The Twin Cities has two different organized supporters’ groups for Minnesota United, and the two have very different cultures.
The Dark Clouds are the venerable, long-running group, whose very name is a play on the Minnesota Thunder, which ceased to exist under that name in 2009. Next-door at the stadium is the more recently formed group called True North Elite, whose members are younger, brasher and more in keeping with edgier supporters groups that have formed around other Major League Soccer teams. While each is dedicated and, from a distance, might appear to be the same, each offers a noticeably different way of following the Loons.
The Dark Clouds have been around since 2004. More than anything, the group strives to be offbeat — and funny. The group heckled opposing players for years by yelling “You dive like Jamie Watson,” dating back to a U.S. Open Cup game in 2005 when Watson, then a forward with Real Salt Lake, proved a touch too light on his feet.
When Watson, now a sideline reporter for United, came to Minnesota five years ago, the group — which displays national flags for the nationality of every player in the squad — marked the team’s new arrival by hanging a nautical “diving” semaphore flag alongside the rest of the national flags.
“The Dark Clouds culture evolved partly in response to some of the dumber tough-guy posturing that you sometimes see in supporters groups,” says Jim Oliver, the group’s president. He noted that one of the group’s friendliest features is doing its best to connect with and host visiting fans that have made the journey to Minnesota.
“You’re more likely to see someone who identifies themselves as a Dark Cloud carrying a puppet or dressed as a dinosaur, and that’s just due to years of people trying to think up things they’ve never seen in a soccer game before, ” Oliver said.
In contrast, the much smaller True North Elite group was founded in 2015. Its members pitch themselves as more serious about the gameday experience.
“We set out to be a bit more intense on match day and make that our focus,” says Nicolas Bisbee, one of the group’s founders. “We [and the Dark Clouds] complement each other well; they bring the numbers, but we bring the noise.”
The smaller TNE group is much more unified, sticking to traditional supporters-group behavior like marching and singing and waving flags with the group’s logo. The Dark Clouds sing and wave flags, too. It’s just that the flag might be an obscure joke, and the song might be the Looney Tunes theme song.
Think of the two groups this way: TNE is like the Ohio State marching band, all coordination, focus and volume. The Dark Clouds are like the Stanford band, where irreverence comes first and coordination last. Together they give Twin Cities fans two different ways of approaching the soccer tradition of involved fandom.
• Minnesota United has chosen not to retain Chris Lidholm, the team’s longtime play-by-play announcer. Lidholm was the best of the play-by-play voices in the North American Soccer League, and it won’t feel right at all to see the team on TV without his voice providing the soundtrack.
• Add another Gopher to the National Women’s Soccer League ranks. Rashida Beal, who was named the Big Ten Defender of the Year for Minnesota this season, was taken in the fourth round by FC Kansas City, conveniently the closest NWSL club to Minnesota. The surprising thing was that, given other Minnesota talent that was draft eligible, Beal was the only Gopher taken.
• In some ways, it feels as if Major League Soccer finally has come full circle this week. The league’s teams, for the most part, got their start by playing matches in borrowed NFL stadiums. Almost all of the teams now have their own soccer-specific stadiums, which have become pillars of the league’s growth. This week the San Diego Chargers announced that they will move to Los Angeles and borrow the StubHub Center from the Los Angeles Galaxy as their temporary home.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
La Liga: Las Palmas at Barcelona, 9:15 a.m. Saturday, beIN. The narrative in Spain has become less about whether Barcelona might catch Real Madrid — that looks almost impossible — but more about what’s wrong with Barca. The Spanish giants needed an exceptional last-minute free kick from Lionel Messi to steal a draw at Villareal. Can they get back in the win column this week?
Premier League: Manchester City at Everton, 7:30 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. This is not where Everton wanted to be in its first season under Ronald Koeman. The club is nine points from the top six, a yawning chasm from where the Toffees think they belong. In October, Everton saved two penalties and scraped a 1-1 draw against Man City. Can it pull another heist?
Premier League: Liverpool at Manchester United, 10 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. Barely 30 miles separate these clubs, so while this isn’t technically a local rivalry, it’s close enough for the two sides to have a history of hatred. Liverpool has been wobbly lately, while Manchester United has won six consecutive Premier League matches. The Red Devils would love to make that seven.
La Liga: Real Madrid at Sevilla, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, beIN. Check the standings, your eyes don’t deceive you. Sevilla — not Barcelona, not Atletico Madrid — is in second place in La Liga, just four points behind the undefeated leaders. That said, Real Madrid has played Sevilla twice in the past 10 days, both in the Copa del Rey, and won the two legs by a 6-3 aggregate score. A Sevilla victory would be an upset.