Most sports have fans. Soccer has supporters.
Sure, there are still more casual observers of the Beautiful Game who could be considered mere fans, but they are often drowned out and dwarfed by more intense and dedicated groups.
These are the supporters, and Minnesota United — the local professional soccer team that made the leap in 2017 from a lower league to Major League Soccer, the top level in the United States — has two popular supporter groups.
The more established one is the Dark Clouds. They have been around since the local professional team was called the Thunder (hence the group name), but their numbers are growing. They had fewer than 100 members just four years ago, but now they boast more than 1,300.
The up-and-comer supporter group, which has 150 members, is called True North Elite. This group is more rambunctious than the Dark Clouds and takes its cues from international supporter groups.
“We wanted to create something that was more true to what we viewed as traditional around the world,” said Samuel Halvorson, part of a group of five friends who formed True North Elite. “While we appreciated that Dark Clouds provided a more family-friendly atmosphere, we didn’t feel like it fit for us personally. We just wanted something a little edgier.”
True North Elite members, for instance, often come up with aggressive (and sometimes borderline unprintable) chants aimed at the star players from opposing teams. “When you get someone on the opposition to give you a wry smile or a brief clap of recognition even as you’re giving them stick, you know you’re doing the job right,” said group member James Norungolo.
Both groups have their own traditions, projects and marches. Once matches at United’s temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium begin, they work together to make one giant wall of sound — noise and support they hope influences both performance and atmosphere.
“As a stadium, working together, we are louder,” said Dark Clouds member Nachiket Karnik, who joined in 2013.
And the players hear them.
“We try to make sure after games to go over and thank them. They’re so important to us,” said Minnesota United defender Brent Kallman. “We feel like we’re really close to the supporters. There isn’t this huge separation. I think that’s one thing that makes this club really special.”
As you might expect, actions convey a more accurate picture of their impact than mere words. Take a look at the photo gallery above: A look at Minnesota United supporters in all their glory.