The Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday unveiled plans to host an international soccer match in Minneapolis — the team's opening gambit to bring Major League Soccer to Minnesota.
Manchester City and Olympiacos will face off Aug. 2 at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus as part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, a 12-game series featuring some of the world's best soccer teams.
Soccer boosters see that game as a sign that top tier soccer might return to the state in the form of a Major League Soccer franchise. The deal to build the Vikings a new stadium gives the team five years to bring an MLS franchise into the building.
The Vikings, however, may need to move quickly.
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said last year he'd like to see the league add four teams over the next six years. The Atlanta Falcons owner was awarded a franchise in April; Orlando will open a new stadium in 2016. English soccer star David Beckham is in talks with Miami officials to bring a team there as soon as 2017.
That may leave a spot for just one more new team.
"We've been all out doing our homework," Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said. "We've met with a couple of MLS teams and their fans and their front office in Seattle and Kansas City. We have more planned. We know there's a ton of hard work in front of us, and we're committed to doing it the right way."
Even MLS backers, though, aren't sure how the interests of American football and global football will mesh in Minnesota.
A high-profile tournament and a big new NFL stadium may not be what big time soccer is looking for, said Wes Burdine, a blogger and a founder of MLS4MN, a fan-based effort to bring top level pro soccer to the state. The Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders have shown how hard it is to combine the two different sports, he said.
There's another hurdle, he points out: Minnesota already has a professional soccer team with passionate fans, like him.
Former UnitedHealth CEO Bill McGuire bought what became the Minnesota United football club in 2012 when it was on the brink of folding. Things have picked up quite dramatically, said team president Nick Rogers.
Minnesota United had about 6,700 people at its last home game, its biggest crowd ever, Rogers said. The team also won the North American Soccer League's spring championship.
That league is a completely separate business entity from Major League Soccer, so Minnesota United can't simply be upgraded to U.S. soccer's top rank. A new Major League Soccer team could run Minnesota United off the field.
Minnesota United has another problem, too: it doesn't really have a stadium. They play at the National Sports Center in Blaine in a converted track and field venue.
"Without getting into how it gets built or leagues or any of those issues, I think it makes sense for this market to have a soccer-specific stadium," Rogers said. "This is a sport that continues to grow in popularity as other sports face headwinds. We're just finding our footing now."
Video: A brief history of Minnesota soccer since 2009