In contrast to Miami, Minnesota United’s MLS future already looks rosy

If the actual franchise in Minneapolis is as successful and impactful as Wednesday’s impassioned announcement that officially launched it all, Minnesota United FC is destined to the next smash-bang success in Major League Soccer.

This week the league’s worst kept secret was revealed, that the movement owned and directed by Dr. Bill McGuire will, in fact, become the 24th club (perhaps the 23rd club, depending on how things unfold in Miami). The team will play in a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis, rescuing the league from another artificial turf field and another partnership with NFL, and hopes to start in 2018. These MLS launch dates frequently become moving targets, though, both for new clubs and for new facilities for existing teams, so Minnesota officials will deal with a double whammy of start-up hurdles here.

Wednesday’s event wasn’t great for all the requisite bells and whistles; extravagance is easy, after all. It was memorable and meaningful because league and local officials had enough of the right answers, and because it was framed by something that felt big and important.

The announcement had that big-time feel largely because of its exposure on national TV, with Fox Sports 1 carrying the ceremony live. There is a certain cultural cache attached to live TV as opposed to the more bourgeois on-line live streaming. Heck, the local Kiss cover band can do that.

MLS commissioner Don Garber was at his best, too, helping introduce the important people in a bid that eventually outpaced Sacramento in the latest race to join MLS. As Garber got everything started he addressed the boisterous local supporters group, the Dark Clouds. “Remember this day,” he told them. “You are happy. You are cheering. Because the time will come when you will hate me.”

Garber also said these events “keep getting bigger and bigger,” which is important; having something “feel” big and play big on TV can be helpful. When something looks big-league and important, people want to be part of it – not just ticket buyers, but sponsors and media want their place in the cue. Early momentum goes a long way, and immediate roots are sown that will ultimately reap healthier crops.

Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla and lose larger perspective, that tons of work lies ahead and leaders still have to get things right. After all, Chivas USA had one of these cheerful launch parties once upon a time, and we all know how that worked out.

While big-time feel is meaningful, that’s not why this looks like a harbinger of future success. Minnesota United FC has the whiff of “good times” waiting to happen because of the content of Wednesday’s news conference.

First, they recognized the history of soccer in the region. The old Minnesota Kicks were an important player, with hardy attendance marks despite a building as poorly suited for soccer as perhaps any other in the history of the professional game here. Inside the old “Met,” they didn’t even bother to cover the baseball infield!

We are seeing more recognition of pro soccer history now – the memory machine was cranked up to 11 last weekend as Avaya Stadium debuted in San Jose – because there is actual history to recognize. The narrative that pro soccer has no history in the United States suddenly looks as passé as the old shootout.
Taking it all in, the festive occasion served as a smashing reminder that American soccer has history and a future all at once.

For more evidence of why the future looks bright, witness how emotional McGuire became while speaking to the audience. That is the kind of ownership MLS needs: Local, aggressively engaged and alive with real community zeal.

And they have a stadium plan.

In some ways this was a complete contrast to the announcement 13 months ago that Miami would field an MLS team by 2017. The ongoing (perhaps collapsing) situation with David Beckham always had the feel of something completely different, more artificial. Whereas Minnesota feels like an outpouring of passion and local support, Miami always felt more like “Oz,” about flash, dash and cash, about land deals and brand building rather than about a community that truly relishes its chance to once again embrace a soccer club.

That’s not to say that South Florida doesn’t deserve something better, nor that Miami wouldn’t have passionate fans who might truly love their team, arms emblazoned with club tats and all. It’s just that we don’t get to see that; too much of the local passion gets obscured by the smoke and towering voice of the corporate man behind the curtain. It feels like Miami’s effort – guided by the Miami Beckham United ownership group – is about Beckham and Simon Fuller and “expanding the brand.”

And there’s no stadium plan. Far from it, which is why the drive to bring MLS to South Florida has been weaving all over the road since last year’s announcement. The recent, highly revealing piece in The Howler reported that, prior to a visit this week, Beckham had not even been to Miami for months.

By contrast, it feels like Minnesota’s effort is about building something for the community. Garber told the crowd: “You will love this group. They are totally committed. They love this game. They love the city. And they’ve got a great plan for a building.”

How about that!