MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire had a good week with Wednesday’s announcement that his ownership group had been granted an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer with play to begin in 2018. McGuire faces a July 1 deadline to have a workable stadium plan and state lawmakers have said he’ll get little help, but the former UnitedHealth Group chief was in a jovial mood when he agreed to take a few questions from The Associated Press. Answers have been edited for length.
Q. You came to soccer late in life. What is it about the sport that you like?
A. I think great athleticism. A lot of flow, at least when it’s played well. Tactics, thought, some real skill sets to do things. You always marvel at things when somebody does it. I can pick up and pass a football and pass a basketball, but to take a ball in midair and stop it dead and push it on, that’s pretty impressive to me. …. I like the interation among players. It’s a true team sport. the teams that win are usually not prevailing because they have one great player or two great players. …. I also like the way it interacts and appeals with fans. The proximity and involvement with the fans, what a great game it is in person, which is not necessarily true in all (sports) in my mind. As I’ve gotten into it, I really like the players. These are good young men.
Q. Where do you sit when you watch a game? Do you ever hang with the Dark Clouds (Minnesota United’s manic fans)?
A. Well actually I have (laughs). I sit over there sometimes. Sometimes I sit right opposite them, under the press box halfway down … I find that my perspective of the game, to see the plays develop and some of the other things, offsides or not, is a little bit easier when I have a good elevation.
I have a very open relationship (with the Dark Clouds). We’re all the same kind of people. I go and watch games at the Nomad (a soccer-centric Minneapolis pub) on occasion … They’re very important for us. We get a lot of insight with them. … They help educate me. That’s the way I learn about things, trying to absorb stuff from other people.
Q. Do you wear a United jersey at games?
A. I don’t think we make a big enough one for me quite yet. You’d see me in plain old clothes with probably a (United) scarf on.
Q. Aside from Minnesota United, who’s your favorite team?
A. I don’t really have a favorite team. I watch a lot of soccer. … I like watching Arsenal right now. I enjoy Liverpool; some of it’s just about the tradition of Liverpool. I actually love watching the crowd sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the Liverpool games. It’s very emotional. I like watching Barcelona because of the way they play the game, the tactical approach. (He lists others: Real Madrid, Atletico, Bayern Munich, Chivas Guadalajara).
Q. Ever attend a game in Europe? Are there things from that atmosphere that you want to bring here?
A. No, I have not. I don’t go to Europe that much. I don’t travel that much. … I (visited) Bayern Munich to learn about them, to try to understand how they work, what makes them such a great organization. They’re arguably one of the greatest teams in the world, how they operate, year in and year out …
Q. What did you learn?
A. One thing is they have a very clear, long-term multigenerational approach to things. Building from the bottom up, not the top down. They very, very much believe you build the sport by having youth movements and coming up through the ranks. That was one obvious takeaway. Another is they are very connected into the community of their fans. They have tremendous fan support. … Watching them train, how they push it and how aggressively they train. … I see all these dummies they’re practicing over, doing corner kicks … I said we gotta have that.”
Q. Owners of pro sports teams often seem to wind up hated. Do you worry about that, especially as you develop a stadium plan?
A. I can’t speak to stadium issues or anything … we don’t even have one yet. …. Our responsibility is to do the best job we have, if we listen to people and balance all these things, people will appreciate that. … We have this team that (nearly) shut down two years ago. We stepped in. We tried to build it, play at a high level. We were just hugely competitive in Brazil, we showed well in Mexico and Swansea City. I think the fans understand that. We’re listening. We’re trying to engage them. I’m not too concerned.
Q. Anything else you want to say?
A. We don’t need to wait for MLS to officially be on the (team) logo. We’ve got a great team in a great league right now, playing high-quality soccer. I want to get 10,000 people up in Blaine for every game this year.
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