On January 12, 2017, True North Elite supporter James Norungolo was at his computer and ready for the release of the first MLS regular season schedule to feature Minnesota United. Step one: refresh the MNUFC homepage. Nothing yet. Step two: refresh the MNUFC Twitter page. Watch the spinning wheel and … nothing. Step three: Refresh the MLS homepage. Rinse, repeat and then … there it was, with a beautiful first game in … Portland?
Norungolo opened a new window and started searching flights.
“When the schedule was released, I knew right away I had to be at the first match,” he said.
The flight to Portland was packed not only with supporters, but the First Team as well. After arriving, the supporters headed to Cider Riot, a pub just over the Willamette River from downtown where they traded chants with members of the Timbers Army and stoked the competitive fires.
That spirit carried into the next morning. How could it not? It was gameday. More than 200 traveling supporters gathered at Yur’s — a bar three-quarters of a mile from Providence Park — and started their own march to the stadium.
“It was just an incredible, celebratory feeling, and one where you could just sense everyone’s anticipation,” said Norungolo. “To see [Managing Partner] Dr. McGuire there amongst us, as well as other members of the front office, and to know that so many people in the room have followed the club for so long leading up to that moment. It had to be an especially surreal moment for those supporters.”
The supporters funneled into the stadium and tucked into an upper corner opposite the Timbers Army. The whistle blew, the ball was tapped and Minnesota United’s first season in MLS was underway.
Although the team found themselves down 1-0 at the half, neither the pouring rain or the score had any influence on the spirit that filled that upper corner of the stadium. The supporters carried the energy all the way through to the 79thminute, when they really got a reason to cheer: Johan Venegas found Christian Ramirez just inside the edge of the box and Ramirez drilled it home, making history as the Loons put their first MLS goal on the board.
“Christian’s goal was like a dream, right? All of the questions around whether he’d score at this level,” said Norungolo. “He didn’t start the night, but it was so fitting that he was the one who would score our first ever goal in the league. And he did it at our end of the stadium? Delirium!”
Despite the eventual loss, the game meant more to the supporters than the stats ever could. It was the beginning of a new era of Minnesota’s soccer history.
“That entire weekend was perfect. Unforgettable,” said Norungolo. “It brought me closer to the friends I’ve made and the sense of family we all feel. It introduced me to even more of the great people that support MNUFC.I’m proud that our supporters brought full voice and passion for the entire match. I felt fortunate to be there.”