While growing up in Woodbury, Minnesota United defenders Brent Kallman and Eric Miller both had front row seats to watch the booming growth of professional soccer in Minnesota over the last decade or so. Now they get to star in one of its culminating moments in front of a record-breaking crowd on Sunday against LA Galaxy.
MNUFC is expecting more than 50,000 fans for its final game at TCF Bank Stadium, which will break a state soccer attendance record that has stood for more than 40 years — when 49,572 people came to watch the Minnesota Kicks beat San Jose Earthquakes for the NASL Conference Championship in 1976.
“It should be really amazing,” Miller said. “We have had amazing support all season when we have been at home. To open the top bowl and sell all of those tickets shows how much support we have here in the community. It is something we are all really looking forward to.
“It has been loud with the 22 or 24,000, so I can’t imagine how loud it is going to be with 50,000,” he added.
Both Miller and Kallman have been present for some of the seminal moments in Minnesota’s professional soccer history. Miller was in the tunnel with the players as the Minnesota Thunder hosted David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy for a friendly at the Metrodome in 2007 and Kallman and his family have long been intertwined with soccer in Minnesota.
Kallman remembers going to St. Paul Central’s James S. Griffin Stadium to watch his older brother, Brian, play for the Thunder and he continued to follow his brother’s career with the NSC Minnesota Stars before joining him as the club rebranded to Minnesota United FC in 2013 and eventually moved to MLS.
“I have been really fortunate, I think,” Kallman said. “My career and my trajectory have lined up with that of the club and I have grown with it.”
Though Kallman admitted he never could have imagined playing in front of a crowd the size expected on Sunday, he has never doubted the passion of soccer fans in Minnesota. After all, he watched it bloom for four seasons in Blaine at the National Sports Center as MNUFC had to start adding additional seating to keep up with demand.
“I will tell you what, 9,000 (at the NSC) felt like about 20,000,” Kallman said. “It felt like a lot more because it was so tight and intimate. Sunday is going to be special. It will be cool to fill up the stadium. I mean, it is a college football stadium. To fill it up and play out there will be pretty cool.”
“It is a good way to end the season and try to build some momentum heading into next year,” he added.
Kallman noted that Minnesota has always had a “really strong” youth presence in soccer, but what it lacked was a professional pipeline for those kids to aspire to. As MNUFC has built that, the fans have come. As Miller added, waiting for the next generation of Minnesota soccer players will be a fan base that has rapidly grown from a small group of fervent Dark Clouds cheering on the Thunder from behind the opposing benches at St. Paul Central to a one capable of packing TCF Bank Stadium.
“There has always been a pretty hardcore base of fans here,” Miller said. “You saw that whether it was Thunder, the Stars or United up in Blaine. There was always that really hardcore fan base, but it is amazing to see how it has grown outside of those hardcore supporters. They are obviously still there, as they always have been, but to bring in more and more fans throughout the years and to have those fans stick around has been really cool to watch.”