On Saturday night I went to see the MN Stars FC host the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a two-legged championship match to decide the winner of the NASL (North American Soccer League) for 2012. Two weeks ago I went to the semi-final match and blogged about that, and my post attracted quite a bit of attention; it was re-posted on another forum in particular and caused quite a stir. Some were unhappy with my criticisms and felt I was a bit harsh–others agreed with certain point, disagreed with others. I created a profile on this forum and engaged with others about my post. Admittedly, I was a bit harsh on the experience of the match.
My main criticisms were:
- The poor quality of the product on the field, first and foremost. Sloppy play, poor finishing, slow ball movement, and disjointed offensive and defensive team play marred the match.
- Ticket prices. At $14.00 per person for general admission (one can pay more if one chooses to) I felt that it was too steep for what I actually got.
- The old beer garden was gone, and with it the $5.00 ticket to stand there.
Cold weather I can deal with, and I wasn’t expecting a lot of fans, but was pleasantly surprised when there were 2,000-3,000 in attendance for the match against San Antonio Scorpions. I was encouraged by fans I spoke with that I should give it another chance, and I decided that I would, next season. The lack of the old beer garden was something I was discouraged over, but I was told that actually the new food and drink choices are far better, and the dismantling of the old wooden stands mean there is more space in which to enjoy them. Fair enough.
Amazingly, the Stars managed to win the second leg in San Antonio, 2-1, and advanced to the playoff final against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. San Antonio had been the best team in the league, and Tampa Bay was a close second; the Stars snagged the last playoff spot and had a losing record overall, and a goal difference of +1. Financial trouble has also been hanging over the now league-owned Stars all season, as they struggle to find a buyer for the team and look poised to go out of business at the end of the month if they don’t secure a new owner.
Once the place in the final was secured, I resolved to attend this match as the final home game of the season, and perhaps the final home game of the MN Stars FC.
As soon as we pulled up to the game, it was clear that this would be different. The rather large parking lot was packed as we arrived half an hour prior to kickoff. Once a spot was secured, we made the walk up to get some tickets. There were a lot of other fans there, many of them with signs, flags, and scarves. The parking lot had a number of people tailgating as well, and it seemed that many people had been there for hours awaiting the match that evening.
There was a long line for tickets, and I half expected the prices to be raised once I realized how many people were there for the game; to their credit, the team did not and I ended up parting with the usual $28.00 for a pair of seats. Once inside, the size of the crowd really hit home. There was easily double what I saw at the last match; I’d guess there was 5,000-6,000 people there. There were lots of signs, and a really good atmosphere overall.
The beer garden was full, with fans standing in rows trying to see the match. The stands were also pretty full, and there was no space to spread out, which was a big change from what I have normally experienced at the Stars matches of the past. It did help add to the great atmosphere!
The match itself was good–much better than the last one against San Antonio. The Stars had a bright start, and the first quarter of an hour they moved the ball with tempo and pressed. The Rowdies looked sluggish, and were very slow coming into the game. However, after the fast start the Stars faded a bit and allowed the more physical Rowdies to gain a foothold in the game. Led by their physically imposing forward Carl Cort, the Rowdies began to exercise control over the match.
The first half was very back-and-forth, with end-to-end action. When the referee blew for halftime, I could hardly believe it was scoreless. At halftime, I went down to the beer garden to check out the food and beverage offerings. I had been told they were pretty good so I wanted to try some out–but the lines were too long and so I skipped it and contented myself with just checking the menus to see what all there was. In addition to fish & chips and brats, there is a truck from Rusty’s that has tacos that I was told are very good. Perhaps next year, if the team exists, I’ll give it a shot.
I even managed to see an away fan during halftime as I walked around. He was walking around with his Tampa Bay Rowdies shirt and scarf. I was assured by regular fans that there are never away fans at these matches (which I fully expected given the level of play, and the distances involved with most teams). And yet…there he was. I didn’t see him with anyone, and nobody else seemed to pay him any notice at all. It’s a far cry from the separation involved at matches in leagues around the world, where sets of fans are kept apart all the time.
The second half was more exciting, end-to-end action. The run of play was fairly even, with both teams creating good chances, and both keepers being forced into action. The Stars had a really close call where the keeper made a pretty amazing double save to deny them a go-ahead strike. Eventually Amani Walker struck with a sweet shot into the roof of the net to give the Stars the lead, and it proved to be the only goal in the game.
All in all, I had a significantly better experience this time around. I was a bit harsh on the whole experience, start to finish, last time around. My principal criticisms, then, bear addressing:
- Quality of play: it was much improved. Perhaps I caught them on a bad night, or perhaps the matchup wasn’t favorable for the Stars to play, or who knows. But this game was much more entertaining than the last. Chances galore, some good movement, and good goalkeeping.
- Ticket prices: I stand by my initial assessment that they are a bit expensive. However, having witnessed a better on-field product and improved atmosphere, I didn’t feel as ripped off as I did the first time. However, I think that around $10.00 is a fair price for what you get for the majority of the season.
- Lack of a beer garden: this isn’t huge, but I liked the old setup. The new one has a different feel that I don’t like as much, but that’s life.
So some of my concerns have been addressed, and I enjoyed myself much more. I hope that next season I can have the chance to get to more games. If the team is around next year, I may even consider springing for season tickets, since they aren’t very expensive. If I do, I’d like to get over to see the hardcore supporters section and perhaps get to know a few of them.
I’ve said for years that what needs to happen is the NASL and MLS need to merge. If the NASL became the lower leagues for the MLS, and there was a promotion/relegation system implemented, it would serve both leagues well. Then these playoffs would have huge implications on teams like Minnesota, who are in financial trouble. If supporters had the chance to get into MLS, I think attendance would improve across the board, and games in MLS would be more meaningful as well late in the season. That seems to be a pipe dream, however–there is no sign that would ever happen.
The bottom line is that if you’re a soccer fan in Minnesota, there is only one professional option: Minnesota Stars FC. It’s not as if you can shop around. However, if you have the itch to scratch and want to see live matches, then you could do worse than the Stars. To be fair, you could also do a lot better, but you can’t easily travel to foreign countries to go to matches all the time, can you? So if you’re in the area, and have been meaning to check out some soccer, head over to Blaine and catch a Stars match. Decide for yourself, and support the local team along the way.
I would love to hear some feedback from anyone about the post, the photos or my accompanying words, and your impressions of the matchif you went.
I have to say, I feel a longer-term photography project coming on here. After these two matches, I have been tempted by the idea of season tickets and a season-long documentary photography project. I will think on it some more…any ideas of things you’d like to see in such a potential project?
Also, if you like the work you see here, I would encourage you to check my website for more of my work.