The North American Soccer League had completed its eighth season in 1975 and the Denver Dynamos were going out of business after only two of those seasons. Jack Crocker from Supervalu put together a group of people from the Twin Cities grocery industry and made a deal to buy the team.
The partners threw a total of $750,000 into the pot, with $175,000 or $200,000 to purchase the franchise and the rest for start-up costs. The announcement that North America’s version of big-league soccer was coming to the Twin Cities was made on Nov. 25, 1975.
The nickname Kicks was not revealed until later. There was early talk the team might play in Parade Stadium, but the partners finally decided a big-time feel was needed and negotiated a lease to play at Met Stadium.
Major League Soccer is currently playing its 21st season. On Friday, it became official the Twin Cities will be home to an expansion team in 2017.
Bill McGuire and his prestigious list of partners will pay a $100 million expansion fee. They also will finance a soccer stadium in the Midway area of St. Paul that figures to cost $200 million when it finishes running over budget.
The announcement was made early Friday evening at CHS Field. The crowd of roughly 1,500 fans included members of the “Dark Clouds,” the boisterous and influential fan club for Minnesota United FC.
McGuire said early in his remarks: “How fitting on a day like today … a lot of dark clouds but no rain.”
He can only hope that moment of poetry was more symbolic of his team’s future than what arrived a couple of minutes later: steady rain.
Two declarations made Friday were that the team can continue to use “United” as part of its brand, and that it will play on the artificial turf of TCF Bank Stadium until the Midway soccer stadium and its grass field are ready.
St. Paul’s Chris Coleman, the Twin Cities mayor who saw having Major League Soccer as a good thing for his town, spoke briefly and with enthusiasm. He cited a 2013 championship boys’ soccer team at St. Paul Como Park High School that had players speaking 11 different languages — an example of the world coming to the Twin Cities and America, and bringing a passion for soccer with it.
Coleman’s punch line was that there’s “no question soccer will be America’s game” in a foreseeable future.
As a soccer cynic of long standing, I’ve joined in the sniggering at those haughty predictions. I mean, they started in the mid-’70s when the New York Cosmos were packing Giants Stadium on summer nights, and for decades, soccer maintained its unimportance here.
And now it has changed. The joke about those soccer participation numbers — “People play it so they don’t have to watch it” — now has as much mold on it as Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife … please.”
I wanted a snapshot of the difference in soccer awareness between getting a franchise in North America’s major soccer league feels today than it did with the Kicks. Here it is:
Dave “Foof” Ferroni was hired in early June 1976 as the Kicks’ public relations director.
“The first guy they had left and [newspaperman] Charley Hallman recommended me,” Ferroni said. “I had never watched a soccer game. I started work Monday, and on Wednesday the Cosmos played at Met Stadium and there was a crowd of 46,164.
“I said, ‘Either I’m the greatest PR guy in the world, or they came to see Pele.’ ”
Eric Durkee is the director of public relations for Minnesota United FC. He lived from ages 8 to 12 in England, playing in the Branston Pickles youth program. He moved back to the Twin Cities at age 12, played soccer for Como Park and led the state in points (goals and assists) as a senior in 2004.
Clearly, that’s a bit more soccer background than my friend Foof had back when. And a few more resources, too.
Freddie Goodwin, an Englishman, ran the Kicks. He was Frugal Freddie, to be sure.
The Kicks kept losing shootouts, so in the middle of the energy crisis, Goodwin offered an incentive of covering a tank of gas for any shooter scoring in a victorious shootout.
“Our British guys were driving little cars, so Freddie figured it wouldn’t cost him much,” Ferroni said. “Someone told him that a winning goalkeeper deserved a tank of gas, too.
“Tino [Lettieri] was the goalie and he was driving a Chrysler New Yorker. Freddie said, ‘That car is too big. Tino doesn’t get the gas.’ ”
That was Minnesota soccer in its first plunge into the big time. This is big-time soccer the second time around, starting with $100 million for the MLS franchise and going from there.