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National Sports Center Announces New Professional Soccer Team

2010 January 7
by Brian Quarstad

NSC_MN_LogoBLAINE, Minn. (January 7, 2010) – The National Sports Center (NSC) announced that it will form a new professional soccer team that will begin play this April as a member of a professional soccer league made up of teams from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and the North American Soccer League (NASL).

The league will be a unified United States Soccer Federation (USSF)-sanctioned division II league. The league will occupy the second tier of professional soccer in the United States and Canada, just one tier below Major League Soccer (MLS).

The league will consist of two six-team conferences – the USL Conference and the NASL Conference. The USL Conference will include teams from Austin, Minnesota, Portland (Ore.), Puerto Rico, Rochester (N.Y.) and Tampa Bay. The NASL Conference will consist of teams from Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Montreal, St. Louis and Vancouver.

The new team, which has yet to be officially named, will be based at the NSC and will play home games at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine. The new team will replace the Minnesota Thunder at the division II level.

The National Sports Center is the largest athletic complex of its kind in the world, boasting 52 soccer fields and over 3.8 million annual visitors. It is the most-visited sports facility in Minnesota. The new team will play some of its home games during the NSC’s major youth tournaments to take advantage of the huge attendance base of youth players already attending NSC tournaments, such as Schwan’s USA CUP in July, the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere with nearly 1,000 teams.

The National Sports Center board of directors has approved ownership of the team. Kris Bjerkness, the NSC’s Chief Administrative Officer, has been designated to organize the new team. The NSC has also contracted with Manny Lagos to be the Director of Soccer Operations.

“The NSC believes that professional soccer plays a critical role in advancing soccer at all levels all across the state,” said Bjerkness. “At the urging of many of our colleagues in soccer, the NSC has decided to step in to preserve professional soccer in Minnesota.”

Bjerkness added that the new team would focus on delivering the highest-quality fan experience by fielding the most competitive team possible, actively listening to fan comments and suggestions, and sending players into the community to work with youth sports groups, including youth soccer camps. “Our success depends on fans having a good experience, seeing their game played well, on their home field.”

“We are very respectful of the long, proud history of professional soccer in Minnesota from the Minnesota Kicks, Strikers, Thunder, and now this new team,” said Bjerkness. “There are over 100,000 registered soccer players in the state, and many times that number of passionate fans of the sport. We want to renew and build on that passion and preserve top-quality professional soccer for all the fans in the state.”

Over the next few weeks, the team will announce plans for a team-naming contest and the schedule for a series of “soccer summits” to collect fan ideas and suggestions.

Bjerkness and Lagos are currently attending this weekend’s North American Soccer League general league meeting and MLS College Draft Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

This will be a brand new team and organization. There are no formal ties between the new NSC team and the old Minnesota Thunder.

About the National Sports Center:
The National Sports Center (NSC) is a 600-acre multi-sport facility located in Blaine, Minnesota. The campus includes the Schwan Super Rink, an eight-sheet ice arena that is the world’s largest ice facility; a 8,500-seat soccer stadium; the Schwan Center meeting and convention building; a multi-faceted family golf center; the National Youth Golf Center, which features the 18-hole Victory Links course; an indoor Sports Hall with a FieldTurf field; 150-bed residence hall and 52 soccer fields. The facility hosts nearly 300 events and nearly four million visitors annually, and has welcomed over 32 million visitors since its opening in 1990. The NSC generates over $37 million in annual out-of-state economic impact.

19 Responses
  1. Allen permalink
    January 7, 2010

    Been out of the loop…. so the Thunder are gone? Caput? Done-for? No more?

  2. January 7, 2010

    Yup, check the archives of this website for MN Thunder

  3. Dave DuJour permalink
    January 7, 2010

    @Allen: This is probably the most relevant and recent article. There’s been an almost amazing amount of silence from the (former) Thunder owner(s) however.

  4. January 7, 2010

    Great news for soccer fans in the Twin Cities

  5. Zlatan permalink
    January 7, 2010

    Good news for MN soccer fans that there will be a team to watch in 2010. Not sure about the chances of financial, on the field success, or long term viability, given their ownership configuration and selection of management. I honestly hope they do succed in all three, but not sure of their chances.

    BQ, have you heard anything from the Thunder, at all? Are they declaring bankruptcy? Are they being pursued by their creditors? What does Manny have to say about the Thunder?

  6. smatthew permalink
    January 7, 2010

    What a great, great day it has been.

  7. January 7, 2010

    Zlatan, I had a nice meeting with Manny yesterday. I hope to schedule an interview with him next week where we can talk more about his role with the team.

    I really don’t know where the Thunder and Dean Johnson are at other than to say he owes a lot of money to a lot of people and I’m sure most of them are pursuing recovery of that money.

  8. January 7, 2010

    They Kept Manny! Hopefully that’s good :).

    I’m glad I’ll have reason to go to Blaine on nice evenings this summer :). When does the naming contest begin? How soon until a schedule is released?

  9. Soccer Boy permalink
    January 7, 2010

    They have a great beer garden. Now they just need a real scoreboard.

  10. January 7, 2010

    They are going to hammer out details of the schedule this week.

    Naming contest to start very soon. Watch here for details.

    I know there are mixed feelings for some concerning Manny. I think it’s a good thing. Who else is the state is as qualified as he is to know and scout talent and to have contacts across the US and Canada. Manny will not be running the operational side of things. Kris Bjerkness will be doing that as GM more or less. Manny’s role I believe is much more specific with the NSC.

  11. January 7, 2010

    This has already been addressed. I think the comment I left them the other night and that may have come from my editor Teresa was, “I just want a scoreboard big enough that when the NSC golf cart parks in front of it, that I can still how much time is left in the game.”

  12. Jim permalink
    January 7, 2010

    Brian, I see the team is going to be at the NASL general meeting. Is this where they are planning on playing beyond 2010?

  13. fotbalist permalink
    January 7, 2010

    Great! Great! Great! See you all at the games!

  14. January 7, 2010

    Yes, that has been there desire pretty much from the beginning. They just were holding their cards until US Soccer came in with a decision or in this case a resolution.

  15. Demolition Man permalink
    January 8, 2010

    Thank you so much Brian for all the news and updates. IMS Forever… see you at the NSC this Spring!

  16. Wayne permalink
    January 8, 2010

    I realize that Manny is THE soccer guy in MN. But can’t we bring in some fresh blood to run the team? He presided over the demise of the under-funded Thunder, lost some of his own money and convinced other Thunder employees to cover some of their own expenses, with the strong possibility of never seeing that money again.

    I don’t understand why we can’t bring in someone new and let Manny get a fresh start somewhere else.

  17. Rafael permalink
    January 8, 2010

    Call the Governor and ask him if he know that the state now owns a soccer team…tax dollars at work

  18. Super Rookie permalink
    January 8, 2010


    No tax dollars were spent on this team. Please do your homework before making generalized, and incorrect assertions.

  19. January 8, 2010

    That IS NOT correct Rafael. The NSC is a non-profit organization to The MN Amateur Sports Commission that oversees them is a governmental agency. From an earlier article:

    “The NSC has a contract with MASC to operate the facility. With that, the NSC has reasonable latitude to create and run programs and contract with others to lease the facilities just as in the case of the Thunder who have leased the facility. From a public policy point of view, the purpose of owning this team will be to enhance the existing programs of the NSC. One of the State’s goals is to increase sports tourism. For NSC, it’s easier to promote a youth tournament with the ability to experience a high level soccer team when many of the markets like Montana, Wisconsin or the Dakotas don’t have that. Going back to the third goal, I also think it would be appropriate to have this unique model where the NSC would invite select private investors to be part of the direction of the team and also have the opportunity for private citizens and fans, on a smaller entry level point, to also be owners. The team’s finances would be segregated from the rest of NSC so investors and share holders would only own part of the team and not the NSC.” Paul Erickson

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