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Loons Reflect on End of an Era, Leaving Nessie

by on 28 October 2016

As Minnesota United FC push for one last try at the last playoff spot, they go into their matchup with the New York Cosmos knowing that it will be the last match at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

Nessie, as the NSC is known, has been home to professional soccer for more than†two decades, starting with the Minnesota Thunder in 1990 (the team moved away between 2003 and 2008). During that period, Nessie witnessed two championships (1999, 2011), a supporters trophy (2014), and a spring championship (2014).

“Itís been my only home for six years,” Davis says, “Itís been a great home field. Itís not going anywhere. It will still be part of the club.”

For many ó players, staff, and fans ó the move away from Nessie will be bittersweet. There is the eventual prospect of watching soccer in the new Cloud City to be built in Midway.

But Blaine has been more than just a venue to players like Justin Davis, who started his career playing at Nessie in 2011.†”Itís been my only home for six years,” Davis says. “Itís been a great home field. But itís not going anywhere. It will still be part of the club.”

Even newcomers like Danny Cruz know there is something special about the place. For him, it’s the intimacy that the stadium gives that feels special. He notes, “Itís not everywhere you see the passion between the fans and players. I think itís one of the most unique ones Iíve ever been involved in. Itís gonna be a bittersweet day for sure but you can celebrate what this club has become.”

Oddly, it’s another relative newcomer, Jamie Watson, who has some of the longest-running experience with the stadium. Watson, who came to United in 2014, first played in Nessie back in 2003 for the US U-17 team against Canada. As he remembers it, “The place was packed then and so I was always fond of this place.”

Watson again returned in 2010 to play against the NSC Minnesota Stars for the Austin Aztex. He scored. In 2012, he signed a short-term loan agreement to play for the Minnesota Stars. This time he scored for the home side. In 2014, he moved on a long-term deal to Minnesota United. He had to wait for his next goal at Nessie, but it came in the August 15 5-1 drubbing of Indy Eleven.

“When we scored in the [2012] championship game and we ran over to the fans and the sideboards collapsed. Itís weird to think that you may not see another game here again.”

“So I have so many cool memories,” he says. “You start to think about different parts of the field where you scored a goal or had a memorable moment happen. When we scored in the [2012] championship game and we ran over to the fans and the sideboards collapsed. Itís weird to think that you may not see another game here again.”

Carl Craig has also come into his own, coaching at Nessie. He started in 2010 as Manny Lagos’s assistant and became United’s head coach for the 2016 season. Craig isn’t nostalgic, though, or at least not for the stadium.

“The place doesnít mean a lot to me, itís the people who come. So I just hope that when the club moves to the new stadium, they [the club] remember the people who come here and have been coming here for years. Itís really just bricks and mortar,” he says.

It was Craig who began the tradition of singing Oasis’s “Wonderwall” after games, during the club’s remarkable 2011 championship run. And it’s those memories that are on his mind as the club looks to move forward. “I remember the flares and smoke bombs and that stuff [in 2011]. Thatís what it means to me.”

Whatever may cover over the pitch on Saturday night, though, nostalgia is not likely to be included. For 90 minutes, Craig and the players know they have a job to do and it isn’t, as the gaffer emphasizes, about getting into the playoffs. Playoffs, he says, would be a nice side effect of a win.†”We owe it to the fans to show that we care,” he says. “Not only should we be going out for ourselves to get the win, but weíve got to show you lot, well weíve got to give everything.”

 

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