Minnesota – A State Rich in Soccer History
Intro to Minnesota Professional Soccer by Brian Quarstad – IMS Soccer News
Minnesota is not known as a hotbed of soccer in the United States, yet the land of 10,000 does have a rich soccer past. Kicks, Strikers, Thunder and Stars are names synonymous with Minnesota soccer.
Pro soccer came to Minnesota in 1976 when the Denver Dynamos moved to the Twin Cities and became the Minnesota Kicks. The North American Soccer League team drew crowds of up to 45,000. Struggling with dwindling attendance league wide, the team folded after the 1981 season with a record of 104 Wins and 70 Losses. Even in its final year the Kicks drew an average of 16,600 per game. The team made the playoffs all 6 years and played in the “Soccer Bowl” final in 1976. Players like Alan Merrick, Steve Lit, Tino Lettieri, and Alan Willey stayed in the community, helping strengthen youth soccer programs.
In 1984 the Fort Lauderdale Strikers moved to the Twin Cities to play in the Major Indoor Soccer League. The team carried with it some of the former Kicks players. The Strikers played four seasons and folded with a winning record of 107 Wins and 97 Losses.
Minnesota’s next outdoor team was the longest running. Buzz Lagos and Tom Engstrom formed a team called the Minnesota Thunder who went pro after 5 years as an amateur team joining the USISL in 1994. The early years of the Thunder saw great success as had Minnesota’s previous soccer teams. Manny Lagos, Amos Magee and Tony Sanneh were three players whose names became known in the league and around the world. Minnesota made it to the finals in 1995 and 1998 and won the championship in 1999. The Thunder folded due to financial issues after the 20th season.
By the fall of 2009 after it was apparent the Thunder would no longer exist, the National Sports Center announced they would form a team to save professional soccer in Minnesota. Three months and four days after officially announcing a pro team would play at the National Sports Center in the USSF D-2 Pro League for the 2010 season, 11 players for the NSC Minnesota Stars stepped on the field at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, BC, Canada to play the Vancouver Whitecaps. A new installment of soccer history in Minnesota has begun.
For the 2011 season The Stars announced they would no longer be owned by the National Sports Center but by the NASL itself (league owned). The NASL has committed to owning the team for three years until an owner could be found. After an up and down season the Stars finished just ahead of the MLS bound Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot. After an impressive playoff run upsetting both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Carolina Railhawks the Stars took the NASL championship defeating the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in a home and away series.
On January 9, 2012 the club announced a new name and logo. The NSC portion of the name was dropped with the new name being the Minnesota Stars FC. After another amazing yeah, including beating Real Salt Lake away in the US Open Cup, the Stars would end up losing in the NASL championship game on penalty kicks.
On November 8th 2012, it was revealed that former UnitedHealth CEO William McGuire purchased the Minnesota Stars. He said he was inspired by a visit to a Stars game this summer. We’re going to take and honor what people have done in the past and build and grow on it,” McGuire said. “I know its not going to be easy. We have great challenges ahead, in the sport of soccer, certainly on the business, but also on the field.”
On Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 Major League Soccer announced that Minnesota United FC had been awarded an expansion team that will begin play in 2018.
“We are proud to welcome Minnesota to Major League Soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “The ownership group’s commitment to soccer and the community, the area’s growing millennial population and the region’s rich tradition of supporting soccer at all levels in Minnesota were key indicators that this was the right market. The passionate soccer fans in Minnesota will soon have a world-class, downtown soccer stadium that will serve as the home for the new MLS team and become a destination for marquee international sports events.”