Q&A: United owner Bill McGuire on state of the Loons and development in St. Paul’s Midway

The former UnitedHealth Group CEO talked about the Loons’ 2022 season thus far, long-term goals for the club and hosting the MLS All-Star Game in August

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Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire stands before the Loon “crest” as Minnesota United FC announces it’s joining Major League Soccer, at a ceremony at CHS Field in St. Paul on Aug. 19, 2016.
John Autey/St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Bill McGuire prefers sustainable over sexy.

Minnesota United’s principle owner wants his MLS club to be consistent winner, one capable of peaking and winning a championship, and for privately funded Allianz Field to be an example of lasting architecture that can 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 thus far, long-term goals for the club, hosting the MLS All-Star Game in August and the status of construction surrounding the now four-year-old stadium. (The interview was edited for clarity and length.)

Pioneer Press: The season is 25% done. The Loons are above the playoff line but outside of the top four in the Western Conference. How do you look at the season?

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


What do you look to as the underlying numbers and reasons?

We’ve been slow getting the ball in the net, finishing, again, getting guys working together up top. So we haven’t been as good as we would hope in that regard.

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

How do you look at the competition you’ve faced as well?

(The Loons have played 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 else.)

That’s the reason I think we would be optimistic. …

After five years, some goals I see for the club: playing in CONCACAF Champions League, winning trophies, and selling players to other leagues, possibly in Europe. What do you see as sporting goals in the next couple of years?

… We have to everyday work and consider how do we make the club, the organization, the sport, a real part of this community and an asset to the people, something that folks can see, want to see, want to be a part of and have emotion around. That ultimately is the driver.


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

This is amid the small-market teams, playing (in the Twin Cities) with every professional sport known to man, almost. … We just have to stay a force, building something over time. And in that regard, I think, while always disappointed if you don’t win a championship, I think we’ve done pretty well. …

We have to put together a team that really is a team and operates as a team, so we can be competitive. … That’s a little different than saying, well, we’ve decided this year we’re gonna break the bank and spend whatever it takes. And we think that we’ll get it because we also know that that never works. It all least doesn’t work in most sports.

So I think it’s just consistency. It’s having a plan and say we’re moving along that course and not get too overwrought, if, in Year 5, we haven’t won a championship yet. Even if we were pretty close in Year 3 or 4 — both years.

I think that’s the big thing.

The club has made changes in the front office for scouting and acquisitions. How has that gone?

It’s a lot better for us at all levels, and we’re getting out more. Rather than depending on what somebody else tells us, we’re actually doing it. Watching Wyscout (a scouting service) helps, but it doesn’t tell you certain things you need to know. … We’re just talking (Tuesday), making an internal presentation to all the owners, and people were listening.

They’ve been out in the last three, four weeks to nine countries. That’s Amos (Magee) and Mark (Watson) and a couple other scouts. We are beginning to build a system, which is what we have to do, and then make sure we take advantage of relationships. The dynamics are very different for us than somebody else, you look at a club that’s maybe part of an international organization of clubs.


We’re better at it now.

Adrien Hunou is in a curious position. He is your most expensive player (with a $2.5 million salary after a transfer fee of more than $3 million). How do you broach something like that? You have a lot invested in him but he’s not playing very much.

No. 1, you’ve got to depend on your people to understand and recognize that they probably know more about it than I might. Adrien obviously is a really fine soccer player; he played very well in the top tier of France, and coming over here, he didn’t all of a sudden become not a real good soccer player. He’s still the same player. So it’s hard to say. He got a little bit of a bad rap last year. When you look at the numbers, people say, ‘Well, gee whiz, he didn’t do much.’ Guy had seven goals. And if you look at his productivity for the amount of time he was here, it was up there with a lot of folks that, if people want to concentrate on how much money (they make), a lot of players were paid a lot more money that didn’t have near the impact he did. So he’s had a tougher time (in 2022). I haven’t asked him, but the coaches feel that he trains hard, trains well, he’s committed. He’s a good player. So we’ll see.

When the all-star game comes here 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 that could really be a reflection of our community. And the things that make the Twin Cities, the state great, you know, great facility, engaged people. Great outdoors, great (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?

She is a just superb human being. She has passion for what she does, passion for the community. She cares immensely. She loves sports. Hugely competitive. A very good people person. In terms of helping to develop and teach people, based on her own years of experience (at Best Buy), which usually are longer and, perhaps, more diverse than most of the people have. She has a very, very good business mind and perspective. Just a great representative of the values that we want to promote in the team.

We’ve seen a lot of demolition around Allianz Field in the Midway neighborhood. When could we construction?

The demolition came about because the buildings were burned, basically totaled, and couldn’t be reused (after the riots that followed the killing of George Floyd). That was never thought of as a plan for quite a while. I think it’s fair to say, like the rest of the city, that area, the potential, some of what was being planned and sort of on the books was altered with the rent control vote. Some people that were prepared to do something felt that they had to step back and wait.

That means there’s a shift. It’s hard to do retail. It’s a very complicated thing but if you don’t, if you want to have multi-story buildings, what do you put on the upper stories? You could do first-floor retail, but what do you put above it? Offices or housing.

And to that, people say: ‘I’m not going to invest in housing right now or at least new housing.’ That cuts that off, and then we’ve got the COVID impact on offices (with work-from-home alternatives). But we’re trying to do it and it’s not (MNUFC), the team doesn’t have anything to do with the thing around it, but that’s what has been looked at.

That said, there are at least three things and maybe as many as five in plans right now that they want to be bringing forth to the city here in the not-distant future

What would those things be?

It would be retail, restaurant kinds of things, hospitality and some office.

What locations on the block?

The idea is increasingly to have the lawn (on the north side of Allianz Field) be sort of be a focal center point. So three things, one between the lawn and University (Avenue), another on the east side and another on the west side.

Those plans will go to the City of St. Paul in the near future?

We’ve been having some discussions of late. We’ve been hearing for six years now from city people, from residents and community people, about this is what we need. These are all things that fit in with the perceived things that people say can help make our neighborhood better maybe and some new things that don’t exist right now.”

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