The Minnesota Kicks played soccer for six summers (1976-81) at Met Stadium, and offered two seasons (1979-81) of the indoor game at Met Center. I took my lads to an indoor game the first winter and they reacted as if it was punishment for bad behavior.
The Kicks folded after the 1981 season in the outdoor North American Soccer League. And this is something I had forgotten completely: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers moved here and started the 1984 NASL season in the Metrodome, before the league collapsed.
My memory of the Strikers was strictly as an indoor enterprise, for four seasons (1984-88) at Met Center.
I was writing columns for the St. Paul newspapers. There were a few calls from a Strikers public relations person suggesting I take in an indoor game and write a column.
Finally, candor was required. “The Strikers are going to be much better off if I don’t go to a game and thus don’t write anything,” I said. “Trust me on that.”
Pro soccer returned in 1995 with the Minnesota Thunder. It played in various leagues until folding after the 2009 season. The Thunder was replaced by the Minnesota Stars, a charity case for its landlord, the National Sports Center, and then its league, the reborn NASL.
There’s a good chance pro soccer was going down again here, until Bill McGuire bought the franchise from the NASL in November 2012. The purchase led to another new name: Minnesota United Football Club.
There’s a loon drying its feathers on the team logo, and thus the informal nickname for fans: the Loons.
There were reports of an improved roster in an improved stadium with improved amenities playing in front of good crowds in Blaine. I hadn’t been in NSC Stadium since a state track meet years ago, and when I showed up Thursday, it was confirmed that the track was long gone and that there was now a neat soccer yard that can seat 8,000.
The Loons are the best team in their league, you can get margaritas for $5 (I asked), and the fans are young families and what Calvin Griffith would’ve called “a bunch of good-time Charlies.”
Heck, I might be back.
Plus Three from Patrick
Lost treasures of pro sports in Bloomington:
Twin Cities Skippers (1961-62), National Bowling League (Building became Carlton Celebrity Room. Bob Strampe was the star.)
Minnesota Buckskins (1974), World Team Tennis (Played a 44-match schedule; lost in second round of playoffs. Ann Haydon-Jones was best-known player.)
Minnesota Fillies (1978-81), Women’s Professional Basketball League (Disbanded late in league’s third (and last) season. Included Olympian Trish Roberts.)
Sid Hartman assigns the status of “guru’’ to people who give him insight into sports that have a tendency to prove puzzling, such as Lou Nanne with ice hockey. When you grow up in the southwest corner of Minnesota in the 1950s, as I did, you’re so engrained in the fastest game on ice there’s no need for a guru.
Where I definitely can use some assistance is with European football, a k a soccer, and since the World Cup of 2010, I’ve had a guru: Bruce McGuire of the du Nord football podcast and blog.
McGuire is also one of the founders of the “Dark Clouds,’’ a fan group that started a dozen years ago as supporters of the Minnesota Thunder. There were 10 members originally and now it’s a club of 300 with members who enjoy themselves at matches of Minnesota United FC (football club).
The Thunder was a brainchild of Buzz Lagos, the soccer activist and coach from St. Paul. The team started as an amateur all-star team in 1990, became a professional team in 1995 and held that role on the Twin Cities soccer scene through the 2009 season.
The Minnesota Stars followed with three seasons of significant on-field success and serious financial difficulties. Bill McGuire (not to be confused with Bruce) stepped up to bail them out in November 2012, and with the name change to Minnesota United FC, has turned it into an operation with a professional feel.
I made a first-ever appearance at a Thunder/Stars/United game on Thursday night in Blaine and was surprised (and then some) at accomodations for the customers that were casual and at the same time well-organized.
The grandstand on the west side at the National Sports Center stadium holds around 4,000, and that seating capacity has been doubled with bleachers. There was a sellout for Mexico’s under-21 team on July 4.
(Note: Fireworks probably assisted in drawing that audience. They don’t whine incessantly and demand free tickets when fireworks are shot off in conjunction with sporting events in the north suburbs.)
There could be 10,000 people with standing room on Saturday night, when Swansea City becomes the first English Premier League team to play in Minnesota. I’ve been a devoted follower of the Swans for several months, so this caps a very emotional time for me:
First, I get to spend 90 minutes interviewing Willie Mays, my all-time favorite baseball player for a pre-All-Star Game story, and now we get a visit from the Swans, my all-time favorite soccer team.
Bruce McGuire and the Dark Clouds were in their location in the east bleachers on Thursday. There were roughly 100 members of the fan club in attendance. They stand the whole game and sing songs, which pretty much eliminates me from an encore, but what the hey ...
“Little smaller group tonight,’’ McGuire said. “There are two games this week, and I’m sure everyone is going to be here for Swansea City. This is a league game, and you want to win, but we’re all waiting to see the Swans.’’
United reinforced its roster with seven players this season. It has a roster that includes five Brazilians, plus players from Japan, Italy, Serbia and Jamaica. Bill McGuire has permitted United to rank with the New York Cosmos as perhaps the two best-funded teams in the 10-team NASL.
United finished first during the spring schedule. The fall schedule is just getting started, but coach Manny Lagos appears to have the best team in the league.
There is a difference between a well-funded NASL team and the Swans, a rising power (that’s my opinion and I’m not changing it) in the English Premier League.
Even in this country, thanks to much-increased television coverage, the EPL is now looked at as soccer’s major league. Major League Soccer is that in name only; if this were baseball, the MLS would be triple-A – and the NASL and United would be double-A.
There’s nothing wrong with that. If United does hold its own vs. the Swans, it will be the greatest moment for a Minnesota pro soccer team since Alan Willey artfully dodged to five goals for the Kicks against the New York Cosmos in a playoff game in 1978.
Of course, if United does hang in there, we Swans fans already have our excuse: Wilfried Bony isn’t on the trip, and no team in the world could feel complete without Wilfried.
Willie Mays and Wilfried Bony … my guys.
The level of paranoia over the payroll advantage and success enjoyed by the New York Yankees could not have been higher by rivals and baseball fans a decade ago.
The 2004 All-Star Game was played in Houston. The Yankees had played in six of the previous eight World Series, winning in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The fact Arizona (2001) and Florida (2003) had managed to prevent two more Yankees titles were seen as a triumph for all, including American League fans.
In December 2002, the Yankees had signed outfielder Hideki Matsui from Japan and pitcher Jose Contreras from Cuba for a combined $53 million, causing Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to utter his comment:
“The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.’’
The Yankees were 55-31 and eight games better than the next-best in AL when the all-stars arrived in Houston in July 2004.
There were 34 players listed as AL All-Stars and eight were Yankees, including starters Alex Rodriguez at third, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Jason Giambi at first base.
At that moment, there seemed little chance the reverse the cynicism that this country’s sporting public felt about baseball’s competitive situation. The idea that as long as the Yankees lost somewhere along the line that the season was successful wasn’t a healthy sales pitch.
On Tuesday night, the 85th All-Star Game was played at Target Field. There were two Yankees among the 34 AL All-Stars: Jeter, starting at shortstop as a tribute to his career rather than current performance, and young set-up reliever Dellin Betances.
The Oakland A’s were the team with the most players in the All-Star Game with six. There was a good reason for this: the A’s carried baseball’s best record into the break at 59-36.
The A’s occupy the most-dreadful stadium in the major leagues. Not only are they stuck in that coliseum … the A’s are the only big-league team to share a facility with an NFL team.
Oakland has hit on outstanding young pitching and put together a lineup with a number of spare parts. And now the A’s were going to have to ride it out with what they had because of limited financial resources, right?
There has been one major move by a contender this month. It came on July 4, with the A’s acquiring prized starter Jeff Samardzija, plus starter Jason Hammel, from the Cubs – mainly for shortstop Addison Russell, Oakland’s best prospect.
This is a wonderful turn of events: Oakland, second banana in its market, occupant of the last vestige of those dreadful, multi-team circle stadiums, going for it. And the A’s doing so while the Yankees wallow at 47-47, with nothing to celebrate other than Jeter’s final season.
Something grand has happened with baseball in the past decade. Some credit goes to Commissioner Bud Selig’s aggressive push for sizable revenue sharing. Some credit goes to the ability to find players in more places – be it increased emphasis on the Caribbean, or increased accuracy in selecting prime draftees, or finding 26-year-olds who can contribute under a rock.
There’s another theory I can embrace that was offered during a conversation with ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian on Tuesday.
“The general managers and scouts I talk to say the same thing: ‘It’s a young man’s game,’ ‘’ Kurkjian said. “The athletes coming into the game are more advanced than ever.’’
There was tremendous hope on the field for numerous teams in Sunday’s Futures Game. The Cubs, America’s sad sacks, had Javier Baez – a middle infielder – thumping a ball to Target Field’s mammoth right-center field and quickly going into a home run jog (he was right). The Texas Rangers, with the worst record in baseball at the break, had Joey Gallo win the game for the U.S. team with a long home run.
More young men of huge potential, power hitters and power pitchers, are on the way … and there’s enough testing being done to make the game’s followers confident that 95 percent of what you see is real and not artificially created.
The old method, signing successful 30-year-olds to big contracts and perhaps with PED regimens in their past, worked very well. But now there’s testing, and huge consequences when caught, and the vets are finding the young men of baseball tough to contain.
There was a reference made to the negative impact of cool weather on baseballs traveling -- and thus creating an extra obstacle in Monday night's Home Run Derby at spacious Target Field. In the early column written for Tuesday's early print edition (you can find it posted here), there was a mention of Harmon Killebrew's belief that "thick air'' helped carry the baseball the night he became the first player to hit a ball that went bounced over the left-field roof in Tiger Stadium.
Mark Engebertson sent along an e-mail with enlightenment on the subject, and he sounds smart enough for me to believe him. Here goes:
"In your piece on the weather for the Home Run Derby, you are exactly right that the best Derby conditions involve heat and humidity.
"That is because hot air is less dense than cold air, and humid air is less dense than dry air (water molecules weigh less than air molecules). Home runs go farther in less dense air, like at Coors Field, as they are helped by the reduced drag more than they are hurt by the reduction in the lifting force of the backspin.
"So it was perfect when Harmon said about his Detroit bomb that 'the air was as heavy as it gets,' [but what he meant was that the air was as light as it gets.''
FOOTNOTE: I'm not sure what class in which air density was detailed at Fulda High School many years ago, but what's clear is that I wasn't paying attention.
This state has been home for the 68 years, eight months and 27 days -- or to put it another way, for life.
The last time I was this embarrassed to be a resident was on Nov. 3, 1998, when it came to pass that 773,713 Minnesotans had voted to elect Jesse Ventura of the Reform Party as governor.
On Monday, a large national spotlight was turned on the Twin Cities for the Home Run Derby, the preliminary to big-league baseball’s 85th All-Star Game.
This break in the schedule to match the American League vs. National League stars started in July 1933 and soon was being referred to as the Midsummer Classic. When using this in the future, an asterisk will be required: *except in Minnesota, where it’s called the Early-winter Classic.
It’s the middle of July … can’t we get a 48-hour respite from seeing our breath in this forsaken Frozen Wasteland, just a couple of days when the rest of the country isn’t laughing at us?
We greeted the nation with wind, rain and a temperature that barely reached 60 degrees, then headed downward. There were a few minutes in the early evening when it seemed as if we had a shot to offer up some July sleet.
One asset to a lively Home Run Derby is heat and humidity. Harmon Killebrew was the first slugger to make me fully aware of this, when he was near the end of his time with the Twins.
Killebrew was being asked about his most-memorable home runs, including a blast that was the first to land on top of the left-field roof in Tiger Stadium.
“It was a hot night and the air was as heavy as it gets,’’ Killebrew said. “I put good wood on it and the ball just stayed up there.’’
The second deck was added to Tiger Stadium in 1938 and it took 24 years – Aug. 3, 1962 – for Killebrew to become the first hitter to launch a baseball that bounced out of the park in left field. It was 90 percent getting into a fastball from future Hall of Famer (and arch-conservative U.S. Senator) Jim Bunning, and 10 percent a baseball riding on hot, thick air.
On Monday, there was no heat to assist the new generation of sluggers. The Twin Cities were challenging the record book for the coolest July 14 high in the 150 years that weather records have been maintained.
And then came the rain, arriving, leaving, circling back, until Minnesota had this novelty: a rain delay for the Home Run Derby.
And we think it’s advisable to risk another Super Bowl around here in February 2018? We’ll have four feet of the snow in the week before that game … four feet, I tell you.
The wind was blowing from the northwest, in from left and out to right, for most of the afternoon. This looked like an advantage for Justin Morneau, the lone left-handed hitter among the 10 in the field.
“Hopefully, it is a good day to hit,’’ Morneau said during Monday’s earlier news conference. “It’s a better park for right-handed hitters, but the wind is something I checked actually when I woke up this morning … hoping it was blowing out to right.’’
The competition was only a small part of the drama for Morneau. The main issue was the reception he would get from Twins fans in his return to Minnesota.
“I guess I’ll have to wait and see,’’ he said. “It’s hard to prepare for something like that.’’
There was a delay of nearly an hour before the derby participants were introduced. And when it came to Morneau, the Twins fans got to their feet and gave him a robust ovation.
Morneau was moved, taking it in with a smile, then with waves of his right arm and by touching his hat to his heart.
The MVP of 2006, Morneau never lost his reputation as a hard-nosed competitor, even as he went through the long comeback from the concussion suffered on July 7, 2010. This is the first season when he has been the Morneau of old, and the fact his full revival has taken place in Colorado does not lessen Minnesota’s happiness for him.
As for the weather … that’s another issue. How do we stand it? The nation wants to know.
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