The Thunder's transition to the National Sports Center pleases some, but others worry about the long commute.
When the Minnesota Thunder announced its sudden move from St. Paul to Blaine, the reaction of two people personified the fan base.
Amy Fleischhacker, a St. Paul resident who attended countless games at James Griffin Stadium since the Thunder arrived there in 2004, is worried about trading her walks to "The Jimmy" for gas-guzzling commutes.
Matt Teff, who lives in Coon Rapids, never endorsed the Thunder's move from the National Sports Center's spacious, soccer-specific field for a narrow one marked with football lines. He did not renew his season tickets this season but is now considering whether to purchase them again now that the team is back at the NSC.
While Minnesota's match against Miami FC at 7:35 tonight was one of two scheduled to be played in Blaine all along, no one counted on the team changing venues only four matches into the season.
Thunder coach Amos Magee, who lives 10 blocks from James Griffin Stadium, said criticism of the move's timing is "fair" but emphasized it was the right decision. He said the Thunder was the only United Soccer Leagues team playing in a stadium not specifically designed for soccer and as a result missed out on television exposure, sponsorship dollars and prospective players.
Returning to Blaine should alleviate those problems, said Magee, who called the NSC home for the first 13 years of his playing career with the Thunder.
Fans put off by a lack of atmosphere will be 80 feet closer to the action once renovations are completed in early July. The Thunder and the NSC are splitting an estimated $250,000 cost to tear out the track and shift the field.
Thunder General Manager Djorn Buchholz said via e-mail that while a small number of fans canceled their season tickets, "several have purchased a new 13-game season ticket package we introduced."
"Most people want to come out and see the construction taking place and get a feel for what the revamped venue will look like," he said.
Fleischhacker, a season-ticket holder since 2005, said she understands the potential upside of the team's return to Blaine. But she will miss the convenience of walking six blocks from her St. Paul home to watch matches with her sister, grandfather and cousins. She plans to organize carpools to Blaine but added, "I know it's constantly talked about, but gas prices are really digging in."
"A bunch of people are super excited, and I can understand that," Fleischhacker said. "But I think there are also some people who want to wait and see what happens because this all happened so suddenly."
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