If you only paid attention to news headlines, you’d say that 2016 was a pretty terrible year. While there’s no denying the misery this year brought both socially and politically, the sports headlines were at least slightly better in Minnesota, and the expansion of Minnesota United FC to Major League Soccer stands out as one of the most memorable sports milestones of the year.
In March 2015, MLS awarded an expansion team to the state. By August 2016, the franchise announced that it would begin MLS play in 2017 after seven seasons in the second-tier North American Soccer League. The near-capacity crowd at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul was abuzz for the press conference.
After a disappointing season from the Minnesota Twins and a loss in the WNBA Finals by the Minnesota Lynx, summertime hometown sports fans were ready for their moment in the spotlight. The MLS expansion announcement on Aug. 19 came just two weeks after Champions League favorites Chelsea and A.C. Milan played before a sold out crowd at US Bank Stadium, the first-ever event in Minnesota’s newest multi-sport facility.
As the summer heat simmered down, enthusiasm for soccer boiled over in the state. In November, the club announced the hiring of manager Adrian Heath. Then, in December, the Loons announced their franchise home opener on March 12 versus their league expansion partners Atlanta United.
The club has already sold 8,000 season ticket packages for its first professional season, which should bode well for the future of the 20,000 seat soccer stadium that broke ground this month. When the calendar turns to Jan.1, just 70 days will remain before the debut of professional soccer in Minnesota. The team will continue to build its roster through the MLS SuperDraft, which begins Jan. 11.
Sports has always been a source of escapism in society, and this year that sense of relief was needed more than ever. As the noise of 2016 grows quiet, a loon’s call rises in the distance.
Brad Omland is a contributing writer for SB Nation’s E Pluribus Loonum. Follow him on Twitter for Minnesota sports updates and commentary: @bradradio.