United owner Bill McGuire on the state of the loons and development at St. Paul’s Midway

Bill McGuire prefers the durable to the sexy.

Minnesota United’s principal owner wants his MLS club to be a consistent winner, capable of reaching a peak and winning a championship, and for the privately funded Allianz Field to be an example of sustainable architecture that can s improve and be a catalyst for development in the Midway neighborhood of St . Paul.

McGuire sat down for breakfast with the Pioneer Press on Wednesday. Over stacks of pancakes, a side of bacon, orange juice and coffee, the former UnitedHealth Group CEO talked about the Loons’ 2022 season so far, long-term goals for the club, hosting the MLS All-Star Game in August, and the construction status surrounding the now four-year-old stadium. (The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Pioneer Press: The season is 25% over. The Loons are above the playoff line, but outside the top four in the Western Conference. How do you see the season?

McGuire: “I think it’s pretty good. … You have to put everything into perspective. I think most of our party would say it was pretty good. We probably should have, or certainly could have had, a few more points. There were a few games there that I think we could have won (but we didn’t).

What are the underlying numbers and the reasons?

We were slow to get the ball in the net, finishing, again, by having the guys work together up top. So we haven’t been as good as we hoped in that regard.

… The other night (in the 2-0 loss to Los Angeles FC) we had arguably one of the best players in the league, Robin Lod, and he has a chance to score and doesn’t finish it . And none of us would know why. He would normally. We finish that and it’s a different game. Because for a significant part of this game, (LAFC was) pretty frustrated. It’s a good team, they have a lot of horses there. We were quite their equal, if not better at times. … An opportunity can really define a game of football.

How do you see the competition that you also faced?

(The Loons faced the top two teams in each conference: Philadelphia and New York Red Bulls in the East; LAFC and Austin FC in the West. Also Seattle, which won the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday. Minnesota is 1-3-1 in those games and 4-0-1 against everyone.)

That’s why I think we would be optimistic. …

After five years, I see goals for the club: playing in the CONCACAF Champions League, winning trophies and selling players to other leagues, maybe in Europe. What are your sporting goals for the next few years?

… We have to work every day and think about how we make the club, the organization, the sport, a real part of this community and an asset to people, something that people can see, want to see, want to be a part of and have emotion around. It’s ultimately the pilot.

Now, to do that, you need to have a team that is representative, fun to watch, and competitive. … We have to make sure we have the facilities we need to bring the players in. Have an environment where players want to be here and be part of it. Building a development program that would allow us to bring in players and do something. …

It’s in the middle of small market teams, playing (in the Twin Cities) nearly every professional sport known to man. … We just have to stay a force, build something over time. And in that regard, I think while we’re always disappointed if you don’t win a championship, I think we did pretty well. …

We have to build a team that really is a team and works like a team, so that we can be competitive. … That’s a little different than saying, well, we decided this year to break the bank and spend whatever it takes. And we think we’re going to get it because we also know it never works. All of that doesn’t work in most sports.

So I think it’s just a matter of consistency. It’s about having a plan and saying that we’re moving in this direction and that we’re not too overworked if in Year 5 we haven’t won a championship yet. Even though we were pretty close in year 3 or 4 – both years.

I think that’s the big problem.

The club have made changes to the front office for scouting and acquisitions. How did that happen ?

It’s much better for us at all levels, and we get out of it more. Rather than depending on what someone else tells us, we actually do it. Looking at Wyscout (a tracking service) helps, but it doesn’t tell you some things you need to know. … We were just talking (Tuesday), doing an internal presentation to all the owners, and people were listening.

They’ve been released in the last three or four weeks in nine countries. It’s Amos (Magee) and Mark (Watson) and a few other scouts. We start building a system, that’s what we need to do, and then make sure we leverage the relationships. The dynamic is very different for us than for someone else, you are looking at a club that is perhaps part of an international club organization.

We are better now.

Adrien Hunou is in a curious position. He is your most expensive player (with a salary of $2.5 million after a transfer fee of over $3 million). How do you approach something like this? You have invested a lot in him but he does not play much.

#1, you have to rely on your people to understand and recognize that they probably know more than I do. Adrien is obviously a very good football player; he played very well in the French top flight, and coming here he didn’t suddenly become a very good footballer. It’s still the same player. So it’s hard to say. He got a bit of a bad rap last year. When you look at the numbers, people say, “Well, damn it, he didn’t do much.” Guy scored seven goals. And if you look at his productivity for the time he was here it was up there with a lot of people who if people want to focus on how much money (they make) a lot of players were getting paid a lot more money that didn’t have nearly the impact it did. It therefore had more difficulty (in 2022). I didn’t ask him, but the coaches feel he’s training hard, training well, committed. He’s a good player. So we’ll see.

When the All-Star Game arrives this summer, what do you want the rest of MLS and Liga MX to see about your club?

Well, I think we want our club to be a reflection of our stadium and our fans and all of that could really be a reflection of our community. And the things that make the Twin Cities, the state great, you know, great facilities, committed people. Wide open spaces, good (summer) weather. … I want them to see the best for the community. I think they will.

What has new CEO Shari Ballard brought to Minnesota United?

He is a simply superb human being. She has a passion for what she does, a passion for the community. She cares a lot. She loves sports. Hugely competitive. A very good person. As for helping to develop and teaching people, based on his own years of experience (at Best Buy), which is generally longer and, perhaps, more diverse than most people. She has a very, very good entrepreneurial spirit and a very good outlook. Just a great representative of the values ​​we want to promote in the team.

We saw a lot of demolitions around Allianz Field in the Midway area. When could we build?

The demolition took place because the buildings were burned down, essentially totaled up, and could not be reused (after the riots following the murder of George Floyd). It was never considered a plan for quite a while. I think it’s fair to say that like the rest of the city, this area, the potential, some of what was planned and kind of on the books was changed with the rent control vote . Some people who were ready to do something felt they had to step back and wait.

It means there is a change. It’s hard to do retail. It’s a very complicated thing but if you don’t do it, if you want to have buildings with several floors, what do you put on the upper floors? You could do retail on the first floor, but what do you put above? Offices or housing.

And to that, people say, “I’m not going to invest in housing now or at least in new housing.” It cuts that, and then we have the impact of COVID on offices (with work-from-home alternatives). But we try to do it and it’s not (MNUFC), the team has nothing to do with what’s around it, but it’s what was looked at.

That said, there are at least three things and possibly as many as five in the plans right now that they want to bring to the city here in the not-too-distant future.

What would those things be?

That would be retail, restaurants, hospitality, and offices.

What locations on the block?

The idea is more and more to make the lawn (on the north side of Allianz Field) something of a focal point. So three things, one between the lawn and University (Avenue), another on the east side and another on the west side.

Will these plans go to the city of St. Paul in the near future?

We’ve had a few discussions lately. For six years now, we have heard from townspeople, residents and people in the community that this is what we need. These are all things that align with the perceived things that people say can help improve our neighborhood maybe and some new things that don’t exist right now.

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