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MLS expansion proves necessity of new soccer stadium

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A Midwest state not named Indiana is joining the country’s highest professional soccer league.

Major League Soccer (MLS) announced Wednesday that it will expand to Minnesota. The state already has a team, Minnesota United FC. It plays in the North American Soccer League (NASL) along with the Indy Eleven.

The new team, which will be based in Minneapolis, will join the league in 2018. One of the reasons Minnesota was awarded the opportunity is because it’s building a brand new stadium, something Indy Eleven has been trying to get but without much success.

Indy Eleven currently plays at Carroll Stadium which it shares with IUPUI. It only has enough seating for 10,500 fans. In order to be at “first division team”, or MLS level, stadiums need to have seating closer to 20,000.

“You don’t have to be in Major League Soccer to be a first division team but without a stadium, that option doesn’t even exist,” said Peter Wilt, Indy Eleven President.

Indy Eleven proposed a bill to build an $82 million soccer stadium. Lawmakers shot down the bill Tuesday but amended it to instead do $20 million in renovations to Carroll Stadium. The question is whether that will be enough to raise capacity close to 20,000.

“Certainly it’s a step in the right direction,” said Wilt. “We haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk with the architects and the construction folks yet but we’re very hopeful that with that money and additional funds from the city and other sources that we’ll be able to develop a stadium that’s suitable for first division standards.”

The importance of a new stadium was highlighted Tuesday when 24-Hour News 8 did an exclusive interview with MLS President and Major Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.

“It’s absolutely critical. We set out as a requirement for expansion that we have a new facility in the markets that we select,” Abbott said. “It’s important for our fans. They want to be able to watch games in the sort of professional facilities, same sort of amenities that they see for all the other professional sports. It’s critical from a business perspective and it’s a strict requirement for the league when we’re evaluating expansion opportunities.”

With the addition of Minnesota, MLS will have 23 teams. The league’s commissioner said he would like there to be 24 teams by 2020. 24-Hour News 8 asked Wilt if he felt pressure to be the 24th team before another city swoops in.

“Recently Commissioner (Don) Garber of MLS said they’ll spend the next year looking at that number of 24 and determining whether or not it makes sense to go above it,” Wilt said. “My guess is that ultimately they will go beyond the 24 so I don’t think there’s pressure on that number per say.  Really, the pressure is to make sure that we develop a stadium that can seat 18,000-20,000 fans.”

Minnesota United FC won the Woosnam Cup last year since it finished the season with the best record in the NASL. We asked Wilt if success on the field can weigh whether or not MLS comes calling.

“If the revenues are increased by virtue of having more seats and selling more tickets, then that money can be put towards better players and having a better team. And both (winning, new stadium) are necessary to achieve first division status and to be major league,” he said.