There are two expansion sets readying to enter to MLS this year. Chances are, you’ve heard plenty about one of them.
Maybe it has something to do with Donald Trump and John Lewis, but all of the sudden, everything is coming up Atlanta.
The Falcons are in the Super Bowl. The TV series bearing the city’s name just won a Golden Globe. And Atlanta United FC, the city’s new soccer team, is about to enter MLS in an extraordinarily strong position.
Consider: Arthur Blank’s soccer club is putting the finishing touches on a brand-new, $1.5 billion stadium that it will share with the Falcons. The club boasts three Designated Players, some 27,000 season ticket deposits, and a manager with Barcelona and Argentina on his résumé.
In short, Atlanta’s rollout has been a Seattle Sounders-esque tour de force. It’s even gotten Ric Flair interested in soccer.
Meanwhile, just one month out from its own maiden MLS voyage, Atlanta’s expansion counterpart Minnesota United continues to fly well under the radar.
In stark contrast with its southern rival, Minnesota has announced that it won’t be signing any Designated Players before the start of the season. The club hasn’t yet released its jerseys or, with an issue with city government unresolved, broken ground on its St. Paul stadium.
Minnesota has – by some margin – the fewest Twitter followers in the league, and, perhaps not unrelatedly, a fairly muted presence in the Twin Cities.
Fair to say, it’s been as quiet a ramp-up to an MLS debut that we’ve seen in some time – and, in some respects, a gamble bigger than the one Atlanta is taking with its massive financial investment and resultantly high expectations.
That’s not to say that Minnesota United is in a state of distress. The club has, in an understated way, done plenty right over the last seven months since it announced it would begin play in 2017.
The question is whether, in this era of MLS – and in a market with the University of Minnesota plus four other major pro sports teams – such a delayed, low-key rollout can lead to commercial success.
First, the good news.
Unlike several MLS clubs – hello, NYCFC – United will have a privately financed, soccer-specific stadium of its own at some point.
Adrian Heath, who just built an expansion team in Orlando and is as engaging a coach as you’ll find in MLS, was the right managerial hire. Minneapolis-based Target was a big get as a presenting sponsor.