|Full name||Minnesota Thunder|
|Stadium||National Sports Center
|League||USL First Division|
|2009||Regular Season: 8th
Minnesota Thunder was an American professional soccer team based in Minnesota, United States. Founded in 1990, the team played in the USL First Division (USL-1), the second tier of the American Soccer Pyramid, until 2009. The team played its home games at the National Sports Center in nearby Blaine, Minnesota for its final two seasons. The team's colors were navy blue, light blue, silver, and white.
The team had a development team, Rochester Thunder, which independently played in USL Premier Development League for another season after the Thunder folded, and a sister organization, the Minnesota Lightning, which played in the women's USL W-League.
Before the Thunder
Prior to the Minnesota Thunder forming in 1990 Minnesota had two former professional soccer teams. After two seasons as the Denver Dynamos the franchise was purchased by Minnesota investors and became the Minnesota Kicks. The Minnesota Kicks played the state's first professional soccer game in May 1976 to a crowd of over twenty thousand at Metropolitan Stadium. The team survived for six seasons competing in the North American Soccer League before folding after the 1981 season. After two years without a team the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were moved to Minnesota becoming the Minnesota Strikers in 1984. The team played one season in the NASL before transferring to the Major Indoor Soccer League. The team disbanded in 1988 after the 1987–1988 season.
Independent era (1990–1993)
The team was founded as an all star team in 1990. The team was composed of top amateur and former professional players who were mostly in their late 20s or early 30s. The team was coached by then Saint Paul Academy soccer coach Buzz Lagos. The team scheduled five exhibition games against teams in the American Pro Soccer League. At the time the goal was to eventually get a semipro soccer team for the Twin Cities.
The Thunder operated on a budget of $35,000 dollars in their first year paying no salaries. The budget mainly supported stadium rental at the National Sports Center, office rental and promotions. In the first season the team played against the amateur Madison 56ers, professional San Francisco Bay Blackhawks and Winnipeg Fury and the indoor professional Chicago Power and Milwaukee Wave. Attendance averaged around 1,000 fans a game.
In the first season the team lost around $12,000. The next year, 1991, with the help of corporate sponsors Rainbow Foods, Kemps, and Liberty State Bank, the team played an expanded schedule with a record of eight victories and three ties losing $10,000 in the process. The following year the team added four more corporate sponsors and expected to lose about $5,000 with a budget of $45,000 By their third season the team became a model for teams in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Canada due to their competitive schedule, reasonable budget and fan base. As an amateur team, the Thunder was responsible for an opponent's hotel, food and lodging for each road trip. The team was undefeated through their first twenty games.
Buzz Lagos era (1994–2005)
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On November 13, 1993 the Thunder announced its intention to join the U.S. Interregional Soccer League. The team joined the Midwest Region and retained their amateur status for the 1994 season. The team finished the year 25–2 losing in a sudden-death shootout to the Greensboro Dynamo in the championship game. The team became professional for the 1995 season.
On July 15, 2004 coach Buzz Lagos earned his 300th victory. It was his 123rd since the Thunder joined the A-League in 1997. Lagos improved his record to 300–127–31 all-time as coach of the Thunder. Five days later Lagos led the Thunder to their first victory over a MLS team in a nonexhibtion game. The Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy in fourth round U.S. Open Cup game played to 5,505 fans at the Metrodome. The 2004 season holds the highest average attendance with 4,400 over 14 home games.
The 2005 season brought many changes to the Thunder. The Thunder's A-League and the lower Pro Soccer League were reorganized. The Thunder were placed in the twelve team First Division which previously had sixteen teams. Additionally, the team was sold to an ownership led by majority owner Saeed Kadkhodaian. These changes led to Buzz Lagos announcing on August 1, 2005 that he would retire as coach after sixteen season. Lagos cited wanting to spend more time with his family as the main reason to retiring. On October 12, 2005 Amos Magee became the second head coach in the history of the Thunder. The Thunder also purchased a W-League team in 2005. The team was eventually named the Minnesota Lightning in 2006 before their opening season. 2005 was the only season the Thunder turned a profit, making $6,000 which was immediately paid in taxes to the state of Minnesota.
Final Years (2005–2009)
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Beginning in August 2007 the team spent $400,000 on a beer garden called the Thunder Lounge and started the Minnesota Thunder Academy. The team also founded the Rochester Thunder in the Premier Development League.
In November 2009 the Thunder announced their intent to leave the USL First Division to become the co-founders of a new North American Soccer League.
Minnesota's participation in this new league was, however, not to be. In early November 2009 they released all players from their contracts, partly in response to heavy debts and unpaid bills, including wages. The organization was operating with a skeleton staff of 3 people as they tried to reorganize in their final days.
Colors and badge
A new logo using the colors of navy blue, light blue, and silver was unveiled for the 2008 season. The identity was designed by the Minneapolis design firm Capsule.
The previous Thunder badge incorporated the logo of a capital 'T' and an active soccer ball on a shield reading "Minnesota Thunder". When on the team uniform, it also is adorned atop by a gold star commemorating the 1999 championship season.
The initial Thunder crest was a soccer ball with a thunderbolt crossing it followed by the text "Minnesota Thunder."
When the team became a professional organization, a new logo was created, consisting of an image of the state of Minnesota background with a soccer ball and thunderbolt imposed upon it.
In 2002, the Thunder undertook a marketing re-branding endeavor, where a new logo was created consisting of a soccer ball with movement lines and a T below the words of team's name.
In 2006, a new navy and gold "shield" logo was created by the Minneapolis design firm CAPSULE.
- National Sports Center; Blaine, Minnesota (1990–2003, 2008–2009)
- James Griffin Stadium; St. Paul, Minnesota (2004–2007)
- Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome; Minneapolis, Minnesota 2 games (2004–2005)
- Macalester Stadium at Macalester College; St. Paul, Minnesota 1 game (2004)
- Stadium at Stillwater High School; Oak Park Heights, Minnesota 1 game (2004)
The Thunder's first home field was the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota where they played until 2003. In 2003 the Thunder wanted to reduce the number of home games played at the National Sports Center to seven. The Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission which owns the National Sports Center was not comfortable with the idea so the Thunder decided to look elsewhere. Their three year lease expired in 2003 leaving them open to search for other facilities for 2004. At the time revenue from the Thunder accounted for less than one percent of the National Sports Center's total revenue. Barclay Kruse, the associate director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission described the situation as, "The best way to describe it is that we're disappointed."
In 2004 the Thunder played home matches at James Griffin Stadium, also known as "The Jimmy", in St Paul. The move to this stadium in central Saint Paul was made in an attempt to reduce overhead costs and market to a more urban and ethnic crowd. According to then president and general manager Jim Froslid some of the deciding were being on a bus line (mass transit does not go to Blaine) and being accessible to the ethnic community. Fan surveys indicated that they would attend more games if the Thunder played in a more central location.
On May 12, 2008, they returned to the National Sports Center with a lease until 2011. At the time the Thunder was the only team in the USL to not play in a soccer specific stadium and the only team that played on with painted American football lines.
The Metrodome was occasionally used as a home field. Macalester Stadium at Macalester College in St. Paul was also used for games in the past. While playing at the National Sports Center the Thunder traditionally played several games a year in other locations notably Macalester College or Eastview High School in Apple Valley.
There was a group of active fans loosely grouped under the name The Dark Clouds. The supporters would typically tailgate before the game and during halftime, sit behind the opposing bench during games, stand and chant throughout the game, and occasionally travel with the team on road games. For the 2009 season an additional supporters section was added in the North End of the stadium adjacent to the new beer garden. This section was dubbed, "Stand Du Nord" and is home to additional supporters groups including The Dale Weiler Fan Club and The Damagers.
Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.
- See also: All-time Minnesota Thunder roster
Hall of Fame
The following people have been inducted into the Minnesota Thunder Hall of Fame:
- Tony Pesznecker Inducted 1996
- Tony Sanneh Inducted 1996
- Manuel Lagos Inducted 1996
- John Swallen Inducted 2002
- Gerard Lagos Inducted 2002
- Tom Engstrom Inducted 2003
- Don Gramenz Inducted 2004
- Buzz Lagos Inducted 2005
- Amos Magee Inducted 2005
- Bill George Inducted 2006
|Year||Division||League||Reg. Season||Playoffs||Open Cup||Avg. Attendance|
|1994||2||USISL||1st, Midwest||Final||Did not enter|
|1995||2||USISL Pro League||1st, Midwest East||Final||Did not qualify|
|1996||2||USISL Select League||2nd, Central||Semifinals||Did not qualify|
|1997||2||USISL A-League||5th, Central||Did not qualify||Did not qualify||3,852|
|1998||2||USISL A-League||2nd, Central||Final||Did not qualify||3,543|
|1999||2||USL A-League||1st, Central||Champion||2nd Round||3,126|
|2000||2||USL A-League||1st, Central||Final||3rd Round||3,588|
|2001||2||USL A-League||6th, Western||Did not qualify||Did not qualify||3,512|
|2002||2||USL A-League||2nd, Central||Conference Semifinals||3rd Round||3,862|
|2003||2||USL A-League||2nd, Central||Final||3rd Round||4,101|
|2004||2||USL A-League||3rd, Western||Quarterfinals||Quarterfinals||2,961|
|2005||2||USL First Division||10th||Did not qualify||Semifinals||3,135|
|2006||2||USL First Division||12th||Did not qualify||2nd Round||2,925|
|2007||2||USL First Division||11th||Did not qualify||2nd Round||3,151|
|2008||2||USL First Division||7th||Quarterfinals||2nd Round||3,573|
|2009||2||USL First Division||8th||Did not qualify||3rd Round||3,209|
- USL A-League
- Winners (1): 1999
- Runners-up (3): 1998, 2000, 2003
- Midwest Division Champions (1): 1994*
- Midwest East Division Champions (1): 1995*
- Central Division Champions (2): 1999, 2000
- U.S. Open Cup
- Semifinals (1): 2005
- Quarterfinals (1): 2004
- USISL Sizzling Nine Championship
- Runners-up (2): 1994, 1995
- Rippel, Joel A. (2003). 75 memorable moments in Minnesota sports. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 161–162. ISBN 0-87351-475-0. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
- Patrick Reusse; Rippel, Joel A. (2006). Minnesota sports almanac: 125 glorious years. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-558-7. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
- Even now, with the Thunder, the biggest stars are former Minnesota pro soccer stars Neil Roberts and Tony Peszekar, plusformer Yale and Los Angeles Kings' hockey player Peter Sawkins. Add in Buzz Lagos' two boys, Gerald and Manuel, and Wisconsin's John Menk, and Peterson, again, is well down the totem pole.
- Holston, Noel (July 7, 1990) "Soccer: A beautiful game – Despite lack of TV exposure, role models, American kids flocking to the sport" Star Tribune
- Hallman, Charley (June 23, 1990) "NO JOB IS TOO HIGH A RISK FOR PETERSON" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Brackin, Dennis (August 3, 1990) "Sunny outlook – Thunder awaits soccer boom" Star Tribune "The APSL has one large void: the Midwest. Engstrom and Lagos would like to see their team included in a Midwest amateur divisional format by next summer. Within a couple of years, they envision the Thunder playing in a third division of the APSL. "We'll have to see what happens," Engstrom said. "We're just trying to go at this in a responsible manner."
- Leighton, Tim (July 17, 1992) "THUNDER FILL SOCCER NEED IN MINNESOTA" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Pate, Eric T. (July 30, 1992) "Thunder storms past foes – Soccer team's players in it only for love of game" Star Tribune
- Zavoral, Nolan (November 14, 1993) "Thunder to join league in '94" Star Tribune
- Leighton, Time (November 14, 1993) "THUNDER, ENVISIONING PRO FUTURE, JOIN 72-TEAM SOCCER LEAGUE" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Leighton, Time (August 17, 1994 )"THUNDER AIM FOR BIG TIME//INVESTORS NEEDED FOR MAJOR STEP UP" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Zgoda, Jerry (April 19, 1995) "Thunder hits higher level – USISL champs to compete in 50-team pro league" Star Tribune
- "THUNDER WILL OPEN FIRST PRO SEASON IN FLORIDA" (January 14, 1995) Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Rand, Michael (July 16, 2004) "Thunder's Lagos gets 300th victory" Star Tribune
- "LAGOS EARNS 300TH VICTORY AS THUNDER WIN AT HOME" (July 16, 2004) Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- LEIGHTON, Tim (July 21, 2004) "THUNDER COME OUT SWINGING FOR FIRST WIN OVER MLS TEAM" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Gomez, Brian (July 21, 2004) "It's a first for the Thunder – Victory over Los Angeles is first ever over an MLS team" Star Tribune
- Leighton, Tim (April 30, 2011). "A lasting shining star? – State's pro soccer team more stable financially, eager to win back fans". Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
- "THUNDER TO PLAY IN USL'S TOP DIVISION" (November 11, 2004)Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Rand, Michael (November 11, 2004) "Thunder's league is reorganized" Star Tribune
- Spiros, Dean (August 2, 2005). "Thunder's Lagos to retire – Buzz Lagos , one of the founders of the Thunder and the only coach the soccer team has ever had, says he's going to spend more time with his family.". Star Tribune
- Richardson, Ray (August 2, 2005). "LAGOS TO LEAVE AFTER THIS SEASON – HE HAS BEEN THUNDER'S ONLY COACH". Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- "Sports Briefs" (August 4, 2005) Duluth News Tribune
- Leighton, Time (October 12, 2005) "THUNDER CALL TEAM'S TOP SCORER 'COACH' NOW – MAGEE WILL REPLACE LAGOS NEXT SEASON" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Leighton, Tim (November 5, 2005) "WOMEN'S SOCCER TEAM SET" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- "THUNDER AND LIGHTNING MARK SOCCER MARRIAGE" (January 31, 2006) Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- La Vaque, David (July 20, 2009). "Thunder weathering storm of cash-flow concerns" . Star Tribune
- Leighton, Tim (April 16, 1995) "THUNDER TURN AGGRESSIVE OFF FIELD, TOO" Saint Paul Pioneer Press
- Rand, Michael (September 5, 2003) "Thunder seeks new home field – Team ending relationship with NSC" Star Tribune
- Xiong, Chao (April 14, 2004) "Ready to ride again – Bus users eager to resume their former routines" Star Tribune ``One of the deciding factors was being on a bus line and being more accessible to the growing ethnic community, said Jim Froslid, president and general manager. ``When we were in Blaine, we would receive a minimum of five calls a game from a person with a Latino accent asking, what bus line do they take to get to Blaine? Our reluctant reply was always: `The bus does not go to Blaine.'
- Kennedy, Paul (October 23, 2003) "The good, the bad and the ugly". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved on July 1, 2009
- La Vaque, David. (May 12, 2008) "Thunder bolting St. Paul, returning to former home in Blaine immediately."Star Tribune. Retrieved on July 1, 2009
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