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Will Atlanta United be the lone 2017 MLS expansion entrant?

With Minnesota United announcing a St. Paul stadium in 2018, Atlanta United may have to enter Major League Soccer as the solo entrant for 2017. Dirty South Soccer checks in with another MLS expansion update.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Minnesota United FC announced its intentions to build a stadium in St. Paul. After initially missing a July 1 deadline to finalize a deal, things are looking positive for the Loons as they ramp up their Major League Soccer campaign. Listed towards the bottom of their new stadium website, Minnesota is tentatively planning for the new facility to be completed in 2018. The main question is now whether that means the club will start in St. Paul or seek a temporary venue for 2017 until the St. Paul location is ready.

Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus explored this possibility last month. Straus writes:

The NASL club plays at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota. The bare-bones stadium seats just under 10,000 people and is located about a half-hour north of the Twin Cities. It’s unlikely ever to be a suitable MLS venue, even for a single season. But United would prefer to enter the league in 2017 if possible, rather than wait until a new facility is ready. That leaves the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium and the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field among the potential temporary homes. Twins owner Jim Pohlad is a United investor.

Minnesota United hasn't stated yet when it plans to enter the league or whether that will coincide with the opening of their new St. Paul home. The University of Minnesota's relatively new stadium has grown accustomed to hosting guests as of late, as the Vikings played all home games there last year, and continue through this season. By 2017, the Vikings will have moved on and United could play its inaugural season there if need be.

Major League Soccer has shown a willingness to allow teams to begin play without fully constructed stadiums. Both Vancouver and Montreal played portions of their inaugural seasons at temporary venues while their stadiums were wrapping up. Similarly, Orlando City has played all of its debut year at the Citrus Bowl and plans to do so for at least most of next season. At that time, Orlando will open up the new downtown facility.

Whether Atlanta will have a launch partner in 2017 remains to be seen. There are still too many unanswered questions in Minnesota to set a date. Further south, David Beckham's venture remains a few years out, despite impressive additions to the Miami leadership group. LAFC continue towards a tentative 2018 launch with a 2019 pushback still a possibility.

Brian Straus acknowledged the possibility of Sacramento Republic getting the nod from MLS and mentions they might be the most readied club to go alongside Atlanta in 2017.

Republic’s mission not only is to make it impossible for MLS to say no but also to be so far along that the league considers admitting Sacramento early. One source said MLS may prefer Sacramento to enter in 2019 (in the new stadium), but the board of governors still may consider Republic’s pitch in December. It’s conceivable that Sacramento is the most MLS-ready partner for Atlanta in 2017.

The club continues to sell out Bonney Field (capacity 11,442) and it is in position to expand it by some 3,000 seats if necessary. MLS could play games there while a new stadium is constructed. The hold-up: Sacramento’s expansion application remains unapproved.

While league expansion continues to be murky, we know Atlanta United will be fielding a squad in 2017. Whether they are accompanied by another club remains to be seen. If so, Minnesota looks to be the runner, unless Major League Soccer seeks other ready clubs, such as Sacramento.