Major League Soccer has finally given the official stamp of approval for Minnesota to join the league in 2017.
MLS commissioner Don Garber and Minnesota’s ownership group, led by Bill McGuire, made the announcement Friday from CHS Field in St. Paul.
In March of 2015 Minnesota was announced as an expansion team, but details like when the team would begin play, what name the club would play under and where they would initially play remained unknown. Minnesota will retain the name of the NASL franchise, Minnesota United FC, and join the already announced Atlanta United to give MLS 22 teams for the 2017 season.
Minnesota will play in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium in its first year. Barring some final political barriers, the team will eventually have its own stadium in St. Paul. The Star Tribune reported the team expects to get that final approval.
Support for an expansion team in Minnesota began when McGuire’s Minnesota United FC had success in the North American Soccer League. The club has averaged around 9,000 fans per game since the NASL’s fall 2014 season.
In addition to keeping the same name as the NASL team, the popular loon logo remains.
From a local perspective, Minnesota gives another regional opponent for the Chicago Fire although Minnesota will play in the Western Conference with Atlanta joining in the Eastern Conference also in 2017.
As for other MLS expansion news and rumors, SI’s Brian Straus gave an update on other expansion teams coming. Straus reported that Los Angeles FC is scheduled for 2018, David Beckham’s Miami team could be close behind and Sacramento, St. Louis and Detroit are the leaders for spots 25-28.
Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.
One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:
Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.
The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.
The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.
It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.
The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).
Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.
The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.
All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.
Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.
Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.
The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.