Dark Clouds: Embedded with Minnesota's misfit fans

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

The governors meeting was a week away, meaning it might have been the team’s last championship home game, so the Dark Clouds were in full force. They set up a six-foot cardboard cutout of the Loch Ness Monster across the stadium wall, and lit up enough road flares that it looked like the place was on fire. When the Stars scored the game-winning goal in the last minute, the players ran over to the stands, and the Dark Clouds literally spilled out over the wall in celebration, screaming and hugging the players.

“That was my first exposure to the Dark Clouds,” says McGuire. “Seeing these folks chanting and having a good time and singing their songs and smoke going off.”

McGuire was intrigued, but a deal was far from complete. By the weekend of the governors meeting in Tampa Bay, no paperwork had been signed. The Stars were playing the final leg of the championship in Florida, and the meeting was to take place the same day. The reality was clear: The Stars could win the championship for the second consecutive year, and fold the very same weekend.

Wes Burdine wears the symbol of the Red Loon, the Marxist sect of the Dark Clouds.
Mark Vancleave
Wes Burdine wears the symbol of the Red Loon, the Marxist sect of the Dark Clouds.
Fans chant and play music in support of Minnesota United.
Mark Vancleave
Fans chant and play music in support of Minnesota United.

The Stars ended up losing to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. After the Rowdies finished celebrating, Downs saw Bucholz wandering around the field. Downs was getting ready to retire as commissioner, so he approached Bucholz to thank him and say goodbye.

“He says, ‘David, I just came out of the locker room, and they’re still sitting in the locker room in their uniforms beating their heads against the locker doors,’” recalls Downs. “They think they not only lost the title game in dramatic fashion, but they think they lost the city of Minneapolis a soccer franchise.”

Downs walked into the Stars’ locker room to address the team. There was nothing signed, but he could feel in his bones that it was going to get done.

“Look, we’re really, really close, but I don’t have a deal I can announce yet, so I can’t promise anything,” he told them. “But the fact of the matter is, you’ve done your city proud.”

Less than two weeks later, before the ink was even dry on the contract, McGuire held a press conference at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis to announce that he’d bought the team.

“It was a unique time,” says head coach Manny Lagos. “It was a tough and frustrating time. And I think when you get to a point where there’s so much uncertainty, it’s just overwhelming and gratifying to have somebody who’s not just from the outside, but believes in Minnesota.”

The elated Dark Clouds presented Bill with a care package: an embroidered Dark Clouds scarf and a pack of hot nuts.

Two weeks after the Edmonton game, the Dark Clouds are back at the Nomad, pregaming for an evening match against the Carolina Railhawks. Burdine produces the most recent copy of the Jackassery Times Heckler and turns to a picture of this week’s target, a young defender for Carolina with shoulder-length blond hair.

“Paul Hamilton’s our man today,” explains Burdine. “He’s got Mmbop hair. He also tried to kill one of our players.”

Today’s method of attack is a song from an episode of Flight of the Conchords: Paul Hamilton, you’re so beautiful, you could be a part-time model/But you’d probably still have to keep your normal job.

The Dark Clouds have been on a high since McGuire announced he was buying the team last fall. Though it’s only the beginning of the season, McGuire has already begun to transform the team’s image. He’s built up the front office from six people to two dozen, and launched a widespread marketing campaign to draw a larger crowd, including rebranding to Minnesota United FC and hosting the first five home games at the Dome, rather than the usual Blaine stadium. He’s also scored points with the Dark Clouds by keeping Lagos on as coach and occasionally soliciting them for advice, one time even showing up for beers at the Republic on the West Bank.

But there is still some uncertainty about the future of the team. Since the stadium vote, Wilf has been silent on any plans to bring an MLS team to Minnesota, making fans skeptical that he’s serious. If a team does come to the new stadium, many in the Dark Clouds are hopeful that Minnesota United could make the jump to the upper division league, rather than bringing in a new team.

Asked about the potential Wilf factor, McGuire won’t speculate. “I don’t know,” he says. “We’ll see. Right now, we’re going to put the best product and the best experience out there for the people, and we’ll see what that does. We intend to have a very strong team and a very strong program here.”

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