The TCO Stadium gates opened at 6 p.m. Thursday. The large crowd of fans gathered outside began filing in, most wearing Minnesota Aurora scarves or shirts.
"We were all in tears,'' said team president Andrea Yoch. "The other founders were standing there and we were just crying and hugging.''
The stadium was sold out. USL W League President Amanda Vandervort was in attendance, along with Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. The Aurora faced Green Bay, and seemingly every major Twin Cities media outlet covered the game, which was carried on WCCO.com.
On a beautiful Minnesota night, the Aurora played in what felt like a championship setting, in their first-ever game. The game was a draw, 1-1, before 5,219 fans, but the game was a success before it began.
"I've never played in front of this many people, in such an amazing facility,'' said Aurora forward Maya Hansen. "They're like, 'Hey, it's going to be really loud on Thursday,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, OK.' But it was really loud. The energy that the fans brought really transformed our game.''
Not long ago, a fledgling women's minor-league soccer game playing its first game in the Twin Cities may have been treated as an afterthought. This game felt like an event.
When the St. Paul Saints brought minor-league baseball back to the Twin Cities, they played in a dump named Midway Stadium. TCO Stadium is pristine, featuring a large scoreboard, a berm, and a field built to withstand NFL scrimmages.
The Vikings still celebrate the Minneapolis Miracle, that game-winning touchdown from Stefon Diggs.
The Aurora are the Minnesota Miracle, a franchise built on the fly by a group of community owners and investors, led by women, intent on creating an organization according to their values: inclusiveness and equality.
They held their first, tentative, meeting on Sept. 13, 2020. They easily met their initial fund-raising goal of $1 million, all of the money coming from 3,080 small investors. Thursday, the Aurora became the latest women's sport to prove that if you build it, people will watch.
"They've built something here that is really reflective of the community, that represents the values of the people here in Minnesota, and brought something unique and special and incredible to life,'' Vandervort said. "I'm super proud to be here.''
Yoch wore white tennis shoes featuring rainbows. She woke at 5 a.m. and she and her fellow owners and staff started organizing their first game, even wrangling media requests throughout the afternoon.
The game began after Vandervort shouted "Let's play soccer!'' The first half ended in a scoreless tie, with Hansen clanging a shot off the far post on Minnesota's best scoring chance.
Hansen attended Burnsville High School and has two years remaining at South Dakota State. She was dangerous all night, while fellow forward Morgan Turner of Maple Grove showed off her long stride to create a couple of chances.
Goaltender Sarah Fuller is the Aurora's most famous athlete. She was a standout soccer player at Vanderbilt who, as a kicker, became the first woman to play in a Power Five Conference football game.
Hansen, who grew up a couple of suburbs away from the Vikings facility, might be more emblematic of what the Aurora can mean for Minnesota.
"Just the fact that it's a woman-led team and it's community-owned is huge,'' Hansen said. "That so many people can have a piece of this team is really special. My family got to come here and see me play.
"When I was a little girl, I didn't have a team in Minnesota to go watch. This is going to be such a good team for little girls to come watch. I hope that it inspires them and encourages them and shows them that they're able to play at this level.
"It's really important, having someone to look up to and admire. I know I would have appreciated that when I was a little girl, so I hope that we can do that for them.''
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org