Gray Clouds honored soccer history in St. Paul before Allianz Field opens
ST. PAUL -- Little 15-month-old Andrew Fleischhacker-Hepp doesn’t know it yet, but he’s a third generation Minnesota pro soccer supporter whose lineage is literally stitched into the history of the game in the state.
His grandmother, Cherie Fleischhacker, sewed the first Dark Clouds flag to wave when the supporters group was getting off the ground and cheering on the Minnesota Thunder at St. Paul Central High School in 2004.
On Saturday, his mother and father, Amy Fleischhacker and Alex Happ, brought him to a tailgate party in the shadow of that old stadium and then to his — and everyone’s — first Minnesota United game at brand new Allianz Field.
The Fleischhackers were part of the 20 members of the Gray Clouds — an offshoot of the more-famous Minnesota United supporters group, the Dark Clouds — who paid homage to their roots at noon Saturday. They had a whiskey toast to late member Tom Donovan, and while no one shared a scoreline or memorable goals from previous games, they did reminisce on road trips to Minnesota pro soccer club in Portland, Ore., and Columbus, Ohio.
They planned to make more memories as part of the 19,796 fans at the Loons’ 3-3 tie with New York City on Saturday. A handful of them did a nearly two-mile march to the match from near James Griffin Stadium to Allianz Field. They wore scarves commemorating previous teams from the Thunder, Stars and United. One fan, Kevin Joseph, traveled in from San Diego.
When the Loons played two years at TCF Bank Stadium in 2017-18, while the $250 million soccer-specific stadium was being built, this group didn’t join their raucous brothers and sisters in the supporters section. They set up in Section 138 at the University of Minnesota stadium, where it was more chill.
“It was a changing of the guard, and the older guys moved off,” said longtime fan Neal Logan.
This shows that members of the Dark Clouds, estimated at 1,200 members in total, can be outside the rowdy 2,900-fans in south stand at the new stadium.
And little Andrew shows not all Gray Clouds are the old guard.
Minnesota United center back Ike Opara needed stitches on his head after a violent collision with New York City’s Valentin Castellanos, who was knocked unconscious, in the second half of Saturday’s tie. Woodbury native Brent Kallman came on as a substitute.
Earlier in the game, fellow center back Michael Boxall was hit in the head and broke his nose. And coming off comparatively unscathed was midfielder Rasmus Schuller, who had gauze in his left nostril after the game.
“People all played their hearts out out there,” United’s prinicipal owner Bill McGuire said. “That is the one thing I don’t mind — I hate losing in anything. But I most hate when people don’t leave it all on the field. … Everybody out there, both sides, both teams were running.”
Ibarra injury update
Miguel Ibarra’s hamstring injury kept him out of a second straight game Saturday. It was a bigger blow to the current player with the longest history with the Minnesota club.
“I was looking forward to specifically this game because of opening a new stadium, and unfortunately I couldn’t make it,” Ibarra, whose history with the club dates to 2012, told the Pioneer Press.
He remembers playing in front of 800 fans as a member of the Minnesota Stars in 2012. “Now, we’re here selling out games,” Ibarra said of the 19,796 fans at Saturday’s match, which included standing-room-only tickets.
Ibarra said he hopes to return to training with the club this week; the Loons (3-2-1) play Toronto FC (3-1-1) in Canada on Friday night.