As we get ready to head into 2019 and Minnesota United's first season in Allianz Field, we're taking an opportunity to look back at some of our favorite stories from 2018.
If you think of a World Cup watch party, you probably imagine something like the ones that have been happening at Brit’s in downtown Minneapolis. Fans of each team mingle peaceably enough on the lawn but they’re unmistakably boisterous. There’s beer, there are chicken fingers, there’s probably a little face painting and a lot of kits and maybe even a few vuvuzelas. It can get a bit rambunctious.
At the American Swedish Institute, it’s a little different. For Sweden’s 9:00 a.m. Round of 16 matchup against Switzerland, there are still kits and plenty of yellow and blue clothing, plus a few modest flags, but there are also a lot of kids, plus coffee and pastries from FIKA, the restaurant and café located in the lobby.
Marketing & Communications Manager Karen Nelson explains that it was more or less popular demand that got the ASI to organize the watch party. As the match begins, it’s clear they’ve underestimated the demand a bit — the action is being projected in the relatively small Folke Bernadotte room in the Nelson Cultural Center and more and more chairs are being brought in as the crowd grows. At one point, the excitement of a chance for Sweden in the box gets the best of someone and they accidentally nudge the volume control on the wall all the way down. Nelson says they expected perhaps 20 people but there at least twice that many — perhaps three times — and after the first half they open the much larger Larson Hall upstairs with a bigger projection screen.
For Director of Exhibitions, Collections and Programs Scott Pollock, this is exactly in line with ASI’s mission of being a cultural institution. “Close your eyes and picture culture,” he says, his young daughter holding onto his hand. “It’s this. It’s soccer, it’s watching the game.”
The crowd reflects a broad range of ages, from an older woman who’s brought her knitting along to the families who’ve brought kids on summer vacation. I end up sitting next to a fourth-grader (“I’m going into fourth grade,” he explains) who’s a Liverpool fan, and still somewhat sore over Coutinho’s departure for Barcelona. When an errant Switzerland shot sails over the net and knocks over a boom mic, he says, “He’s probably going to have to pay for that. How much do you think that mic costs? Probably $200.”
Robert Morgan, who’s taken Swedish classes at the ASI and volunteered there since 2013, is wearing a Sweden jersey he got when he was overseas watching a qualifying match against Austria in 2015. He’s also been a member of the Dark Clouds for two years after picking up his season tickets at Minnesota United’s final game in the NASL.
“No matter where I’ve gone in the world, there’s always that connection you can bring,” he says when asked about his love for soccer. “It’s an instant barrier breaker. It’s universal, even if you don’t speak the language. Everyone knows soccer.”
Morgan — who’s not even Swedish, but rather of “English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh” heritage — moved to the Twin Cities from Tennessee but soccer was his way into several cultures. At the same time as soccer and the World Cup bring people who share a culture together, it also showcases those cultures to the world, from Senegal’s warm-up routine to Iceland’s thunderclap to the little things you can find out if you ask: Morgan’s favorite player on the Sweden squad is Andreas Granqvist and his nickname Granen means “Christmas tree” or “tall pine tree,” a name Morgan believes the 6-foot-4-inch central defender lives up to with his strength and resolve.
When Sweden’s Emil Forsberg takes a pass from Ola Toivonen and floats along the top edge of the box before firing in a low shot that deflects off Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji’s foot and into the back of the net to give Sweden a 1-0 lead in the 67th minute, the tiny room erupts in cheers and a brief chant of “Hej ja Sverige!” (“Go Sweden,” more or less.) In the aftermath, the room doesn't relax, though, knowing that Switzerland had been winning the possession battle up that point. Down the stretch, it would take a strong defensive stand from Sweden for them to make it through to the quarterfinals.
“Switzerland is knocking on our door,” my young friend says as the Swiss throw bodies forward. (He also at one point wishes for Switzerland to get eight red cards but also doesn't want anyone on Sweden to get hurt.) One older gentleman pulls his button-up shirt over his head for the last five minutes of the game, pulling it back down only when the final whistle sends Sweden through to a matchup against England on Saturday at 9:00 a.m.
I recommend the American Swedish Institute if you want a change of pace. The coffee, pastries and company are excellent, plus they're going a little bigger, hosting the event in Larson Hall and teaching Swedish soccer chants to the crowd. They'll also be serving their award-winning take on the Bloody Mary, the Bloody Swede, and beer this time around. The quarterfinals, after all, deserve a party.
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