Abraham Opoti pounded a black drum, belting out “Oh, when the Loons go marching in” with several hundred other Minnesota United supporters Sunday afternoon as they prepared to swarm TCF Bank Stadium in a cloud of light blue and black.
Nearby, fellow soccer fan Connor Davis half shouted, half sang along while wearing baby-blue Zubaz he dyed himself and a cowboy hat painted to match.
The two were among 35,000 soccer fans who braved 20-degree temperatures and swirling snowflakes to watch Minnesota United FC play its inaugural home game against Atlanta United FC, marking the debut of a Minnesota Major League Soccer (MLS) team.
“It’s a huge day,” said Davis, who is part of Dark Cloud, a group of Minnesota United fans. “We’re going to celebrate the snow here, where other people might be scared of it.”
Minnesota ended up losing the game 6-1. But before the game, two rowdy fan clubs of the kind that are a central part of global soccer culture gathered at bars on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus to drink and carouse. Others celebrated at a pregame party at Surly Brewery with live music and the introduction of United Crushers, a new beer.
“It’s something we’ve been wanting for a really long time in Minnesota,” said Crystal Schmidt, communications co-chair of the fan club True North Elite. “I know people who have been waiting since they were born in the ’90s — [they] came out of the womb following soccer.”
Schmidt said she joined True North Elite not just to watch soccer among fellow fans. The group, which has 150 to 200 members, also instills a strong sense of community, she said.
She described True North Elite as younger and more aggressive than Dark Cloud, which has been around longer. But the two organizations get along, Schmidt said, and met up before the game to march toward the stadium together, chanting and waving flags along the way.
As spectators lined up to enter the stadium, parents Angela and Oscar Alvarado had a fan take a selfie of them with their 4-year-old son, Mateo, whose eyes were barely visible between his hat and scarf. Watching soccer is something the family does together, Angela Alvarado said.
“He wanted to go,” Angela Alvarado said of Mateo, who had hand-warmers in his mittens. “It’s going to be his first time cheering for his Minnesota team.”
Several fans said they were happy that a sport with such a global following finally made it to Minnesota at the highest levels.
“It means a lot,” said Abdirahman Sahal, a college student who attended with three friends. “We get to see professional players play the game we all love.”
Not everyone who showed up was enthusiastic about the cold weather. Trent Tosseth, a season-ticket holder, stayed through the game’s first goal, scored by the Atlanta United after just a few minutes. He and a friend then left to find pizzas and beer, he said.
“The best is yet to come, I think, as far as the sport goes,” Tosseth said. “It will be a lot more enjoyable when it’s 65 degrees instead of 20 degrees.”