With Minnesota United FC on the cusp of joining Major League Soccer, fans and players are showing greater interest in Wednesday’s home match against MLS’s Sporting Kansas City.
About 75 Kansas City fans plan to be at the National Sports Center in Blaine, said Jonathon Feyerherm, the club’s digital manager. United forward Ben Speas hopes to spoil the road trip and set a tone for future meetings.
“They’re a good team, but they’re going to come to our field and have to deal with our atmosphere and our fans and that’s going to help us,” Speas said. “I think that we’re going to put them under. We’re going to show them what kind of team we are and how good we can be.”
The teams are playing in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament Sporting Kansas City won last year. United lost 2-0 to Sporting in a match at Kansas City in the 2014 Open Cup.
Matches against teams in the second-tier North American Soccer League team historically aren’t fan favorites. But with the Loons planning to join MLS as soon as next season, the vibe has changed.
“Usually the Open Cup interest starts when we play a MLS team,” said Corbin LeGrand, president of South Stand Supporters Club in Kansas City. “But with Minnesota being a good team that’s coming into the league, there’s more interest.”
When Minnesota enters MLS, the club can count Sporting among its initial rivals. Sporting KC is United’s second-closest MLS neighbor, sitting about 40 miles farther from St. Paul than Chicago.
Local fans can expect to get a large helping of Sporting Kansas City faithful. Sean Dane, president of the Kansas City Cauldron supporters’ group, said past road trips brought 700 fans to Chicago, 800 to Dallas and 1,100 to Colorado.
“I’m certainly excited about the potential,” Dane said. “I’ve always enjoyed the city of Minneapolis, and I look forward to getting there more.”
Minnesota players are focused on winning Wednesday with both the current tournament and future meetings in mind.
“It’s a big opportunity for us to make a statement in terms of where we’re going as a club,” forward Christian Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who trains in the offseason with Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber, envisions a three-club rivalry among Minnesota, Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire. The three Midwestern clubs could develop their own version of the Cascadia Cup, started in 2004 by the largest supporters groups for three clubs: Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters, the Timbers Army of Portland, and the Vancouver Southsiders.
United FC awaits Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature on newly passed legislation that clears the way for a 21,500-seat stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. Lawmakers agreed to a property tax exemption for the land where the team wants to build the stadium and approved a liquor license for it. The team also sought, but did not get, a sales tax exemption on construction materials.
The team would begin playing there in 2018. Stadium approval likely triggers MLS officials to announce the club’s start date. If the team begins MLS play in 2017, it likely would play home matches at TCF Bank Stadium.
“There is some really cool synergy with the two clubs,” said Manny Lagos, United FC sporting director. “We know that in the very near future, we’re going to have league games and a budding rivalry. I do think that adds a little bit to this game.”