Here's why we don't have Major League Soccer yet in Minnesota

Soccer fans at Target Field
Soccer fans celebrate the announcement that Minnesota is getting a Major League Soccer franchise at a league press conference at Target Field in March.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The way Major League Soccer and its newest set of owners were talking in March, you'd think there might already be a stadium under construction in Minneapolis.

But there's still no deal, and talks have moved to St. Paul — and into extra time.

What's the delay?

Minnesota actually made two proposals to Major League Soccer when the league decided to accept expansion team bidders last year.

One Minnesota bid was from the state's minor league team, Minnesota United. The Minnesota Vikings made the other bid. The NFL franchise has rights to soccer in its new stadium, likely through 2021.

But top-level soccer has been wary of artificial turf — and particularly of indoor fields — which was reflected in a controversy during this year's Women's World Cup. That's what the Vikings were offering.

The league also says that open-air, soccer-specific stadiums are key to the league's sometimes uneven success. Soccer teams want to control stadium schedules, branding and concessions, as well as lucrative non-soccer events. That rules out Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota United won the MLS nod in March, leaving the team to start from scratch on a new stadium — which is always a contentious political battle in Minnesota. The Twins and Vikings spent more than a decade each angling for their new homes.

What exactly does Major League Soccer want?

Kansas City is the shining city on the hill for Major League Soccer right now.

The Kansas City team's 19,000-seat, soccer-specific Sporting Park is considered the model for 21st century soccer venues.

2013 MLS All-Star Game
The Kansas City Sporting Park hosted the 2013 MLS all-star game.
Jamie Squire | Getty Images

Minnesota's ownership group hasn't unveiled its plans yet, but made a conspicuous point of touring the Kansas City stadium, and said it would spend $150 million of its own money on a privately owned stadium near the Minneapolis Farmers Market earlier this year.

A new stadium was part of the deal when MLS awarded Minnesota United an expansion franchise, including a $100 million league fee.

Can soccer pay for a stadium?

It looks that way.

The next big thing is Orlando, Fla., where the Orlando City Soccer Club is building a new $155 million stadium right now, expected to open in 2016. The team actually decided to upgrade it while they were building it, in response to crowds at the Citrus Bowl, where the team plays now.

A number of teams, including those in Kansas City, San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore., have been selling out their stadiums. But some others, like Chicago and Montreal, are down in attendance this year, despite having soccer-specific stadiums.

What went wrong with the Farmers Market plan?

It turned out the money Minnesota United planned to spend on a stadium wasn't all its own. The team was angling for help with the new facility in the form of a permanent property tax break on its stadium, thought to be worth millions.

Welcome to MLS soccer
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, left, welcomed Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire to the top level of professional soccer during a news conference at Target Field in March.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Similar, limited-term subsidies like tax increment financing are common in development deals. But a tax write-off is something new, and likely would require a change to Minnesota law.

Citing stadium fatigue and wary of setting off a frenzy of tax giveaways to attract business development, city and state officials took a pass, and the MLS deadline for a stadium deal went flying over the goal on July 1.

What's the deal in St. Paul?

The city of St. Paul, the Minnesota United and MLS are eyeing a 10-acre vacant parcel, which used to be a Metro Transit bus garage and lot, on the northeast corner of Snelling and Interstate 94.

The spot served as a staging area for the construction of the Green Line, and now is fallow again. It is abutted on two sides by a large, aging strip-mall shopping centers.

Mayor Coleman showed off CHS Field.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman showed off the new CHS Field to Major League Soccer president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott in mid-August. Coleman is trying to woo the league to build a new soccer stadium in the city's Midway area.
Laura Yuen | MPR News

The corner being considered for a stadium is still owned by the Metropolitan Council and is already off the tax rolls, giving the site a slight financial edge over the privately owned and taxpaying Farmers Market site in Minneapolis.

The 35-acres around the St. Paul site are owned by a real estate developer. It's a prime spot, sitting right at a light rail station, and the city considers it a premiere candidate for a makeover.

What are the odds something will happen in St. Paul?

Documents from the city indicate Minnesota United considered several St. Paul sites in 2013, when it was first looking to move away from the National Sports Center in Blaine.

The team struck a deal with Woodbury for training facilities that year. That's since been scratched.

But the 2013 plans show Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire was interested before in housing and economic development in the Midway section of St. Paul that would pair with a new stadium. That may indicate the project's finances may not be solely dependent on soccer.

St. Paul has also proven adept at winning with sports: It got state subsidies for the Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field. But a soccer team would likely still need a tax break in St. Paul, which would be every bit as controversial as the one that failed in Minneapolis.

Is the St. Paul fallback a real deal, or just leverage against Minneapolis?

For stadium-watchers, this has the distinct feel of 2011. That's when the Vikings signed an agreement with Ramsey County to build a new stadium at the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

That deal, in Arden Hills, lit a fire under Minneapolis and spurred a stadium-palooza deal downtown, including a Target Center renovation.

MLS isn't ruling out Minneapolis yet, but says St. Paul may have legs.

St. Paul has also shown some real estate creativity in the past, including a deal with another Minnesota United owner, the Pohlad family, that helped make CHS Field possible.

That said, the Pohlads, who also own the Twins, left St. Paul at the altar in 2002, even after the city got a state law passed to build the family's Minnesota Twins a stadium in St. Paul.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.