Moving, as The Onion memorably pointed out back in 2001, is terrible. “For the love of God,” went the final bullet point of their Moving Day Tips, “don’t ever move.” Moving within your city is bad enough, moving to another city is harder. Moving to another country? Even tougher, whether or not you speak the language. When defender Jerome Thiesson — the man they call “Jerry” — made the decision to leave the Swiss Super League for Minnesota United and MLS, he and his family didn’t make it lightly, but he did jump in with both feet. Thiesson, whose natural giddiness makes him one of the most engaging and charming members of the team, talked about the process in the players' lounge at NSC recently.
“I lived and worked all of my life in Switzerland, and Minnesota is three times Switzerland in size,” said Thiesson. “I was in the same team for the last six years. I knew being close to 30 that if I wanted to see another thing besides the Swiss Super League — which is great, but I want to see more — then it is now.
“I came to a city with skyscrapers, which we don’t have in Switzerland. Everybody tells me Minneapolis is small, but it is huge for me,” he continued. “I had this excitement for the new and the unknown from the beginning. Then it was just this place that opened up its arms and made it so easy for me to like everything about it. [In the neighborhood] where I live, the people, everything is always golden and pink, we used to say in Switzerland.”
Thiesson, who recently returned to his native country to complete the process for acquiring his green card, quickly became a mainstay on the field for MNUFC, starting every game he played in 2017 and racking up a team-high 2,955 minutes. But he also embraced life — and especially the sporting life — in the Twin Cities as he and his wife, Ivana, prepared to welcome their first child, Jago, into the world last summer.
“I saw my first-ever NFL game here and of course my first-ever college sports game here,” he said. “I have seen NBA already in my life, but now you feel like a part of it because it is the city you live in. It is different. Hockey I knew from Switzerland but I probably won’t ever go back to see a Swiss hockey game because the NHL is just another different level. It ruined Swiss hockey for me and I always thought Swiss hockey was amazing.”
The evidence of his engagement with the Twin Cities is all over his Instagram account: pictures of Thiesson walking over the Stone Arch Bridge with Jago on his shoulders, goofing off at indoor amusement park Can Can Wonderland, in a Twins jacket at Target Field, in a customized Vikings jersey at US Bank Stadium, boating on Lake Minnetonka in American flag swim trunks. Athletes: they’re just like us, except they look better in shorts.
Transplants to the Twin Cities can sometimes find it a bit hard to connect. When it’s cold out, people hunker down and then of course there’s the notorious “Minnesota nice” to get used to — a friendliness that can come off as polite, but not genuine. For Thiesson and his wife, though, it was a marked departure from the sangfroid in his native Switzerland.
“We feel like Americans in general are way more open,” he said. “In Switzerland you don’t know anybody and you usually don’t talk to someone unless you get introduced. Here I have found so many other people that don’t just talk to me because I am a soccer player — often they don’t even know — but I just ask for directions and it ends up as a conversation. People take their time when giving me directions, then they ask me where I am from and then it is so easy to get in touch with people. I go to the lake with my son and after a half an hour, I feel like I know the whole beach.”
Like any new parents, Thiesson and his wife spend a lot of time finding ways to entertain their almost one-year-old son and he’s learned well the joys of something that just works, like Sovereign Grounds, a coffee shop in South Minneapolis with an indoor playground. When the weather is good, though, they can often be found outside in their Loring Park neighborhood.
“I am happy and glad he is a kid that gets bored at home, so we spend a lot of time outside on playgrounds — he just wants to see and experience,” he said. “We hang out there and he is going to see a dog and want to play with the dog or see another kid and want to play with the kid. We enjoy seeing him like that.”
His current favorite restaurant is Zelo on Nicollet, but he also likes to bring out-of-town visitors to Brit’s or The Local to give them a bit of the soccer pub flavor in the Twin Cities. He also cites Bar La Grassa as one of his favorites, although it’s not an everyday choice. “We keep that as something more exquisite and once in a while,” he said.
Not every athlete who comes to a new team dives in so readily. With their training schedules, travel and the tight-knit dynamics of a team, it can sometimes be easier to keep a new city at arm’s length while you get adjusted. The younger guys might go out at night, but for the dads on the team — of which there are quite a few now — the simple pleasures of the Stone Arch Bridge or a cup of coffee while your kid plays in a plastic castle are more important.
It’s clear that if you come to visit the Thiessons in their new home of Minneapolis, you’ll be well taken care of. Like a lot of Minnesotans, though, Thiesson has a bit of advice when it comes to when to visit, delivered in the most Minnesota way possible.
“The summers are just amazing,” he said. “I would tell them to come in summer because it is just so beautiful, but if somebody wants to see the tough and cold North, you are welcome in the winter, too.”