“It helps us a lot on the field. It was the one big constant, the one big positive constant during this season.” —Jerome Thiesson
Seven months. That’s how long it was between the matches that bookended the home campaign of Minnesota United’s inaugural MLS season.
When the team laced up their boots in the locker room and prepared to face the snow for the first home match on March 12, they didn’t know what to expect. But those in the stands zipped up their winter jackets, huddled together and filled TCF Bank Stadium with thunderous chants — all 35,043 of them.
That day set a precedent: the fans show up.
Over the course of a season filled with lineup changes, injuries, trades, signings, last-minute losses and thrilling victories, the fans have been the one undeniable constant. They are the support system that fills TCF Bank Stadium with blaring cheers and chants, energizing the players on the pitch.
“That’s been one of the most pleasing aspects of the year: seeing that relationship grow,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “And the crowd is singing, like, Jerry’s name, and Bobby’s. I know it’s a strange word to use, but you can feel the love from the crowd for the players. That’s such an important part of any football club — the relationship the supporters have with the players, and vice versa.”
That relationship isn’t just confined to home matches, though. Minnesota United fans have been a constant presence at away matches as well. More than 250 supporters made the trip to Chicago for the Loons’ 26th match of the season. The fans filled up an entire section in the stands at Toyota Park, out-cheering the home crowd as Minnesota walked away with a 2-1 victory in its first road win of the year.
“One of the great things about football in Europe is the amount of people who travel to support you on the road,” said Heath. “Now, that becomes virtually impossible in America where it might be a three-, five-, six-hour flight. But we’ve had people at every game. And I look back at what we had in Chicago, what we had in — even had a group of guys in Vancouver — which is, you know, another country. They’ve been incredible, and all I want them to know is we fully respect that, and we appreciate it. And I know the players do.”
“As soon as we get a goal, they sing immediately,” defender Jerome Thiesson added. “Just knowing that they’re there, and their attitude. It helps us a lot on the field. It was the one big constant, the one big positive constant during this season. A big part of our progression and success is there.”
For the players who joined the team this year, they’ve learned about a tradition that stretches back to Minnesota United’s days in the NASL: singing Oasis’ “Wonderwall” after victories. On the road, it’s an insurgent fist in the air. At home, it’s triumphant, overwhelming and goose bump-inducing. When the Loons clobbered FC Dallas 4-1 on September 23, the team’s unofficial anthem boomed from the speakers at TCF Bank Stadium and a sellout crowd of 22,055 raised their voices alongside the players’ in song.
“It’s a feeling I didn’t know before I came here,” said Thiesson. “And now, I had how many opportunities? Like, six or seven home wins to discover that feeling. And I can’t yet put it in words. Eventually, perhaps, I’ll be able to. That kind of celebration is unique, I think. We as players have to be aware that it’s a privilege to be able to live that, and we want to win as many home games as possible to live it.”
Old traditions are carried forward while new ones form. Old fans welcome new fans. This might have been Minnesota United’s first season in MLS, but Minnesota United is not a new club.
“One of the things I love about this year and the support the fans have given is it really feels like an extension of the NASL days and the fans that have been our fans for years, frankly decades,” said Sporting Director Manny Lagos. “If you connect the Kicks and the Strikers and the Thunder and all the Stars iterations, I think they’ve become United fans because of that history. The biggest worry for me was how would that connection be in this new stadium, and with more fans? And I’ve been blown away. They’re amazing. They still created the connection with the players. And ultimately, it creates such a specialness that is Minnesota. There’s some other great fan bases: people talk about Portland, Kansas City and Seattle. I love how our fans have become unique in who they are because of the past, combined with how the players — in terms of how they played on the field this year — created that connection.”
It’s simple: everything about the fans stems from those 90 minutes out there on the pitch, week in and week out.
Eleven players on the pitch pour their hearts into the game and leave everything they have out there. In those 90 minutes, each and every fan in the stands cheers so loudly they’re on the brink of losing their voice. And it’s in those 90 minutes that the relationship between a player and the supporters in the stands grows, each chasing the same goal, constantly: the chance to be alive and united, the chance to sing.