScorpions150After three weeks of NASL play, Minnesota will finally come home at the end of April to play what will surely be a highly anticipated home opener.

Even more so because of the opponent. The Scorpions (who like to think of themselves as our rivals) came on strong towards the end of the last season and stole all the glory in the final month; taking the Fall championship and hosting (and winning) the Soccer Bowl against the ludicrously lucky Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Minnesota embarrassed San Antonio twice at their place last season (and the Scorpions embarrassed themselves…) but lost the one match in Blaine. This match is a must-win for pride and the standings.

May 3rd – @ FC Edmonton

FCEdmonton150If there is one downside to Minnesota’s 2015 spring schedule, it’s that the team must make two long trips up to Canada. While Edmonton and Ottawa are surely lovely cities, it is not as easy to fly to them as it is… say… New York. Perhaps for that reason, playing away in Canada, especially Edmonton, is one of the tougher things to do in the league. In 2014, the Loons suffered one of their four losses in Edmonton. Given how the Montons finished this past season, this could be the most dangerous match of the year for United.

May 9th – HOME vs Atlanta Silverbacks

AtlantaSilverbacks150The Silverbacks may not be dead in 2015, but they certainly won’t be very good. Bring your friends who are skeptical of soccer to this match, because it should be the closest thing to a sure thing in the NASL. With hardly any players and question marks all over the field, Atlanta will be a wounded deer and Minnesota should (keep in mind, we’re months out) be able to win this game decisively.

May 16th – @ Indy Eleven

IndyEleven150One of the best things about the schedule is that it also offers Minnesota fans our one good chance at traveling in a large group to a road game. Basically every other road trip to see United play would need to be taken by plane, but Indianapolis is about nine hours away, which is doable.

Last season, a handful of Dark Clouds made the trip, and were rewarded with the most embarrassing loss of the year. This year, hopefully a bus could be arranged and an even larger group can head to Indy to watch a better performance.

May 23rd – HOME vs Jacksonville Armada FC

Jacksonville Amada2This is the most surprising match-up in the spring season. We expected the league to tweak the schedule to bring Minnesota (the class of the league, with a USMNT player on the roster) to Jacksonville. Instead, the expansion Armada are coming up to Minnesota.

It will certainly be fun, of course, to welcome a new team to town. Dark Clouds will also be able to heckle longtime Minnesota player Lucas Rodriguez, who has signed with the Armada. Given the difficulties inherent with expansion teams, this is another match that (at least now) Minnesota should be confident in winning.

May 30th – HOME vs New York Cosmos

NewYorkCosmos150After the San Antonio match in the home opener, this confrontation with the Cosmos will certainly be the next most anticipated. Despite going up a man and a goal in the 6th minute, despite a late penalty kick, despite the Cosmos being terrible last fall, the Loons have still not beaten this team. It’s extremely annoying and it needs to change. Fortunately, Minnesota will welcome New York to the Nessie this year, which will save the team the trouble of having to play on Hofstra University’s terrible lacrosse turf.

Unfortunately, Raúl will probably be injured by this point in the season and unable to travel.

June 6th – @ Carolina RailHawks

CarolinaRailhawks150Despite Carolina being downright awful at home for much of last year, WakeMed Soccer Park still feels like a fortress. Perhaps it’s because the Loons needed the late intervention of secret agent Turbo Tobin to eeke out a draw there last year.

Either way, even if the RailHawks are 0-0-9 when the Loons travel to Cary in the spring, it will still look like a trap game. The playoff implications of this week ten match-up will also loom large. This struggle vs one of the league’s foremost practitioners of anti-football could be a nailbiter.

June13th – HOME vs Fort Lauderdale Strikers

FortLauderdaleStrikers150Last but not least, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers will come to town. Flush with money from a new, Ronaldo-enhanced ownership, but devoid of any of the players that made them good last year, it’ll be interesting to see how the Strikers turn out. Regardless, it is Minnesota’s sworn duty to beat this sorry ref-complaining team into the ground.

Fotis Bazakos better not be the official.

That’s the spring schedule! What are you looking forward to most?

Minnesota signs left winger J.C. Banks, first addition of the offseason

After a Supporters Trophy winning season, Minnesota United FC’s offseason challenge was to keep the core of the team together, while improving in several key areas. Last week, the team took the first step, retaining much of the 2014 starting XI. This week, they began to make progress on the second, filling a gaping hole in the Loons roster with winger Jimmy (J.C.) Banks.

Banks is a Milwaukee native, and the son of former US International Jimmy Banks.  He has played the last 4 years with the Rochester Rhinos, a team perhaps best described as “the FC Edmonton of USL PRO”. Despite little help on the attack, Banks scored nine goals for the Rhinos this year, leading the team. He won the Rochester Rhinos MVP in 2012 and 2014. At 25, he’s in the prime of his soccer career.

Playing primarily as a speedy wide midfielder, his arrival fills the gap left by the departures of Simone Bracalello and Omar Daley. If he impresses, we could see Miguel Ibarra moved back into the central, dynamic role where he started the season. Both players are short, quick, and technical, and it would be beautiful to see what would happen if they were able to establish a strong partnership. With memories fresh with what Christian Ramirez accomplished last season after moving up a league, expectations will be high to see what another USL PRO star can do with better players around him.

Because USL PRO makes the NASL look cutting edge, it’s hard to find recent highlights from Banks.

Here’s a highlight from 2012 to whet your thirst.

And here’s a video GIF of a goal Banks scored vs the FC Dallas Reserves. If you find anything else, (or a log of the Rhino’s games and goals so we can go into the YouTube archives) let us know!

Apathy not an option in Minnesota MLS battle (guest post by Nachiket Karnik)

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Nachiket Karnik for sending us this piece and taking the time to share his opinion about the possible MLS expansion. You might recognize him from twitter @lockstockspock, as a Dark Clouds Capo, or as co-host of Two United Fans. It should be noted that all opinions expressed below are his alone and do not represent the views of the Dark Clouds as a whole or the Loon Call. 

We ask that as you discuss his and other’s opinions about MLS in Minnesota here and elsewhere you show civility and restraint and show respect towards others. We all care and are passionate about soccer here in Minnesota, but may differ in what we hope it to look like in the future. 

If you have a piece you think would be a good fit for The Loon Call, please email Bill MK.

This past week while the Minnesota Vikings were introducing their stadiums plans at a glitzy event attended by press and soccer dignitaries, Minnesota United FC were indulged in more low-key public pursuits. They set up watching parties for the MLS playoffs and announced a townhall event for their own supporters to discuss next season’s seating arrangement.

The contrast is stark to me. While the Vikings are spending money to wine and dine in an attempt to undo years of soccer related apathy, MNUFC are busy conducting the day to day business of running a soccer team and supporting its fans’ needs.

This distinction is important given the litany of choices Minnesota Soccer fans will have to make in the coming months and years. Do I support a MLS team in Minnesota? Do I support the existing team or a potential Vikings MLS team? What do I do if MLS commissioner Don Garber disagrees with my choice? A lot of things have passed through my own mind as I tried to unpack these questions.

Over the last year and a half I’ve become increasingly active in the Minnesota United FC orbit. I started out as a fan brought in with the promise of “something fun” and ended up a supporter who has routinely sacrificed time, money and effort from other areas of life to support Minnesota United FC.

Knowing this it should come as no surprise that I’m ardently opposed to a Minnesota Vikings led MLS expansion franchise. After a lot of thought I concluded that I will not support them now and I will certainly never attend any of their games even if they are the only pro-soccer team left in town in years to come.

Let me be clear, if we were in a league structure where the Vikings needed to sport a lower division squad first and then move to MLS on merit, I wouldn’t disparage what they’re doing. I’m confident my Loons could do better and if not, then the Vikings deserve it. But the issue is that the current system is poised to reward a set of people who shunned grassroots soccer when it came calling and were content to first and foremost focus on their football team.

When the Dark Clouds suggested purchasing the dying Minnesota Stars as a way for the Vikings to jump start their soccer ambitions and populate their new stadium, they were turned away. Minnesota Soccer supporters who were sitting in on stadium planning meetings were told in no uncertain terms “let’s be clear, we’re not building a soccer stadium, a baseball stadium, or a roller rink, this is an NFL football stadium.” [source] Even Lester Bagley himself told the Star Tribune in 2012: “That doesn’t mean we’re not interested [in soccer]. It just means we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do to make sure the facility meets the Vikings’ and our fans’ needs first and foremost.”

That’s not inherently a bad thing from the standpoint of football fans; the Vikings are a football team and it is a stadium designed for them. However, we happen to be soccer fans and this no longer the 90s or early 2000s.
It can and should be acceptable for us to aspire to owners that prioritize soccer and will do so at the expense of the other sports in town, MLS or not. We do not need to settle for status as the little brothers of a NFL franchise. Even the Seattle Sounders, the most successful team with a close relationship with a NFL team, chaffed under the pressure to balance the needs of both soccer and football in one stadium and were spun off as an independent entity this year.

Minnesota soccer needs no such rearrangement; We already have a committed, soccer focused ownership group that have demonstrated the ability and desire to build a relationship with local soccer supporters.

And what are we missing in our state today besides a team with the “MLS” brand on it? In Minnesota United’s 2014 season we’ve seen spectacular goals. We’ve seen nail biting finishes to the Spring Season, the Fall Season and the NASL Championship. We’ve had a player called up the national team and watched another become one of the most exciting young strikers in the country.

What is it exactly that we’re lacking besides being a stop on the Landon Donovan farewell tour? Is being 200 feet from Clint Dempsey for 90 minutes really more important than being able to walk to the sideline after a game to meet Tiago Calvano’s kids or shake Brent Kalman’s hand?

The one legitimate response to the question of what is lacking would be a functional stadium. The NSC for all its sentimental charm is not an adequate long term facility both based on distance and sophistication. But again the question facing us isn’t New Vikings Stadium vs. NSC.

I am confident that Minnesota United has plans to build a stadium. We’ve seen the 2020 partners produce a graphic that shows a soccer-specific stadium on the Minneapolis farmer’s market site, we’ve heard rumors of a Mall of America location and we’ve now seen Hennepin County Commissioner Michael Opat speak in favor of a soccer stadium to the press and sit in on MNUFC’s presentation to MLS. So the alternative to the Vikings stadium is to let MNUFC grow organically until they have their own stadium in the Cities and allow them to choose to move to MLS using it.

A 2nd division league of one sort or another has existed for teams to play in every year since 1990. Our owners today offer far more stability than any in Minnesota’s soccer past. Even if (against my own expectations) the NASL does fold, MNUFC will weather the storm and join its successor league before someday making the moving up to MLS.

So while I see few drawbacks to being patient and putting “faith” in MNUFC as their front office have requested fans to do, I have very real concerns in letting our impatience get the better of us and settling for something less that we deserve with the Vikings.

What we deserve is a vision already realized cities like Columbus or Kansas City, and acknowledged to be vastly superior to alternatives: An open air soccer-specific stadium with real grass playing host to a team that’s the main priority for its owners and administered by a front office with a good relationship with fans. Instead in our haste to secure MLS “NOW! NOW! NOW!” we’re willing to settle for an indoor stadium with artificial turf, owned by individuals who will always prioritize football and administered under the same roof that has ensured Minnesota’s mediocrity in the NFL.

And on a national scale settling for a Vikings franchise would send an extremely troubling message to the US soccer community. It would say that we as fans value only the league brand and immediate satisfaction of receiving our beer and nuts in the stadium. How we are treated as supporters doesn’t factor in it and neither does the ownership groups track record of putting of putting out teams that have had no competitive edge.

Emotional investment in the team is totally irrelevant because fans are willing to swap allegiances in a heartbeat. Is that the message we really want potential soccer investors and administrators to hear?
If this all seems rather grandiose and idealistic to you, I have to ask why American soccer enthusiasts have been so ready to abdicate responsibilities that supporters in other nations take as fundamental pillars of their fandom. If we don’t look after the sport, who will?

The majority of the state’s soccer fans who’ve never experienced local soccer culture? Profit driven billionaires? League executives beholden to those same billionaires? What differentiates “supporters” from mere “fans” isn’t just the flares and singing but their investment and advocacy for the team and what is best for the sport.

Societies in time immemorial have come together to say that what is “profitable” isn’t always in their best interests (see the laws on speculative debt instruments or murder) and we must do so now. Sports teams owners across the US have been letting down fans in the pursuit of short term gain; the Baltimore Colts, Seattle Sonics and Cleveland Browns all spring to mind as examples.

We must send a clear message to the country that soccer is different and the pure desire for profit at all costs isn’t something fans will put up with. As the grassroots supporters of local soccer in Minnesota we will stand by our principles and refuse to patronize a Vikings MLS team. Doing anything else is acting contrary to our own long-term self-interest and would mark us out as “fans” rather than “supporters”. And if we don’t do it, who will?

Political Football: Primer on Minneapolis Stadium Battle (via StreetsMN)

In addition to writing for TLC, I’ve written a few pieces for Streets.MN, a local urban affairs blog. Recently I’ve been working on a piece that combines my two interests. The result is an article that tries to some heavily lifting and explain the nuts and bolts of the Minneapolis Stadium Battle™. For longtime watchers, there won’t be much new in this article, but for everyone else, I hope this article will be informative and authoritative.

Here’s an excerpt:

As weird as it is to write, in just a couple of years, Minneapolis-Saint Paul will be home to one of the greatest collections of sports facilities on earth. That’s not hyperbole. With the completion of the Downtown East Stadium, MSP will boast separate facilities for professional and college football, hockey, and basketball teams, as well as major and minor league baseball. After the Target Center renovation, the oldest professional sports facility in the state will be the Xcel Energy Center, which opened in 2000. Save for the latest Olympic cities, few other places can claim a similarly modern and lauded sports infrastructure.

That’s why it all seems a bit perverse to many people when talk emerges of yet another stadium, this time for a potential expansion Major League Soccer (MLS) team. This skepticism is well-earned. (Sample Strib comment: “Well, here it comes again. It won’t be long before we’re regaled with tales of businesses leaving town and we becoming a cold Omaha if we don’t build them a stadium.”) The bitter taste surrounding the Downtown East stadium deal is still palpable. The academic consensus that sports facilities provide little economic benefit is becoming more politically internalized.

This discussion is poised to metastasize extremely quickly over this winter. MLS has publicly stated its determination to expand to Minnesota, and the numbers support the interest. A decision on expansion will likely come in March or April of next year, though no official date has been established. Regardless of when the final word comes, a professional soccer team is a near inevitability for MSP. Even Sid Hartman says it.

Read the full article on Streets.MN.

Minnesota partners with Inaria for a two year deal for jersey and apparel

After many years with Admiral, Minnesota United FC is parting ways and working with Inaria for the next two years. You likely have never heard of this company before, as this is their first time working with a professional team. However, after the struggle during part of the summer in getting merchandise including Jerseys, it was highly unlikely Minnesota would stay with Admiral, regardless of who was responsible for the delay.

One interesting tidbit in all this is that it is only a 2 year contract, ending in 2016, just like the deal with NSC for the field up in Blaine. It might just be a coincidence, but the inner conspiracy theorist in me sees it as another instance where 2017 crops up in their long term deals. While they are careful to be coy about their future plans, clearly they suspect 2017 might be a date that major changes happen for the club.

Personally, I’m glad to see them working with a smaller company, as it means the team will likely have much more say in the appearance of the jerseys than if they worked with a company like Nike or Adidas. Hopefully the company can keep up with Minnesota’s merchandise demands over the next couple of years and produce a high quality jersey.


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