Zygi Wilf may be the most reviled man in Minnesota, but the fact is he represents the state's best shot at convincing Major League Soccer to expand here.
Lately lots of ink has been spilled over the battle between the two powerful groups of local bigwigs competing for the next Major League Soccer franchise, because frankly, it's an irresistible story. See also: Embedded With Minnesota's Misfit Fans: How Minnesota United FC's Diehard Soccer Fanatics Became a Force to be Reckoned With
Zygi's local competition is headed up by Bill McGuire, the insanely rich former CEO of UnitedHealth Group and current owner of Minnesota's only professional soccer team, Minnesota United FC. According to the Star Tribune, he's rounded up support from the Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and the Pohlad family, who own the Twins.
The two groups both made presentations to the MLS two weeks ago, along with competing bids from Las Vegas and Sacramento.
It's fun to imagine the two local groups pulling strings and jockeying for position behind the scenes, but when we spoke with both group's MLS point man it became pretty clear the Vikings are much more serious.
"We really don't feel like we're itching to do this next thing," said Minnesota United FC President Nick Rogers.
"If there's a business deal that makes sense we'll do it, but we like the league we're in right now and I'm even very hesitant to characterize our conversations with the MLS as a bid."
Compare that with Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley:
"Our stadium was designed for the MLS. It is soccer-specific, it was funded with the expectation that it would host the MLS and it will accommodate our climate," he said.
"We spent a lot of time and energy making sure our new stadium would be a good fit for Major League Soccer and we think our presentation was very well received."
Last night the Vikings unveiled new renderings showcasing what Major League Soccer would look like in the cavernous new stadium, and Bagley said the Vikings will have a representative in Los Angeles when the MLS Board of Directors discusses expansion proposals on Saturday. Rogers confirmed no one from McGuire's group will be there.
Commitment level aside, consider the stadium situation. The Vikings have a stadium already paid for, approved by the city and under construction, while McGuire is still sniffing around North Loop for a stadium site with vague ideas about possibly partnering with Hennepin County to make it happen.
Also, the Vikings stadium will have a roof, while United remains committed to playing outdoors, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber said yesterday he prefers indoor stadiums for cold climates.
Obviously a lot can change, but right now McGuire has a team in place and nothing else. Zygi has everything in place except for the team. Could Minnesota support two professional soccer teams?
"It's a tough question to answer," said Rogers. "If we had a small, soccer-specific stadium in a downtown, central location, I don't think it would be impossible."