Fans arriving as gates opened for Minnesota Aurora's season-opening soccer game Wednesday received supporters' scarves, a team poster and a welcome surprise.
Sarah Fuller, a former goalkeeper turned sponsor relations staff member, handed out posters to fans filing into TCO Stadium in Eagan, leaving smiles in her wake. She accommodated hugs, pictures and selfies.
A fan walked toward her seat and told Fuller, "I'm glad you're here."
The sentiment is mutual. Fuller's job went from clearing shots to selling sponsorships, the latter made much easier with the Aurora's performance in its inaugural 2022 season. The team finished 13-1-1 and sold out six of nine home matches in the 6,000-seat venue next to the Minnesota Vikings practice facility.
Fuller's role in securing on-field success looks different this season. Minnesota dispatched Rochester FC 5-0 in front an announced crowd of 5,187. Forward Catherine Rapp scored her team's first and third goals.
Fuller, meanwhile, made her stadium rounds. She wore a blue team shirt instead of her No. 32 playing jersey. She held a clipboard rather than oversized goalkeeper gloves.
"I ran into a few of my former teammates before the game and it was a little bittersweet," Fuller said. "I miss it a little bit. But it's a different sort of performance I have now. I want to make sure that the fans are having a good time."
They did indeed.
Mel Birke, president of the Revontulet (Finnish for Aurora) supporters' group, worked the megaphone as other group members waved custom flags and banged drums from their spot at the field level of Section 121.
One game provided a large enough sample size to gauge growing interest. Birke said fans from other parts of the stadium came and sat in Section 121, telling her, "It looks like you are having a lot of fun in this section."
The noise generated became a blessing and a curse for players.
Aurora coach Nicole Lukic said communication on the field suffered from an inability to hear well. Not that she's complaining too much.
"The community is great here," Lukic said. "We appreciated them coming and making it loud."
Rochester FC defender Madison Salas, a Houston native, heard about Aurora last year and looked forward to playing in Minnesota.
"I've never been in this type of atmosphere," Salas said. "It was a pleasure to be here. It's amazing to see the growth of support in women's soccer."
The Aurora roster features 17 players who came back from last season's pre-professional team, which plays in the USL W League. Rapp, one of those veterans, knew better how to handle a raucous environment.
"Hand signals are the best," Rapp said. "It is difficult to hear, but it's a great problem to have."
Familiarity is on Fuller's side as well. She has enjoyed putting to use the master's degree in sports entertainment management she earned in December, striving to get more dollars behind the Aurora's brand.
She focused Wednesday on sponsorship activations, checking in with the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company's free s'mores booth to TruStone Financial Federal Credit Union, which gave away orange seat cushions, to Nautical Bowls.
Dawn Janes-Bartley and her daughter Kali used one of those cushions as a place to put the supporter scarf for players signing postgame autographs.
The family holds Minnesota United season tickets. Kali, who will play U9 soccer for Orono Westonka club this fall, asked her mother at a recent Loons game if women play soccer.
"I said, 'Well, I guess it's time,'" said Dawn, who said Wednesday marked the first Aurora game for her family, who are brand-new season-ticket holders. She said Kali "talked the whole time tonight about wanting to play on this field someday."