Dark Clouds: Embedded with Minnesota's misfit fans

How Minnesota United FC's diehard soccer fanatics became a force to be reckoned with

“We looked at each other and just decided, ‘Hey, we should be standing together,’” recalls Andy Wattenhofer. “So we all just relocated behind the visitor’s bench from then on, and it grew from there.”

In a small stadium with low attendance, the games were so quiet that they could hear the players talking on the bench. That meant the players could hear them too. The fans believed that if they were clever enough with their taunts, they could get into the players’ heads. Thus, shit-talking became an art.

“It’s like a stupid little improv theater group,” says Oliver. “You can’t just stand there and say, ‘You suck.’ There’s a standard of ripping guys. It has to hurt, but it has to be funny and cruel.”

The Dark Clouds marching to the Dome.
Mark Vancleave
The Dark Clouds marching to the Dome.

In 2004, the Thunder made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament in which NASL teams compete against Major League Soccer clubs. The tournament brought the San Jose Earthquakes to Minnesota, which drew soccer fans from all over the state. Not only was San Jose one of the highest-rated American soccer teams in play, but they had signed Landon Donovan, at the time among the best players in the country.

“They filled the whole section for that game,” recalls Kevin Friedland, Minnesota United defender and assistant coach. “It seemed like that was kind of a turning point, where, if all these guys and girls stand together, the strength and the numbers of their songs and chants and everything goes a bit further.”

The original group of eight or nine multiplied into several dozen. It was around this time that McGuire started calling them the Dark Clouds.

At first, the name was meant to be ironic. They were a group of cheerful, singing soccer fans — nothing like the dreary nickname implied. And the moniker was nothing to be uttered outside the tight circle — more of a secret handshake than an official identity.

“It’s almost like Charlie Brown,” says McGuire. “Kind of a combination of Pig Pen and Linus. You know, the lovable loser.”

On a late-April afternoon in the Metrodome, Minnesota United is tied 0-0 with the Edmonton Eddies after a half-hour of play. The Dark Clouds have work to do.

Before the game, Burdine passed out copies of the “Jackassery Times Heckler,” a sort of hymnal for the Dark Clouds with lyrics to their repertoire. There are the classics, like “Lass from Overseas,” a tribute to their unofficial mascot, the Loch Ness Monster, sung to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (In the town where I was born/There came a lass from overseas/And she came to Minnesota/And her name was Nessie). And then there are the new ones, like the riff on Queen’s “We Are the Champions” (Miguel Ibarra’s my friend/And he’ll keep on fighting till the end).

They move from song to song, waving flags and scarves, screaming the lyrics as loud as they can to the boom of the bass drum and the sound of the trumpets.

As is customary, the Dark Clouds have done some research before the game and picked out one target who will be the subject of personal attack. It’s Edmonton’s goalie, Lance Parker, who at one time posed as an underwear model.

“I’ll buy your underpants, Lance!” yells a woman not 20 feet from Parker. “Take off your shirt, Lance! “Lance! Lance! Underpants!”

This is how the Dark Clouds help Minnesota United win matches.

“You have such an impact on the game,” says Ben Pfutzenreuter. “Anyone who chooses to stand in our section is there because they appreciate the fact that, in this sport, you’re going to influence what happens on the field. It’s a pretty exciting and fun kind of power trip.” Back in 2005, the Dark Clouds made the jump from unofficial fan club to legitimate business. They wanted to start selling merchandise, so they created an LLC and elected board members to run it.

Burdine started coming to games in 2010 after spending nights at the Sweetwater Bar in St. Paul watching the U.S. men’s team on a barstool next to McGuire. One rainy day in Blaine, a game was delayed for an hour and a half. Most of the stadium employees went home, including the concessions workers, so Burdine drove to the nearest liquor store, picked up a case of Grain Belt, and walked it into the stadium. “Those of us who remained just sat in the middle of the stands up in Blaine and just screamed our asses off,” says Burdine. “It was kind of ridiculously fun, and that’s what sealed it for me. I thought, ‘Now I get it.’”

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