At least one team gained more fans in Saturday’s soccer doubleheader at TCF Bank Stadium.
Though it probably wasn’t the team most would expect.
Greek club Olympiakos tied Manchester City 2-2 before beating the English Premier League champion 5-4 in a shootout in front of an announced 34,047 on the University of Minnesota campus. And while the Citizens made a quick exit from the pitch after their loss, Olympiakos took a slow turn around the field, clapping to the crowd and throwing game-worn jerseys to lucky fans.
Not bad for the team considered the “worst” of the eight competing in the preseason International Champions Cup tournament held in 13 cities across the United States and Canada. Even with the victory, though, the Legends still missed out on Monday’s tournament final against Manchester United, as Liverpool beat AC Milan 2-0 to advance.
Adam Jarvi, of St. Paul, said he felt Manchester City rubbed many “Minnesota nice” natives the wrong way, considering it’s one of the richest sports teams in the world, and its manager Manuel Pellegrini made pessimistic remarks about TCF’s sod-over-turf pitch.
The Greek team, on the other hand, played the underdog, which made it more appealing to Midwesterners.
“Olympiakos probably had the majority of fans on their side,” said Jarvi, 32. “It’s not the best thing to win over the local fans to make one comment and have it be negative.”
Legends defender Kostas Manolas said he was pleased to see Minnesota fans cheering on his foreign team.
“We have fans all over the world,” Manolas said. “And this makes us happy and proud that they come to support us. … Our responsibility is to play football and to make the fans happy.”
Pellegrini again mentioned postgame how the pitch — with its dry patches and longer grass — affected his players, despite a lack of injuries. But Olympiakos manager Míchel said he preferred to talk about soccer instead of the venue.
“We are here to compete,” he said through a Spanish translator. “We are here to try to improve ourselves and to participate in this tournament. We don’t care about the stadium. We don’t care about the conditions. We are here to play, and that’s what we did.”
But both managers did agree on one thing. The atmosphere in Minneapolis, unlike the pitch, exceeded expectations.
“I know that, maybe, it’s not the city in the United States where you play more football,” Pellegrini said. “But with this kind of game, I think that more people maybe would be interested.”
Míchel said soccer will become a powerhouse sport in the United States given time.
“[Americans] have to love a little more soccer here,” he said. “We are sure that football in this country is going to be improved because we know … when they want something in this country, they always get it.”
As far as the second game of the doubleheader, Minnesota United vs. the Ottawa Fury, the crowd thinned out substantially. Some fans weren’t even aware of it.
Of the fans that did stay, even more headed home at halftime when United took an early lead on forward Christian Ramirez’s goal, and the weather began to turn cloudy and rainy.
The Loons won 2-1 on Ramirez’s second goal, this time on a penalty kick, but the environment was tangibly quieter than for the previous match.
United coach Manny Lagos said he hoped his team expanded its fan base: “There’s something to be said about your home team and the live experience of soccer, the combination of the two.”