In the end, it depends on the definition: Is a Minnesotan born or raised?
If the former, then Duluth-born Ethan Finlay of Minnesota United is the rightful northerner. If the latter, then teammate Brent Kallman, a Woodbury native, and Ish Jome, a Brooklyn Park native, are the real North Star staters.
“Ethan is Wisconsin,” Kallman said Thursday of Finlay, who did most of his growing up in the rival state. “We’re going back and forth, though, because he was telling me this morning, ‘You were born in Omaha,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘So you’re from Nebraska. You’re not from Minnesota. Same with Ish [who was born in Gambia]. … So really, I’m the most true Minnesotan that we have.’ ”
Regardless of that debate, the trio of Loons will step onto the TCF Bank Stadium pitch for the first time as teammates Saturday when Minnesota United faces the Philadelphia Union at 7 p.m.
Kallman, 26, has played his entire professional career with United, starting in the North American Soccer League in 2013. Jome, 22, joined United in 2016. Finlay, 27, has been a Loon for only two matches after his trade from the Columbus Crew.
Finlay said he played in Minnesota fairly often growing up, whether against Shattuck-St. Mary’s in his youth career or exhibitions against United during his college career at Creighton, where he also was teammates with Kallman.
The winger played on United’s home turf when he was still with Columbus on July 4. That was the first time since 2009 he had played in his home state.
Now, he will play for his hometown team with its home-field advantage for the first time. Finlay said he had 25 to 30 family and friends attend that July 4 match, and they’ve already started a Facebook group to coordinate buying tickets for this rest of this year’s matches as well as season tickets for 2018.
Jome said he frequently borrows tickets from his teammates to meet the demands of his entourage.
United coach Adrian Heath, who started his playing career with his hometown club Stoke City in the late 1970s, understands how that is.
“I know what it’s like to play in front of your parents, your mum, your dad, and it’s probably even more difficult in this country because of the sheer size of it to get to watch them every week,” Heath said.
“I know that for me growing up as a Stoke City supporter, going to the games with my grandparents and my father every week, the thought of actually playing for that team in front of my parents every week was huge for me.”
While there are other MLS clubs with native players on the roster, especially as youth academies grow, there’s something distinctly Minnesotan about seeking out locals to be faces of the franchise, a la Joe Mauer with the Twins, Lindsay Whalen with the Lynx and Zach Parise with the Wild.
“The way that Minnesota supports their own is pretty special,” Kallman said. “So I feel really honored that I can be one of those guys.”
United’s first development academy teams also play their inaugural matches Saturday at the National Sports Center.
Heath said “the dream” is to eventually have a roster full of homegrown players just like Finlay, Kallman and Jome.
Never mind the geographical specifics.
“I mean, as far as his work ethic and mentality, he’s about as Minnesotan, I feel like, as they come,” Kallman said of Finlay.
“And the fans are going to absolutely love him.”