Remember walking into a baseball stadium as a child? That first glimpse of grass; peering out against the bright blue sky; the electricity in the crowd; the sight of your idols — the best players in the world! — warming up mere steps below. For any Little Leaguer, the atmosphere is unforgettable, and there is no better place to watch your first game than our jewel of a baseball park, Target Field.
We want the same experience for the young fans and players of the most popular youth sport in America, at a stadium deliberately designed for “the beautiful game.”
Soccer has long been the most popular sport for kids in the United States, and it is the largest youth sport in Minnesota, with more than 75,000 young people participating. Soccer emphasizes both teamwork and creativity. It brings people and communities together and is loved around the world. Our youth players come from diverse backgrounds, but they all understand the language of soccer. We believe strongly that no game is better at connecting kids and creating tolerance and community than soccer.
Unfortunately, the professional leagues in the United States have lagged the enormous popularity at the youth level. This is now changing dramatically. Major League Soccer (MLS) teams now bring in tens of thousands of fans, and all levels of professional soccer are expanding at an incredible rate. The first generation of players born after the creation of MLS are just now entering the league. These young athletes were inspired by the professionals in their communities, and now a new generation wants to be the next Landon Donovan, Tim Howard or Miguel Ibarra.
We are entering our second year of partnership with Minnesota United FC. Through our joint programs, we inspire thousands of kids, who see these professional players as models for hard work, success and fair play. Minnesota United FC was born out of the local community and has taken seriously its obligation to grow the sport in our back yard. We support our local professional team because we know how amazing it is for young soccer players to not just watch the best players on TV but to be able to see them at the stadium, to meet them in person and to dream of one day playing on that very field.
Soccer fandom is unique at those stadiums that bring fans close to the action. A tradition among the most dedicated fans is to stand for entire matches — singing, chanting and supporting the team with huge coordinated banners and artwork. When youth players watch soccer in Europe and South America, they see these incredible expressions of solidarity and local pride. Encouraging this remarkable fan support is the best way to grow soccer in Minnesota.
A soccer-specific stadium would instantly become the “axis mundi” for soccer in the state (as well as all surrounding states). We want to bring youth players to the stadium to watch their heroes compete — to see and experience the highest level of the sport in the perfect setting. Our children already play soccer in record numbers. Now we want to inspire them. Let them play there, and let them dream: One day this could be you.
It is for these reasons that the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association supports a soccer-specific stadium that maximizes fan enjoyment of the beautiful game of soccer.
Steve May is president of the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association.