1999 A-League Champions – 2005 Rocky Mountain Cup Champions
The Minnesota Thunder were a professional soccer team based in Blaine and St. Paul, Minnesota that existed for nineteen years. The Thunder were the third professional team based in Minnesota, following the Minnesota Kicks and the Minnesota Strikers. Beginning as an amateur team, the Minnesota Thunder were established by longtime coach and team Hall of Famer Buzz Lagos, as well as USL Hall of Famer Tom Engstrom. Early on, the Thunder were a example for other amateur soccer teams due to their scheduling competitive matches against high profile professional teams and their ability to operate on a small budget.
The Thunder made the move to the USISL (later known as the USL) in 1994 after five successful amateur seasons. They met with immediate success as they made the first of many championship game appearances in their first professional season. After making the finals again in 1995 and 1998, the Minnesota Thunder broke through with a championship season in 1999, winning the USL A-League against the Rochester Rhinos. They returned to the finals in 2000 and 2003 but would not win another championship.
In 2005 Buzz Lagos, who had coached the Minnesota Thunder for sixteen years, and whose own sons Gerard and Manny had played for the team, announced his retirement. This came as sad news to Thunder fans, but he was replaced by longtime Minnesota Thunder legend Amos Magee. Magee is the Thunder’s all-time leading goal scorer, as well as a member of both the team and the USL Hall of Fame. Despite his pedigree, during his time as coach Amo Magee could not match the past success of Buzz Lagos. Former Thunder defender and Thunder Hall of Fame member Don Gramenz then took over the coaching reins in 2008.
For most of their nineteen year existence, the Minnesota Thunder’s home field was at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota. Often in the crowd were a group of die-hard Thunder fans known as The Dark Clouds, who would tailgate in the parking lot before leading a raucous crowd in cheering their Thunder while banging large drums.
Despite founding a women’s team, a developmental team, and a youth soccer academy over the years, there was simply not enough money to keep the Minnesota Thunder afloat. After the team was sold to Dean Johnson in August of 2007, the Thunder had ambitious and expensive plans for the future that didn’t materialize. As players went unpaid for months and ownership sagged under massive debt, there was no choice but to fold the team 2009. In 2010, however, it was announced that a new team called the Minnesota Stars would be formed, ensuring that professional soccer in Minnesota would continue.