Associated Press, Published June 05 2012
Minn. Stars are winning, but future is cloudyBLAINE, Minn. — Minnesota's pro soccer team is winning on the field and surviving financially, but the Stars and their fans could be happier.
The Stars are in limbo because the deal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium gives the Vikings exclusive rights to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Minneapolis for five years after the stadium opens, projected in 2016.
And the football team isn't in any hurry.
"We've got a stadium to design and build over the next several years, and so we're probably three or four years away from a serious discussion about an MLS team," Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said. "So, while we have a strong interest, it's a back burner issue for us."
The Stars, who play at the National Sports Center in Blaine, are the latest version of 23 straight seasons of pro soccer in Minnesota. But this version follows another Stars team that failed financially in 2010.
Their minor league, the North American Soccer League, bailed out the Stars in part to keep the minimum eight teams necessary to keep the league itself alive. The league sent in a caretaker, Djorn Buchholz, who said the goal was to fix up the team and then put it up for sale.
"I've looked at it a little bit like a house and we've put a new roof on it and new shutters, and now the 'for sale' sign is out in the front yard," Buchholz told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/NDUxHS).
Buchholz said he's happy big-league soccer appears to be in Minnesota's future. But the prospect of an MLS franchise moving in just 17 miles down the road — any time in the next nine years — is a daunting prospect for the franchise.
"What that's done for us a little bit is narrowed the potential options out there for owners," he said, "because I think it's difficult for someone to potentially come in and say hey, I'm going to buy this thing now with that looming out there."
Stars fans are hoping for the best. Several North American soccer teams, including the Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact, have made the jump and are now major league franchises. But soccer enthusiasts worry that if pro soccer withers amid the uncertainty, it could be hard for the Vikings to start a major league franchise from scratch and make it a success.
They are also pressing for the stadium design to consider soccer so it might attract top international matches.
"The trend in football stadiums is to have the fans come closer to the field," said Dave Laidig, an organizer of the fan group MLS for Minnesota. "But a soccer field's a little bit wider, especially if you have the international standard."
Meanwhile, the Stars are exceeding expectations on the pitch. They beat Real Salt Lake, an MLS franchise, 3-1 last week to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, which is open to pro and amateur teams.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.