What a game means depends an awful lot on where you watch it from. Who among us doesn’t want to experience a basketball game from courtside, a football game from the owner’s box, a baseball game from directly behind home plate? There’s a beauty, though, in every vantage point from the cheap seats to the luxury suites and in soccer, there’s nothing quite like the supporters section.
The supporters section is the social contract of the sportswatching experience made flesh and bone. You show up early, you shout and sing and cheer your head off for 90 minutes. You learn the songs. You wash your best team gear for game days. You might even help make a tifo. A few of the supporters wave giant flags throughout the game, the physical toll of which you probably don’t stop to consider until you spend a few minutes watching them. The trick, apparently, is anchoring it against the inside of your leg and then using that leverage and your body to move it — more of a core workout than a forearm workout. These are the kinds of tips you’ll learn along the way.
At MNUFC home games, the capos position themselves on stands: one big one at the bottom of the section and two smaller satellite stands a bit higher up. As they lead the crowd through call-and-response chants, the capos wave their arms frantically, scream through megaphones, jump up and down. This is not going to a game to chill with friends and maybe get caught up in it if it’s close at the end. The supporters section is proactively driving the energy and tenor of the game, and you can quite clearly feel how they establish an atmosphere and then strive to push it harder at critical moments, from corner kicks to penalty kicks to stoppage time.
It changes considerably on the road. While there always seem to be a few MNUFC jerseys in the crowd at any game away from Minnesota, the supporters show up in force for trips to Chicago and Kansas City. In Chicago for the Loons first road victory of the year last season, the visitors’ supporters were louder than the home side’s. While that might not be possible when faced with Sporting Kansas City’s Blue Hell at Children’s Mercy Park, the job remains the same as at home, albeit with a slightly different approach: instead of the rulers, they're the resistance.
Wedged into a corner of the stadium last Saturday night, the more than two dozen members of Dark Clouds and True North Elite who made the trek by bus down I-35 kept up a near-constant din. The Loons faithful were positioned across from SKC’s supporters and sandwiched between sections of — for lack of a better term — “normal” fans, who ate their popcorn and drank their beer and occasionally cast a sidelong glance at this rowdy group who rarely sat or stopped chanting longer than it took to catch their breath.
Instead of exhorting the stadium as a whole to join them, supporters at an away game are the insurgents. They’re less weight than counterweight with the pitch itself lying between two opposing forces, between home and away support. When MNUFC conceded a goal to Yohan Croizet just after the half, the chants and cheers from the Minnesota contingent subsided, but you could see they were just biding their time. Given the volume of cheers around them, it would have been like yelling at a hurricane.
But as soon as the jubilation of the home fans crested, just as it began to fall again, the three capos down in front were up again, facing the small but stalwart crowd and firing up the chants again. “WE LOVE UNITED,” they shouted, “WE DO.”
It might just be two words in a chant that could be easily missed, but on this night, they resonated. The groups like True North Elite and the Dark Clouds that make up the Wonderwall are open and welcoming. Anyone can become a supporter, but not everyone does. That’s fine. The game makes room for all kinds of fans, from the curious to the casual to the committed to the kind who are up for spending half the day on a bus to go watch a soccer game hundreds of miles away. At that level, a fan is not something you are, it's not even defined by where you sit. It’s something you do.
Although the team couldn’t find its way back into the game — largely due to some heroics from SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia that kept the 2-0 game from becoming 2-1 or even 2-2 — the supporters never wavered. They put their scarves up for MNUFC corner kicks and stood at the end of the game, arms and scarves aloft in salute, and the Minnesota United players made their way over to their little corner of the stadium and applauded them, hands in the air, respecting the commitment. A more than six-hour bus ride back to the Twin Cities awaited the supporters, and it was already past 9:30 p.m.
For more information on Minnesota United's supporters groups, click here.