They are called the Dark Clouds -- the Minnesota Thunder's drum-banging, flag-waving, chant-spewing crew of diehard fans.

They are not hipsters in search of an alternative to the Twins or Vikings; rather, they are savvy soccer fans who adopted their local team about six seasons ago. They give the home team love, give the opposition hell and provide a global soccer environment at the National Sports Center stadium in Blaine -- albeit on a smaller scale compared to frenzied fans overseas.

"It's fans like them who drive the enthusiasm and intensity during the games," said team owner Dean Johnson while visiting the Dark Clouds prematch tailgate party July 15. "We embrace them as part of the organization. They are part of what this club is."

They have made a joyful noise throughout the past three subpar seasons. This season has offered additional tests of their commitment. There was the team's in-season move from St. Paul to Blaine in May, and the announcement Tuesday that popular head coach Amos Magee was immediately stepping down.

The Thunder heads into tonight's match against Seattle in last place in the United Soccer Leagues' First Division, inching ever closer to missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

"I can't speak for everyone, but I think there's a feeling that we need to get behind the team more," said Dark Clouds member Brian Quarstad. "The players tell us, and Amos would tell us, that they can hear us and that it makes a difference."

Quarstad was among the 30 to 40 Dark Clouds who sang, chanted and cheered throughout the July 15 match against Burnley Football Club of England.

Dark Clouds are a diverse blend

United by their support of the Thunder, the fans are a mix of soccer purists and new fans. Quarstad was a youth and club-level soccer coach in St. Paul for 18 years. Bruce McGuire has attended soccer matches throughout the world. Andy Wattenhofer initially believed the Thunder's level of soccer to be "bush league" but attended matches and changed his mind. He started the Thunder fan site Kevin Joseph, whose first love was hockey, organized a road trip for six Thunder fans last season to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

As for the group's name, McGuire said, "Dark Clouds are not usually what people like to see coming."

Defender Kevin Taylor offered the Dark Clouds a thumbs-up before halftime and after the Burnley match, which ended in a 2-0 Thunder loss.

"It's hard to find fans sometimes that are good even when we're doing bad," he said. "These guys are here all the time. They're great."

Teams consults fan group for ideas

Taylor is not the only one listening. The Thunder front office met with some of the Dark Clouds before moving to Blaine and asked for ideas to improve the fan experience.

The two most popular requests were move the field closer to the grandstand and serve beer. Done and done.

The group was given first dibs on seating in the National Sports Center stadium, and they perched themselves right behind the enemy bench. In addition, the organization purchased canopies for tailgating and stores the Dark Cloud's flags and instruments in Blaine.

"It's nice to have the front office feel we're important," Quarstad said. "However, there is a fine line for both of us. If they do too much to promote and or support us, the whole thing comes off as a bit disingenuous -- which it is not. We are our own entity."

Team president Manny Lagos, who makes frequent appearances at the Dark Clouds tailgate gatherings, said: "They pull for you when you win and they'll criticize you when you lose, but they have a love for the game and the Thunder. When I come out here, it's to let them know we appreciate their support."