Celebrate a next chapter of the story
There is a uniqueness of being a Minnesota sports fan. One of the more difficult things to try to put down in writing is the feeling of being a Minnesotan fan.
It is a feeling of nothing good can last, and that three years of solid play will inevitably end with little if any success and will be followed by five years of basement-dwelling sadness.
Celebrations come few and far between. For Minnesota United fans, on the eve of the shining stadium on the side of the interstate opening, an evening out to the theater to watch a live show of the Men in Blazers was going to be the kickoff of the celebrations.
However, as the evening went on, it became more than that. The show became a celebration of Minnesota as a whole, and it took two bald blokes from England to warm the hearts of the Minnesota faithful. It also helps that the story of soccer in the state is just as wild as the name of the hockey team that played just a few yards away from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
Those familiar with the Men in Blazers would already know how the night was likely to go. Hosts Michael Davis and Roger Bennett cracked jokes and told stories with a wide variety of guests. It was a night of fun, and a bit of laughing at your own expense.
It helped that Rog, as Bennett is affectionally known, is an Everton fan. Everton is pretty much the Premier League equivalent of all Minnesota sports teams. Often stuck in the middle of the table, unlikely to win any hardware, and if the opportunity arises, then it will be cruelly taken away at the eleventh hour.
Heartbreak game recognizes heartbreak game. But the thing with Minnesota is that even despite all the historical evidence of the contrary, the fans still have hope. And that hope was exemplified by the first guest, who could have single-handedly fixed the hole in the Loons’ defensive midfield, Harrison Smith.
Smith has better things to do, being one of the best safeties in the NFL included. But Smith talked about the passion that all the fans here have. They want a championship. They crave one.
And it has been that way for a while. Allen Merrick was playing for West Bromwich Albion in the English First Division in the late ’80s and came to Minnesota on a three-month vacation that turned into a lot longer stay.
Merrick became the backbone of the old Minnesota Kicks, a team with a Korn Flakes “K” in their logo, back in the heyday of the North American Soccer League. Those were the days of Pelé playing in the States and occasionally rolling on the grass in pain from a Merrick challenge.
And that was just the beginning of the complex soccer history in the state. The Kicks folded in 1981, and three years later were reincarnated into the equally aptly named Strikers. That club played in what wound up to be the last season of the NASL before the league collapsed.
The club miraculously survived and found haven in the Major Indoor Soccer League for three years before relocating.
Upon the reincarnation of the NASL in 2011, it was the turn of the Thunder, who then transformed into the Stars. That club faced such financial trouble that it was actually taken over by the league in order to stay afloat.
Enter Dr. Bill McGuire, who bought the team with an admittance of “lack of due diligence” and rebranded the club into the current guise of Minnesota United in 2013.
Now, six years later, the Loons are up in MLS, a process that might have gone sooner had MLS commissioner Don Garber tried a Juicy Lucy before Rog gave him one on stage (it was from Matt’s), and built a shining star of the north of a stadium.
Besides Dr. McGuire and Garber, guests included Sean “Slug” Davis, a hip-hop artist who could attest to Minnesota often being overlooked as a hotbed of talent and passion, and Loons manager Adrian Heath.
Heath also had the honored distinction of being on a poster of young Rog’s room back in his Everton playing days. Heath was brilliant on stage, significantly more brilliant than he was the following afternoon at Allianz Field.
But throughout the evening, there were laughs and good times. The perfect way to kick off what is a new chapter in Minnesota sports history.