'A special relationship': Fans are part of the game as Loons host first playoff match

Fans raise their arms and wave flags through a fog of smoke.
Loons fans cheer through a fog of smoke as Minnesota United players take the field to start their playoff game against the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

It was an hour before kickoff Sunday night, and Minnesota United fans already were packed into the Wonderwall.

That's the raucous section located behind one of the goals at Allianz Field, rising steeply up away from the field. There are no seats; all of the soccer fans crowded into the Wonderwall stand for the entire game.

"This section is where we get loud, we dance, we jump, we cheer for the Loons," said Minnesota United fan Eduardo Espinosa of Minneapolis.

And Sunday's game was one no Loons fan wanted to miss: Minnesota United's first-ever Major League Soccer playoff game, against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"You know, the atmosphere in a soccer game is like no other sport out there," said longtime Loons fan Charlie Callaghan, another longtime supporter of the team. "We’re not just sitting here watching the game — we are part of the game. The team will feed off of what we’re doing, up here, making our noise, and we feed off of what they’re doing. It’s a special relationship between a soccer fan and their soccer club."

That relationship is felt by relative newcomers, too — like Bryanna Reinsberg, who was sitting in the front row at Allianz Field.

"It’s the atmosphere and the crowd, and you just feel like a big family," she said. "I’m not like a sporty person I guess, but ever since we’ve been coming to soccer games I’ve been like hard-core into it."

Espinosa grew up watching a lot of soccer with his family in Minnesota. And he's proud of the Loons and their new venue that debuted this season.

"All you hear is Timberwolves, Vikings... Minnesota United is getting up there, we’re putting a name on ourselves for soccer," he said.

Hair grows in the shape of a loon on a bald man's head.
Derik Anderson's wife used her artistic skills to shave his head leaving only the shape of a loon. "I'll keep it as long as they keep winning," said Anderson, who was at Allianz Field for the Minnesota United's playoff game against the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.
Judy Griesedieck/Judy Griesedieck

As Sunday's game started, it got louder. The bleachers shook. Fans waved flags. Cheers continued almost non-stop.

The Loons played strong in the first half and at the start of the second half but were unable to score. The Galaxy struck first in the 71st minute, then added a second goal a few minutes later.

The Loons finally scored with about five minutes to play when Jan Gregus, a Slovakian midfielder, buried a long-distance shot. But the Loons couldn't score an equalizer.

"We didn’t score, they scored, that’s how it goes, a lot of opportunities," Gregus said after the game. "In my mind not a game that we should have lost."

United head coach Adrian Heath said he was proud of his team, but said they didn't display enough quality in the attacking third of the field. In other words, they blew a bunch of good scoring chances.

Fan reach over a barricade as a soccer player signs autographs.
Minnesota United goalie Vito Mannone signs autographs at the end of the Loons' first-round playoff loss to the L.A. Galaxy.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

The Loons improved this season by adding several key defensive players, including league defender of the year Ike Opara, and Italian goalkeeper Vito Mannone. But Heath said they will need to add more players next year, likely some goal scorers.

"If we stand still we’re going backwards," he said. "We have to bring quality players in."

Heath said the fans made a huge difference. This was only the second home game the Loons lost all year.

"I thought they were incredible, as they’ve been all season," he said. "They couldn’t have done any more to keep the guys going. So a bit disappointed for them."

And after the game, fans like Nach Karnik were disappointed, too.

"It’s emotional ... it’s hard to find the words right now, I’m just really sad," he said. "They had a great season, this is a beautiful stadium. I just hope next year we have a better time in it."

Karnik was among the fans who stayed in the Wonderwall long after the players had left the field Sunday night. They chanted, cheered and reminisced about a season they didn't want to see end so soon.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.