National Sports Center Announces New Professional Soccer Team
BLAINE, 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.