The Aurora on Sunday was scheduled to play its final home game of its inaugural season in the USL W pre-professional soccer league. But the neophytes are victims of enormous Year 1 success.
With a 4-1 blasting of the St. Louis Lions on Sunday, the Aurora is 8-0-1 and lead the Heartland Division by eight points over Green Bay, with three road games remaining in the regular season. A division championship sends the Aurora to the postseason.
And props to the Aurora for making Green Bay, which has a game in hand, go through Minnesota after years in which fans of the pointy-ball version of football have watched the Vikings get stiff-armed by Aaron Rodgers and friends. Minnesota's final two games of the regular season are at Green Bay, so we're a tackle from behind or controversial red card away from another heated border rivalry.
Aurora officials are confident that their team will have a home-field advantage throughout the postseason once the division title is clinched, because its attendance has been among the best in the league. There has not been a crowd smaller than 4,800 all season. The Aurora recently got clearance to sell more than its cap of 5,600 tickets, and had 6,016 on hand at TCO Stadium in Eagan on Friday and 5,944 on Sunday, where scarf-waving fans watched it match a season high for goals.
"It really does make this worth it," said Morgan Stone, a defender from Boulder, Colo., who played at Boise State last season. "And it's so important for female sports as well."
This is a community-owned team operated by women, providing opportunities to develop through playing, coaching and running an organization. It also didn't hesitate to add its voice to the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn abortion rights.
"We are angry with the news that 50 years of constitutional rights have been overturned," the Aurora's statement began. "As a member of a women's league, the health and bodily autonomy of individuals is core to everything we do."
No other local sports team commented on the explosive decision, although the NBA and WNBA released a joint statement. Aurora's board of founders met for two hours to craft its response and contact sponsors to make them aware of its plans.
"It's really, really important for us that this team represents our fans, and our players, and equality for everybody," Aurora President Andrea Yoch said. "And so, we really felt we needed to stand up and say something."
Yoch, also a marketing consultant, looks out at the crowd, sees the number of women and girls at games and understands how the Aurora can thrive in the Twin Cities. While being willing to speak up on issues important to women, the team also wants to provide entertainment.
That box has been checked. During its eight-game winning streak, the Aurora has outscored opponents 24-6, and 11 different players have found the back of the net. And the players have fed off the scoring, creating around 40 different goal celebrations, including the Macarena.
"That's a team that talks a lot," Yoch said. "They're having fun, right?"
During a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Dutch Lions on Friday, Mariah Nguyen volleyed home a cross from St. Michael's Makenzie Langdok, then flopped on the ground and pretended to be a fish being reeled in. Two teammates picked her up and a third pretended to photograph their catch.
"This Minnesota team means a lot to us and, being in the state, we know how important the lakes are for all of us." said Nguyen, from Andover and who currently plays at Bemidji State. "So we thought a nice fishing celebration would be awesome."
On Sunday, after the Aurora led 3-1 at halftime on penalty kicks from Morgan Turner and Stone and another goal from Nguyen, Stone completed the team's scoring with a 25-yard blast from outside the box as the crowd rose to its feet. She ran to her bench, where an actual smartphone was produced for a selfie while the referee stood nearby but did not produce a yellow card.
"We have to put on a show," Stone said, before adding. "I was prepared for the card if that came."