About the time the snow started falling on Sunday, fans started filing into drinking establishments on the way to TCF Bank Stadium, the location of Minnesota United’s first-ever MLS home game. By 1:30 p.m., about 30 supporters draped in Loons apparel, including many Dark Clouds, were milling about in Lake Monster brewpub.
“We put on lots of layers and we’re looking forward to representing the team and seeing the coverage the next day,” said Janice Stark who is somewhat new to the sport. “Like, all these crazy people showed up in the cold with the scarves and their flags cheering for an expansion soccer team.”
Her husband Matt took it a step further. “What I really want is for the people watching ESPN to see 25,000 stupid Minnesotans out cheering in the snow while the guys from Atlanta are suffering. That’s the reputation we need to build.”
The Starks held up their end of the deal, cheering and supporting their team to the end, but Atlanta wasn’t quite as cooperative on this day, pounding the Loons 6-1 on a blustery afternoon.
On the Metro Transit Green Line light rail, soccer fans of all ages filled the cars wearing clothing of all sorts to keep warm. Hats, scarves, mittens, and even blankets and capes were fair game. Nothing really looked out of place on this day.
At the Prospect Park Station, fans were emptying out in droves to stop at the Surly Brewing pregame party. By 2:30 p.m., the beer hall was at capacity (1,000 people) with several hundred more milling around bonfires in the courtyard and even more under a tent listening to music.
For those who had followed Minnesota’s many incarnations of professional soccer teams through the years, the scene may have seemed a bit surreal. Many times in the in the mid-2000s, the Thunder were sometimes lucky to draw more than several hundred fans. Now an estimated 1,300 were at a pregame party with much more having already come and gone.
Lee Jones was one of those who had attended some of those games where fans were hard to come by. “This is what you would see back home if a Premier team was playing down the street,” said Jones, a native of England and also a Tottenham fan. “Years ago at the NSC, it wasn’t unusual to have three to five hundred people and now you’ve got thousands in a pregame, wearing the jersey’s, wearing the colors. For Minnesota soccer, this is the next level.”
Isabel Stafsholt and her mom Angie were huddled around one of the fires as children kicked mini soccer balls around the bocce ball courts. Angie, her husband and two children made the trip from from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a 250-mile trip. Angie said no matter the outcome of the game, they planned on coming back several more times this summer.
The Dark Clouds and True North Elite seemed to welcome the cold and snow. They met at a nearby park and marched a block to the stadium. It was the largest turnout the combined group has had for an event.
“We had a sense that we’d have a couple of cold snowy days here and we have one for our inaugural match,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told the media at halftime. We heard that there were 35,000 tickets sold and we were prepared that not everyone may show up. But they did. People are hardy here in Minnesota.”
Garber said it was only the second time they’ve had to use the orange ball in an MLS game. “This one will either be in the Minnesota sports hall of fame or National Soccer Hall of Fame,” remarked the commissioner.
“I think the character of this community needed a game like this. It will be remembered forever as their first game in this stadium with 35,000 people in the snow.”
— Curt Baker (@curtyb) March 12, 2017
After the match fans seemed to accept the lopsided loss with a typical Minnesota-sports defeatist attitude.
“I’m a Minnesotan and take pride in my ability to not complain — even though we all complain,” joked a very cold Michael Haarstad.
“We didn’t spend any DP money and we kept the allocation money and it’s honestly what I expected. In the long term, I do expect after three seasons to be a mid-table team and make the playoffs. I just hope the fan base sticks with it through the hard times.”
Kufre Eyoh and JP Incorvaja commiserated the loss by watching videos of the Atlanta goals on their smartphones and drinking one last beer at Stub and Herbs before heading home.
“It was disappointing but it was also expected,” said Eyoh reflecting on the afternoon. “Being that they are an expansion team we knew they weren’t going to play well, but I didn’t think they’d be quite this bad either.”
Incorvaja said he had a great time but the play on the field was a big let down. “I thought it was fun and it was great to be outdoors and snowing. It was a pretty unique experience. We are Minnesotans so we are use to the outdoors, used to the cold and used to the snow. But honestly, it was a really disappointing display of defense today. Disappointing,” emphasized Incorvaja.