When Minnesota United faces Atlas FC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, expect a bit of a different crowd.
The match against the Mexican club on the Loons’ home turf at TCF Bank Stadium might end up looking just as much black and red as black and blue.
“It’s a different vibe on those games because so many fans will come to support the other team as well as our normal season tickets and our normal crowd,” United forward Christian Ramirez said. “It’s almost like a neutral site at times because you have their crowd in certain areas that are really supportive and going crazy for their players and then you have ours.”
The Loons have a lot of experience playing international friendlies. This will be the fourth consecutive season United has matched up with a Mexican team.
In 2014, the Loons drew 1-1 with the Mexican U-21 team and drew 8,059 at the National Sports Center. In 2015, the game against top-division team Club Leon with 9,388 in attendance at the NSC ended in another 1-1 draw. Last season another matchup with Leon ended in a 4-2 loss with 18,505 fans at Target Field.
This time around, United is estimating an attendance close to its Major League Soccer average of 19,960, with big walk-up sales expected.
United Sporting Director Manny Lagos said networking and developing contacts within the soccer world is what makes friendlies like this possible. He said there’s “no doubt” that matches like these bring in a diverse crowd.
“I just love that you get a chance to remind people that this is a massive global game, and you’ve got these historic clubs from all over the world,” Lagos said. “We want to play teams and get exposed and get people excited in different markets about soccer.”
Fans of the Mexican national team and Liga MX have a reputation of turning out to support Mexican players and teams. For example, when United played the Los Angeles Galaxy and Mexican national team member Giovani dos Santos on May 21, the 19,107 fans in attendance were the most since the home opener.
Ramirez said when dos Santos scored in that match, there was a big roar from a certain section of the crowd. Same when he entered or left the pitch from the tunnel.
Atlas also sports a big-name player in defender Rafael Marquez. Lagos put him in the top 10, if not top five, all-time among Mexican players. Ramirez said Marquez is “one of the, if not the best” Mexican player ever.
“I’m already hearing lot of Latino, Hispanic people are going to come down to the game just because it’s a Mexican league team and because of their great players they have,” said midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who used to play for Leon. “I know a lot of Hispanic guys want to come watch Rafa Marquez. He’s a big name.
“If we perform well and we’re able to keep up with them, I think it’s just going to help us in the long run of bringing Hispanics to our games.”
Ramirez agreed that this is a great opportunity to make more people United fans.
“You bring these historic sides out here, and you’re going to get different fans, a different population to come out to a game and maybe become our fans,” Ramirez said. “There will be stragglers who follow Atlas, who follow Liga MX, who will just come because of that, and they’ll start to see the product that we have and come back to another game. So it’s building that fan base.”