Sacramento’s dreams of a Major League Soccer franchise are on hold for the time being after MLS awarded a team to Minneapolis.
But the Minneapolis decision appears to be anything but final.
In comments reported Wednesday by the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, league Commissioner Don Garber raised the prospect of MLS going elsewhere if the Minneapolis investors can’t pull together a stadium plan by July.
If the owners of minor-league Minnesota United FC don’t have a financing plan in place by then, MLS officials would “take a step back and decide whether we wanted to come to Minnesota,” Garber said.
“We have other options around the country, some of which with very detailed soccer-stadium plans, and we would have to make that decision at that time,” he added.
Garber may have been talking about Sacramento. The owners of the city’s minor league franchise, Sacramento Republic FC, have said they have the financial capacity to build an MLS-ready stadium at the downtown railyard without any public subsidies. After hearing of MLS’ intentions to put a team in Minnesota, officials in Sacramento said they would move forward with finalizing their stadium plan in anticipation of being awarded an expansion team.
The stadium is expected to cost as much as $150 million. In recent weeks, Sacramento Republic has fortified its investor group to include the Sacramento Kings and the top owners of the San Francisco 49ers.
Minneapolis would become the 24th team in MLS, fulfilling the league’s previous goal of having 24 teams playing in 2020. Last week, the league opened the door to additional expansion, saying it would study the possibility of expanding beyond 24 teams.
That could boost Sacramento’s chances considerably of getting a team in the foreseeable future. It’s widely believed that Sacramento is next in line behind Minneapolis.
The MLS situation remains fluid. The league also awarded a team to Miami contingent on a stadium plan. That franchise remains in limbo because lead investor David Beckham, the retired soccer star, has so far been unable to come up with a workable plan.
Last week Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said MLS has indicated it’s a matter of when, not if, for the city’s admission to MLS. The city wants to be ready when MLS calls.
“If those two markets (Miami and Minneapolis) deliver, great, we want to be the 25th. If something happens or they falter or things get sideways or they get delayed, then we want to be in a position to step in,” the mayor said.
As for Minneapolis, Garber said he believes the investor group will come up with a plan.
“We have confidence that they will get their stadium project completed, and if we didn’t have confidence in them, we wouldn’t be here,” Garber said. The group is led by health care executive Bill McGuire, who owns the minor league club, and includes the owners of the baseball Twins and basketball Timberwolves.
The group controls a parcel of land in downtown Minneapolis but hasn’t announced any plans for financing. McGuire told reporters Wednesday that some specifics will be released “in the next month.”
The big wild card is public subsidies. The state of Minnesota has subsidized new facilities for the Twins, Vikings and University of Minnesota football teams since 2000; Gov. Mark Dayton has said public subsidies for soccer are unlikely.
McGuire has said he hasn’t decided yet whether to seek public dollars for a soccer stadium.
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.