Soccer growing pains

I’ve been a season ticket holder of the Minnesota United FC for many years, and attended games back when they were just called the NSC Stars. This past week, the team released the season ticket pricing for next year for when the team moves in to it’s brand new stadium in the Hamline-Midway area of Saint Paul. Needless to say, there was some sticker shock at what it will cost to keep seats there. The internet does what it does best and there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, and complaints about the quality of play on the field. I even felt some of that frustration myself, but then I started coming to a different conclusion.

Some folks on reddit showed comparisons with our upcoming ticket prices, and the prices in other markets. Overall, we’re not out of line with what other markets are charging for their pro-soccer ticket prices. When you compare the prices to other pro sports teams here in Minnesota, we’re once again still in line with what’s expected at this level. That’s when it occurred to me, the problem isn’t the team or these new prices, but us old-time fans.

What we’re experiencing is the natural evolution of a second-tier team moving to a top level professional team. When I first started going to games in 2011 we were lucky to get 2000 people in the stadium for a game. Ticket prices were inexpensive, and the entire event was very low-key. What we’re moving to is a completely different world. We’re on the top stage in the country, with 20,000 people at a game. We’re getting national TV coverage, tons more food and drink options, a state of the art (privately funded) stadium, and opportunities to bring in even bigger events that feature world famous teams. None of that comes cheap.

For those of us who can remember the days of super cheap tickets ($10 gate tickets), and a homey, low-key environment, this change is a big deal. This isn’t the same event that we remember 7 years ago, and because of the transition taking year, it’s felt slow in coming. In many ways it’s much better, with better play, better competition, and a great game-day experience. The fact remains though that it costs more money.

For those people who are struggling with this change, I offer a suggestion. With the growth of MLS here in Minnesota, there are even more minor league teams to support. Both the NPSL and WPSL have multiple teams in the area, and all of them are reminiscent of the game day feel of old school NSC Stars (or Thunder). The ticket prices are low, and you don’t get the whole game-day experience of an MLS team, but maybe that’s good enough. Perhaps, for some people, simply picking up a few game day tickets for the Loons, and then supporting our smaller market teams, is the better way to go.

The growth of soccer in Minnesota is a good thing for everyone. We all need to decide how we want to interact with all of our new choices, and what’s the best for each of us. If anything, we should be happy about all the new choices that we have, and how it makes soccer a better sport in our area overall.

Phooey on the Super Bowl

Because of the nature of my work, the Super Bowl is a big deal. We support some local infrastructure that has to be available 24×7, and when you have such a big event like the Super Bowl happening, all eyes are on your IT systems. What this means is that for the past three months, my work life has revolved around getting ready for this event. We’ve spent countless hours in meetings and planing sessions with everyone from the Department of Homeland Security, to our local airport commission. The amount of public sector money spent in salaries alone would make most libertarians scream.

It all culminates today with the big game. It also means that I’m tied to my phone and computer all weekend, doing check-in calls, and assigning staff to deal with issues. Any little hiccup, and we risk making the national news. So ya,… no pressure.

All of this for a single football game. I used to be a bigger football fan as a child and young adult, but over the past 4-5 years I’ve really come to not enjoy it as much. One of the things that soured me a bit was attending a Vikings game in person. It’s the only NFL game I’ve ever been to, and frankly, it was boring in person. The speakers were turned up loud, and the action was constantly interrupted by TV timeouts. It showed me that football is a sport that’s much easier and enjoyable to watch on TV.

I would much rather go to a soccer game (hence why I’m a season ticket holder), or even hockey. Both of those sports are incredible to watch in person, as the action rarely stops. The formations and set pieces develop quickly and organically, and you never know what’s coming next. After years of watching football, any fan can predict what the play will be with staggering accuracy. In sports like soccer or hockey, you may spot the opportunity at the same time as the players, but often you’re taken by surprise as someone suddenly appears down a side flank, in a dead sprint, out of nowhere.

All this to say, that my weekend is dominated by a game that I care little about, and feels like a giant waste of taxpayer money. I do sincerely hope that all the locals that are enjoying the extra activities going on, are having a good time. Plus, I hope that all the visitors to our region are getting a chance to see what an amazing city we have, even in the dead of winter. As for the big game today… whatever. At least we got to see some fighter jets scream overhead near our local Target store.

Welcome to Minnesota sports

I’m a fan, and season ticket holder of Minnesota United FC, our new MLS team. I love watching soccer, and having a local team has been a great amount of fun for myself and my family. We even got my brother-in-law and his fiance to join in the fun.

However, like most Minnesota sports teams we’re struggling. Minnesota has rarely been known as a powerhouse in the sporting world, despite a couple of World Series wins. We’re rarely the worst team in the league, but we always seem to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. We might hit the playoffs every now and then, but otherwise we’re always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Minnesota United is unfortunately breaking this streak, but not in a good way. They’re quickly showing their lack of capability and firmly holding on to the bottom of the conference. This past Saturday was no exception, with a 0-3 loss to NY Red Bulls. Some questionable officiating really means it should have been a 1-2 loss, but soccer doesn’t have instant replay (yet).

Overall, we seemed tired and defeated through much of the match. Half of our starters were injured, meaning that we were playing with second string players, and we looked it. Our offense managed a few bright spots, and our defense had some nice stops, but overall we need to make some major changes.

I’m not sure what the rest of the season holds for us, but I’m worried it won’t be that good. Hopefully the off-season will give us a chance to get some more talent and gel better as a unit. We’ve got a brand new stadium under construction right now, and so we had better start getting our act in gear so that we can sell it out every game.

Finally some pro soccer

Sunday night the Minnesota United FC got their second home victory, under a beautiful evening sunset. The weather was perfect for a Sunday evening game with temps in the mid-60s. I went back and forth between wearing my sweatshirt and taking it off, opting finally for going with just a t-shirt at the end of the game.

We had a wonderful game with solid defense and a beautiful goal in the second half. We managed to make it out of the first half with no points scored against us, which I believe is the first time this season. We controlled the ball well, and new players like Sam Cronin, pulled our lines together and kept Colorado from getting too close too often. Cronin in particular was fun to watch, as he’s tremendously aggressive and has a bit of an enforcer personality.

Colorado wasn’t playing their best game, but despite that I felt like we really showed that we can compete in this league. We put together a solid 90 minutes of soccer and looked like a pro team again. Considering what we went through the past few games, I would have even been happy with a 0-0 draw. However, a 1-0 win was music to the crowd’s ears. Well… that plus Wonderwall playing at the final whistle; a new tradition whenever we win a home game.

I’m glad we finally pulled things together, and can’t wait to see us develop even more as the season progresses.

Home opener!!

Sunday, the wife, her brother and fiance and I all headed out to our season ticket seats for the home opener of the Minnesota United FC and their inaugural season in the MLS! As I mentioned in a previous post, it sounded like our team was struggling a bit, but we all had high hopes that facing off against another expansion team would be a much more competitive match.

It was also a PERFECT Minnesota sports spring opener. The weather was in the mid-20s and it was snowing. In fact, the snow was hard enough that they had to use an orange ball instead of the regular white one! Every 20 minutes or so the grounds crew would head out to the field and use leaf blowers to clear the lines so that the players could see where they were. Supposedly the field is heated, but it must have been snowing just a bit too hard.

IMG_0600.jpgWe settled into our seats, chilled, but excited. I wish that our excitement for such a great Minnesota experience matched the level of play on the field, but within the first couple of minutes we showed that we have a LOT of work to do. Without warning we were suddenly down 2-0 and it wasn’t looking good. We finally managed to get a point on a penalty kick, but everything on our end of the field was abysmal. Our defense looks like a junior high team. They were like lost puppies who had no idea what to do, and didn’t really want to be there in the first place. Atlanta’s strikers just zipped right past them, and our mediocre goalie never seemed to be in position to make a decent attempt at a ball.

Overall, our defensive play was some of the worst I’ve seen in my years of watching. They cleared out almost all of our roster from last year (NASL players), but I guarantee you that our second tier roster could have easily looked better than the garbage that took the field on Sunday. It was an embarrassment, not just for Minnesota, but for the league and American soccer overall.

IMG_0611.jpgThe bright spot was that our offense didn’t look too bad. We had a lot of opportunities, and we managed some decent passing. It was about what I would expect from a young team that’s only been playing together a few months. They weren’t able to convert, but it didn’t look like we were amateurs. We played some solid offence, but we just couldn’t get the conversions we wanted. When you pitted our offense against their defense, this easily should have been a draw, but when our defense is non-existant, it doesn’t matter how hard our offense tries, we’re going to get beat.

I personally won’t be surprised if our coach, and most of our defenders are fired in a month. At this point we need to do something to ensure we don’t go down as the worst MLS expansion team in history. The energy from 35,000 people was amazing, and I can’t want to see more and more people get excited about the beautiful game. We just need to look like we’re there to play.