MLS 2017, Minnesota is ready: exclusive interview with True North Elite got in touch with the True North Elite, one of the largest Minnesota United FC’ supporters group. The Loons are a completely new reality who is preparing to compete for the first time in the top flight of american soccer’s pyramid.

Thanks for your time and your availability. Introduce yourself and describe in few words your Supporter Club.
My name is James Norungolo. I joined True North Elite (TNE) in 2016 after starting to support Minnesota United FC in 2015. I am currently serving as TNE’s Co-Chair for Media and Front Office Communications. TNE was founded in 2015, and our DNA includes the most positive aspects of european supporter culture. By that, I mean we are a group that bring an edginess and passion to our support for the club, but in a way that is completely inclusive and that absolutely rejects violence. We do not tolerate discrimination on any grounds. We don’t care who you are, where you came from, whether you’re a long-time lover of soccer or completely new to the game. Anyone that wants to stand with us and support United are welcome to bring their energy and creativity to what we do. In some respects you could say that we may look and sound like Ultras: we will absolutely bring that kind of passion and give the opposing side all the stick we can during a match. But when the final whistle blows we’ll also happily head to our pub for a beer and invite the opposing supporters to come along.

How do you prepare Loons’ matches?
Well, as I think you know, we and the Club are starting our first year in TCF Bank Stadium, which is an excellent temporary home while our permanent ground in the Midway begins construction. So, in the same way that the players and staff will be learning how to put the best team on the pitch, we’re actively working to create the best possible match day experience. Our plans include establishing an official pub partner, and determining how our supporters will enter the stadium. Our intention is to continue growing TNE and for our members to gather both for home and away matches. We seemingly get inquiries every day now from people curious to learn what we’re about, and that’s exciting. When playing here, our group will gather at our pub to build spirit before we march in to the stadium as One. In our previous home, the “March to The Match” was a highlight of what we bring to the experience: Marching as one group with one voice. United. That will definitely be part of the matchday experience at TCF. We want to bring the same energy to away matches. Watch parties have been a big part of what we’re building at TNE, and we are taking that to a new level with our new pub partner. Home or away, we want TNE to be about coming together to support our boys in Black and Blue.

We know distances between the teams are enormous and hard to cover every two weeks. As a supporter club, do you always follow the Loons on away games?
We know that our pub partner will air all away matches, so many of us will gather there to support the club when they are away from home. This has been our practice even in the previous years when the club were in NASL. Watch parties are important events. Supporting our Loons is our mission no matter where they play. And while the distances between clubs are larger than in the European leagues, some of our rivals are within fairly easy driving distance. TNE members are already locking in plans to invade Kansas City, Colorado, and Chicago during the season, and about 150 Supporters are flying out to Portland for our first ever MLS match with the Timbers.

There are other United supporter groups. Is there a cooperation, a partnership or every club do the “work” all by itself?
What’s cool about our community is that we have more than one supporter group. We tip our hats to Dark Clouds, who are by far the longest tenured supporter club, backing the team through multiple iterations. We may take a somewhat different approach to how we make our mark, but at the end of the day we all have the same goal: massive success for the club on and off the pitch. At TCF Bank Stadium, all the supporter groups will be occupying the same end, and we are working cooperatively to achieve those goals.

Minnesota is new in the MLS: which do you think will be the rivalries between your team and the others?
Sporting KC are automatically going to move toward the top in the rivalry ranking. They are close enough geographically for opposing fans to make the away trip, we are sitting in the same conference, and there is a history between the clubs, having faced each other in the US Open Cup twice in the last three years. Another close geographic rival will be Chicago Fire. Many of us are planning to journey to Chicago for our match there this season. It’s too bad we currently sit in different conferences, which will limit how often we see them, but as the league continues expanding hopefully we will see Chicago more often. The rest of the rivalries? I imagine one or two hard tackles will help us figure out who we hate most!

Atlanta United is the other new franchise but it was much more “advertised” than Minnesota. How do you feel about that?
I’ll simply say this: Atlanta had much more of head start in planning for their entry to MLS. We had an active club fighting in a different competition until last October. We’ve had to repurpose in a pretty short time frame. Atlanta have made more noise with their Deisgnated Players signings and with Tata having been brought in to manage. Yet, we have a Gaffer, in Adrien Heath, that has proven he knows how to construct a roster to compete and win in North America. And I am cautiously optimistic about the attacking talent we’ve assembled. At the end of the day, results on the pitch are what matter, not press clippings.

Your personal opinion about the new jerseys. Do you prefer the old ones?
Much as with the roster, the League, Adidas, and the Club were operating on a compressed timeline to design and produce kits for the first season. That may have limited the design options in this inaugural season, but I think we in True North Elite feel the end product looks quite sharp. We already know that we have the best crest in all of North American soccer. We have a brilliant new home on the horizon. We have confidence in the management and vision. No matter what the shirt, we support the crest and the club. We stay True.

A new stadium is in the next future. Where will it be build? And how much excited is the community about that?
The new stadium will likely begin construction this spring. It will be situated in an area of St. Paul, Minnesota known as the Midway, given its location between the two downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. As I said, when you see the drawings for this building, it will truly be right at the top of soccer stadiums in North America. So that’s immensely exciting, and those of us who are paying attention, especially among the supporter groups such as True North Elite and Dark Clouds, understand how special this will be. The design includes a South End for supporters that will feature safe standing, and I think that will be an immense benefit. On our own scale, in time I envision the same type of passion and energy as Dortmund’s famed “Yellow Wall”.

Tell us one thing to convince us to come to the TCF Bank Stadium instead of another stadium in the MLS.
Followers of MLS will think of Minnesota United FC as a “new” team, but our legacy extends back to the old Minnesota Thunder days of the early 1990s. This story has twists and turns, but we’ve returned, for the first time since the Kicks folded in the early 1980s, to the top echelon of US Soccer. This new chapter in TCF is going to be a brief way point on the way to the final destination. The stadium we are building will be the jewel of North America. Ownership, the supporter groups, and the community are creating something exciting. We’ve a got a side comprised of players from all over the globe, playing the world’s game, in the Heart of the Twin Cities. Passionate supporters. You want to be here. Now.

What is your personal forecast for the 2017 season?
Look. We are a first year club in an established league, one with world class players. I think keys for us are going to be how quickly our players build understanding with one another, and the cohesiveness we can develop along the spine of the team. If we can limit defensive lapses and hold our goals conceded down, then I think we have a chance to post a very respectable record. Get us to the summer transfer window, fortify where needed, and see if we can fight for that last playoff spot in the west. I’m not going to predict we are a playoff team in our first season, but we will not finish at the bottom of the conference. thanks James Norungolo and the entire True North Elite again for the willingness and the promptness of the answers and for the pictures in the article. If you want to follow them here are the links of their social accounts:

TWITTER: @TrueNorthElite


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