BY JOSEPH SIMS
Seattle native Joseph Sims, 21, will travel around the country during the World Cup in search of the heart and soul of soccer in the United States. Read about his journey in the Take 2 blog.
Driving 24 hours over the three days would take a toll on anyone, and it certainly did on me. Even though it was just the beginning of my journey, I was in need of something uplifting. And I certainly got that when I sat down with Bruce McGuire and several other members of Dark Clouds, Minnesota United’s supporter group, in Minneapolis.
All sports have their moments of highs and lows, American soccer more than most. And yet even through the lowest of lows, hope remains.
Bruce McGuire, host of a podcast for Minnesota United (“The du Nord Futbol Show”), and his friend, Eric, both experienced extreme lows when it came to U.S. soccer. For Eric, it was watching the USA’s 2-1 loss to Iran in a Iranian bar in London for the 1998 World Cup. For Bruce, it was being in the stadium for the USA’s 3-0 embarrassment at the hands of the Czech Republic to open their 2006 World Cup campaign. He was, as he put it, that guy you always see in the stadium after everyone has left, sitting with his head in his hands, broken.
However, hope never fades away, and as Bruce said, despite that match (and many others like it), “so long as I don’t think about the players, the team, and who they are playing, I’m really optimistic.” He maintains that no matter how pessimistic he gets, all it takes is something beautiful on the field to bring back his hopes and his love for the game.
“It’s what it is all about,” he says.
In a way, this “pessimism to optimism” attitude mirrors the story of soccer in the U.S., and of Minnesota United. Like a lot of American lower-division clubs, Minnesota United was struggling just to survive. Financial troubles caused the old Minnesota Thunder to be sold to the National Sports Center (a stadium for amateur sporting events in Minnesota and the team’s home field) in 2010, and it was renamed NSC Minnesota. However, just one season later, NSC was no longer able to abide by the North American Soccer League’s ownership standards, and the NASL took over the team’s ownership. What followed was a search for an owner to prevent the team from folding completely, a search so desperate that the team walked off the field after losing the 2012 NASL Cup final to Tampa Bay, it didn’t know whether NSC Minnesota would exist the next season.
However, the determination to keep soccer alive in Minnesota paid off. David Downs, the former commissioner of the NASL, frequented the Minneapolis bars after NSC Minnesota games, talking to fans and trying to find someone who might be able to keep the team afloat. They found the former CEO of UnitedHealth, Bill McGuire, who was the father of Peterson’s daughter’s college roommate. The men spoke, and, with additional prompting – such as a pleading email from podcast host Bruce McGuire (no relation) – an agreement was made. All the faith and determination put into NSC Minnesota paid off, and Bill McGuire took over the team, rebranding it as Minnesota United before the 2013 season.
How Minnesota United has risen in the last couple years. The team used to be made up of a bunch of local guys and college players. Now they have a roster of professionals with experience in other leagues. The front office used to have just six staff members who did everything from stadium operations to marketing to jersey-making. Now, the front office is staffed by experienced professionals. In addition, the team has added doctors and trainers, and construction has started on a new sports center that will allow the team to train during the harsh winter. Minnesota United is booming financially, won the NASL Spring championship with a 6-2-1 record, and its future is brighter than anyone could have imagined just a couple years ago.
Minnesota United’s story is emblematic of American soccer as a whole. The U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup for a 40-year span, lost its professional league in 1984, and the new one (MLS) still took a long time to stand on its feet, losing $350 million in its first 10 years and had to own most of its clubs itself at one point just to stay afloat. But the national team and the league persevered despite all these problems. Now the U.S. has been at seven straight World Cups, including the upcoming one in Brazil, and MLS has expanded to 19 teams from an original 10, with four more on the way.
And who knows? This determination to fight on, even when things look their darkest, could rear its head again this summer as the U.S. faces a brutally tough World Cup group. If the Yanks are to advance, it will need to.
Joseph Sims, 21, graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla in May with a degree in politics. The graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle has an obsession with soccer that has taken him all over the globe, from the World Cup in South Africa, to the Emirates Stadium in London, to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry right here in Seattle. Follow his journey around the country during the World Cup to find the heart and soul of soccer in the U.S. in the Take 2 blog.
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