GUEST POST by Ronald Leigh Allen, jr.
I have been a soccer fan my whole life, and at 57 I still get out there on the field and mix it up in pick-up games. I always preferred to spend my time playing soccer rather than watching it. But alas, the older I get the higher percentage of my "soccer time" goes toward watching rather than playing.
Unlike most fans of the game, I never really had a favorite team. I enjoy watching the English Premier League, and a few years back when the wife and I were in London I actually bought a handsome long sleeve Arsenal jersey. But Arsenal wasn't really my favorite. team. Not my "real" favorite. I have some favorite players— like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving both of those guys equally). But I never really fell in love with Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Juventus. I occasionally watch Major League Soccer matches, and am drawn to teams that have star European players like Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who have chosen to finish out their careers in the United States (both of whom join a distinguished list of non-American world soccer standouts that finished their careers in the MLS, and both of whom are still performing at the highest level). But I never had a favorite team, which kinda bothered me. What's wrong with me? I wondered. Everybody I know has a favorite team. Except me. I began to gradually develop a deep longing to be part of the fan base of a team—to be part of a supporters' community.
My wife and I moved from the East Coast to Minneapolis four years ago (2015). After realizing that the winters wouldn't necessarily kill us, we fell in love with the city. About the time we arrived here, I was very excited when it was announced that Minnesota United Football Club (MNUFC) had been named by Major League Soccer as the 22nd team in the league. I started loosely following the team, occasionally catching a game on TV, or at the very least, watching the match highlights on YouTube.
I got very excited again when it was announced that we (I guess I am starting to have a favorite team!) were going to get our very own soccer specific stadium in Saint Paul ( Minneapolis' twin city), called Allianz Field. I drove by the site shortly after the groundbreaking, and periodically throughout the construction process. It was absolutely amazing to watch this architectural masterpiece arise from the ground. And when the first match took place on April 13, 2019, against New York City Football Club, I was in the stands of this ultra-modern, absolutely gorgeous facility!
But I was alone. My wife had previous engagements. My buddies couldn't make it for one reason or another. I was alone. But not really alone, as it was a sell-out crowd. As the 3-3 draw played out before my eyes, I found myself high-fiving perfect strangers in the seats around me, everyone just insanely supportive of their team—and dare I say it? My team! I felt like I finally had a favorite team. Minnesota United Football Club. Go team! Needless to say, I had an absolute blast that night, and couldn't wait until the next match when my wife could come with me and experience this unbridled joy!
So, Amy is not really a sports fan. At all. She agreed to go to a match with me, but I am guessing only to be a good wife, and not as an MNUFC fan. But she went. Knowing that she didn't like surprises, like a good husband I researched the nuances of attending a match from a wife's point of view. I knew Allianz Field had a "clear bag" policy (for security), so on our first foray she left her purse at home. But she did bring her iPhone with earbuds. As we found our seats (which were first row field level near the half field line) she surveyed the crowd. Crowds are not her thing. We found our seats and we waited for the match to start.
Amy informed me that she would be listening to a book on Audible, so if she seemed to be ignoring me, it was because she was ignoring me. And the game. Occasionally I would try to share some of my vast soccer knowledge with her, but she wasn't having any of it. The only thing she came away with that night, was her very own MNUFC clear bag, which she thought was very fashionable, so much so that she did an Instagram post, not about the match, but about her new clear bag.
So when she agreed to accompany me to the next match at Allianz Field I was a little surprised, but very pleased. This match was a little different. Its was part of the CONCACAF Gold Cub and a rare soccer double header, the first match being Panama versus Trinidad and Tobago, and then the match we came to see, Team USA versus Guyana. We arrived in time to catch most of the second half of the first match. The Twin Cities being the diverse international community that it is (and that we love), fans from both countries were all around us. Amy loved them. She watched the fans while I watched the match. But she still put in her earbuds, even through the US versus Guyana match (which we won 4-0).
I was feeling pretty good about my chances to have her accompany me to another match. Our schedules worked out such that we were both available on July 27th, so I got us tickets to see MNUFC play the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a 7 p.m. kickoff, and I accidentally got tickets on the sunny (hot!) side of the stadium. Amy had her earbuds with her, but never went into her MNUFC clear bag (now a fashion essential) to get them. Before the game began, we were so honored to witness five new citizens participate in the naturalization ceremony to the roaring applause of 20,000 MNUFC fans.
Amy was interested in the game. She was interested in the players. By 7:30 the sun had shifted so we were in the shade (cool!). We both cheered for our Loons (yep, that's what they are called, Loons, and we love them!). The game turned out to be a frustrating draw, but for me it was a huge victory, because Amy said to me, "I think I really like soccer. We should come to these games as much as we can." Between halves, she made her way to the fan store and bought a scarf for me, and a t-shirt for herself. She had been good-naturedly wearing the team colors to the matches (black and light blue), but now she had an official emblem of support.
So I am very lucky to announce to the world that I now have a favorite team, MNUFC! Not only do I have a favorite team, but I have a wife who, in a matter of months, went from totally not interested in soccer, to being indifferent, to being a new fan! I have the MNUFC app on my phone, and we are even on the waiting list to buy season tickets. And Amy is all in. And maybe next time she'll even leave her earbuds at home!
Leigh Allen has been a soccer player and fan since he was six-years-old, and still plays occasionally in recreational league pick-up games throughout the Twin Cities. In fact, at this writing, he's just grabbed his cleats and is on his way out the door.