Bruce McGuire on the joy of soccer, the rise of American fandom, and Minnesota 'permanence'

Bruce McGuire, named the Twin Cities' "Best Sports Fan" by Minneapolis-St. Paul’s City Pages, has a background in the game that is both unique and reflective of the rise of American soccer fandom over the last few decades. McGuire, who became nationally known in the soccer community with his duNord blog, was instrumental in connecting fans with Minnesota United ownership, who adopted their suggestions in the design of the MLS team’s new stadium, Allianz Field, which made a spectacular debut last weekend.

A German immigrant, Alex Becker, introduced McGuire to soccer.

BRUCE McGUIRE: He’s the one who turned us on to soccer initially. Between him and his family and my family, we all went to see the Minnesota Kicks [of the old NASL], who arrived in 1976 when I was 14.

Before he taught us the game, I don’t think I ever heard of it or had seen a soccer ball. He’s the one who started the first team in my neighborhood. It was pretty great.

Soccer delivered a kind of joy that McGuire hadn’t found in other sports.

BRUCE McGUIRE: I played a lot of sports. My big sports were basketball and American football. I was good at them. I played all the time. I played on teams that won, so I enjoyed it quite a bit.

But when Mr. Becker put that ball down and we started playing, I took to it immediately and I really liked it. There was something about the way he coached and the way he treated us that was very different from the coaches I had in the sports I played.

I did not like the American coaches I had in other sports. I thought they were all kind of tyrannical and extremely uncool. And here was someone who wanted to do a sport for the joy of it rather than the bombardment and the destruction of the other team.

And it really just hit me right. I never knew I was that kind of kid until I experienced that. I’m like, Yeah, I dig this. This is why we should be doing this stuff. This is fun. I just got lucky. I got the right coach.

The Minnesota Kicks lasted until 1981. In 1977 and 1978, their average attendance exceeded 30,000.

BRUCE McGUIRE: The crowds in Minnesota were good. The atmosphere was just right. It made it pretty easy to get turned on by it.

We saw a really fantastic game here, Minnesota vs. the New York Cosmos [1978]. It’s the opening scene of the Cosmos documentary, “Once in a Lifetime.”

It’s in the pouring rain. In the playoffs. And Minnesota wins the game, 9-2, [in front of 45,863]. And Alan Willey scores five goals. That’s pretty incredible when you’re a kid to go to a sporting event like that. That can have a big impact on you.

The inspiration of South African Ace Ntsoelengoe.

BRUCE McGUIRE: The other player who really changed everything for me and turned me into a massive fan was Ace Ntsoelengoe -- because he played differently. The team was a whole lot of English guys. They played that very 1970s English style. And then there’s Ace in the middle of it all, in the center of the midfield. He just did everything differently from everybody else.

He was incredible and he made it look so effortless. He’s the first guy I ever saw take long-distance shots. His shots were ferocious, and it looked like he didn’t even try.

When he scored one of those long-range laser goals -- I was so blown away that a player could do that. I remember going back to my club team and trying that immediately. I had been a defender, and then, no, no, no, I’m moving up the field. I need to be in shooting range.

A dose of international soccer came with the PBS’s weekly “Soccer Made in Germany” with Toby Charles.

BRUCE McGUIRE: We thought that was pretty tremendous. I’ve always been able to test people my age to see if they watched that show or not, because if you watched it, you could pronounce Borussia Moenchengladbach. And if you didn’t watch it, you stumble all over it.

The Kicks folded in 1981. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers moved to Minnesota in 1984 but the NASL folded after that season.

BRUCE McGUIRE: The NASL folding coincided with me taking a deep dive into my own personal life and sports went by the wayside. I had always been a music fanatic too, and by 1984 I was heading deep into trying to work in the music business. I went for it completely. For the 16 years, through the year 2000, I was in the music business in a big way.

I worked at Warner Brothers. I had a job that people referred to as A&R. It’s an old-timey job. It means artists and repertoire. You’re going out finding the artists and you’re helping them make their records and helping deliver them to the rest of the record company so they can go out and market it.

McGuire did follow the USA’s successful qualifying campaign for the 1990 World Cup, the 1994 World Cup that the USA hosted, and would catch games during his travels in the music business.

BRUCE McGUIRE: I went to the USA game in the L.A. Coliseum in 1998 when they beat Brazil 1-0 on a Preki goal and Kasey Keller had that amazing performance.

That was the kind of luck I had. I’d be in a city and have a free night and there’d be a game. Let’s go. But it was always last-minute.

In 1996 when MLS was born, I would be in different cities and if there were games, I would go see the Galaxy play, or the Columbus Crew. After a few years, I went to my first Chicago Fire game. MLS definitely got my attention.

During that whole time too, from 1990 to 2000, when I had enough time to be in Minneapolis, I would see a Minnesota Thunder [A-League], game, but it was few and far between.

Bruce McGuire, flanked by head coach Manny Lagos (left) and assistant coach Carl Craig after the NSC Minnesota Stars 2011 NASL championship win. (Photo by Jeremy Olson)

Bruce McGuire’s great games that he attended
USA 1-0 Brazil. 1998 Gold Cup semifinals at the Los Angeles Coliseum (Kasey Keller played the game of his life and Preki got the game-winning goal)
NSC Minnesota Stars 3-1 Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Two-leg NASL Cup final 2011 at National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota and Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
USA 1-1 Italy. 2006 World Cup group stage in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Minnesota Kicks 9-2 New York Cosmos. 1978 NASL playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota with Alan Willey scoring five goals
Minnesota Thunder 6-4 Real Salt Lake, Thunder 4-1 Colorado Rapids, Kansas City Wizards 1-3 Thunder.  2005 US Open Cup -- the Thunder defeating three MLS teams in a row to get to the semifinals where it lost to the Galaxy 5-2 in Los Angeles.

When he left the music business in 2000, McGuire would go more often to Minnesota Thunder games.

BRUCE McGUIRE: I started paying a lot more attention and went to several more. And started meeting people. Up until then, I would go to a lot of games by myself, and occasionally drag someone with me, who was usually slightly reluctant. Meeting fellow fans at Minnesota Thunder games really started to change things.

In 2001, his quest to watch a U.S. qualifying game for the 2002 World Cup ended up taking his enthusiasm to the next level.

BRUCE McGUIRE: During qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, I was watching a game by myself and thinking this is starting to get a little bit pathetic. I don’t have any friends who like this game.

There was a qualifier down in Honduras and it was offered on pay-per-view for $50. I figured for me that was make or break. If I can’t find some other people to watch this game with, I think I might be done, because it would be so lonely to watch this game for $50.

I had been checking out BigSoccer, the message board. I found a thread called “Does anyone in the Twin Cities want to split the pay per view?”

I was so excited to see that. I went to the page and wrote, “Yes, I’m in. Tell me where to go.”

It was guy in St. Paul. There were eight people. I’m in touch with seven of the eight people to this day. And two of them, I go to games with on a very, very regular basis. One of them moved back to San Diego. So we only go to games in Southern California or a big game when we meet up somewhere around the country. Once in a while he’ll come here.

One of the other guys happened to be Grant Wahl, who was a college basketball reporter at the time and had an online soccer column. He happened to be in Minneapolis that weekend to cover the men’s NCAA final four.

Getting together with those guys is it what really started to kick things off.

McGuire became nationally known in the soccer community after he launched his soccer blog, “du Nord – For Futbol Fanticos” in 2005.

BRUCE McGUIRE: I’m starting to have this group of friends who watch soccer on a regular basis and they’re into it and are excited -- and it’s growing weekly.

The Internet is what really changed the world of soccer for me. Because I could suddenly read articles from everywhere and I was devouring it. People would ask me, where do you find all this stuff? Can you send me the links? I started just compiling all the links of everything I was reading and sending it to friends. It started with five people, then 10, 20 -- and it just kind of grew.

Then I decided to take advantage of the blogging software and put it on the Internet. That’s when it really exploded and took on its own life, and it kind of became my new persona.

I had this persona for years in the music business. I had my own record label at one time, called Generator, and I would write a lot about music on my web site. Now I had this new persona and this new life in soccer, and the blog provided me with a platform. And I decided to put my picture on it, so if I went to a game, people who read it would recognize me.

And we could hang out and talk. What I really wanted to do is find more soccer fans. That was my No. 1 goal.

Once Twitter became popular, McGuire saw that it could provide the service that his blog had delivered.

BRUCE McGUIRE: When I started, there weren’t many other blogs about soccer. The few us would meet up and try to spread the word about each other’s blog, and turn people on even more, and things exploded after that.

It introduced me to so many people and it really gave me a good insight into the growth of soccer, the changing of soccer. I was riding that pulse every single day. Posting everyday. It became my crazed obsession.

I was an early adopter to Twitter. I started using it in 2007. It became such a big thing. What I did everyday was right there in front of me in real time. No one had to wait -- suddenly getting it all day long as it happened. As time went on, [my blog] became less and less a necessity.

It was always my dream to stop doing it because people would get all the stories that they want.

At a pre-opening Allianz Field event: (L-R) Charlie Callaghan, Rich Harrison, Joe Leyba, Bruce's brother Bill McGuire, Bruce McGuire and Greg Smith.

On connecting with other soccer fans.

BRUCE McGUIRE: Early on, a lot of us were fans on our own. Everyone had a certain attitude and a single-mindedness. The kind of people who didn’t need others to tell them something was OK to watch or good enough to watch or good enough to do or good enough to like. They just did what they wanted to do. And they had found soccer.

I was always like that with music, which is why I think it took me as far as it did. I didn’t worry at all about what other people were listening to. I went out to find what I wanted and then try to turn people on to it.

I was always a front-runner in that sense and maybe that’s part of the same attitude that I had with soccer. I didn’t need someone to tell me it was a great sport to watch. I stumbled onto it because of a neighbor. But my love for it just got deeper and deeper as the decades went on. And then when I started to find those other people, it’s amazing to look at them and it’s almost like looking in the mirror. Yeah, we found each other.

Minnesota United, which had played in the new NASL since 2010 as the Minnesota Stars and Minnesota United, debuted in MLS in 2017.

BRUCE McGUIRE: It felt like it was years in making. It also felt like it was never going to happen. Like it wasn’t real. Like we really didn’t deserve to have something like this. We had teams here for a long time, but it always kind of floundered. It never took on a life of its own.

It never seemed like this was going to become what it did. When MLS took an interest in the Twin Cities, there were two potential ownership groups. You had the owners of Minnesota United, led by Dr. Bill McGuire [no relation] and you had then the owners of the Minnesota Vikings, the Wilf family.

The Wilf family had this brand-new massive stadium coming on board. And there were times that I feared they may be the ones to get an MLS stadium. I feared it because I didn’t want to go indoor, I didn’t want the team to play on artificial turf, I didn’t want the team to play second fiddle to an NFL team. All those things made me nervous.

When Bill McGuire’s bid won out and they started searching for a stadium, that’s when things got really, really, really exciting.

For the first two seasons, Minnesota United played in the University of Minnesota football stadium. On April 13, it moved into its new stadium, Allianz Field, tying NYCFC, 3-3.

BRUCE McGUIRE: We get to this weekend, when this incredible stadium opens, and I’ve had such a hard time putting it into words. One of the words I finally came up with was “permanence.” It’s really got such a foundation to build on that’s not going away.

They didn’t cut a single corner. You look at all the early drawings, and it’s only better than that. Other teams, we see stadium drawings and the final product and it’s not quite as incredible as we first thought. This is even better the we first thought.

Going in there on Saturday and seeing the place filled when the game kicked off, it was so powerful. Not that that long ago I went to games in Minnesota and there were 1,000 people, sometimes less. Now 20,000 people are paying a lot for tickets and people are flying in from all over the country.

It was so real, so genuine, and so permanent.

After the weekend, there was another word I was searching for, and I couldn’t find it. And yesterday I finally found it -- someone else mentioned it -- and that word was “relief.” It’s a relief that I know it’s not going away now.

After hoping for something for the last nearly 20 years, now there was completion. In the top division, they have a stunning stadium, they have owners with actual money, it’s in a great neighborhood, centrally located, right in the middle of the two cities.

Everything about it was so perfect, so good, I almost had to exhale. We did it. We made this thing real. It’s going to last forever.

McGuire is appreciative of how receptive Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire, who purchased the club in 2012, was to input from the fans, who influenced certain elements of the new stadium.

BRUCE McGUIRE: I reached out to him via a mutual friend and told Dr. McGuire that if he needed info about the club from someone who wasn't trying to sell him something, just a fan, that I could shed some light on the history of the team. The person who would become the new team’s first president, Nick Rogers, contacted me the next day. Shortly after, he and I sat down a few times for some long talks.

The manual scoreboard at the modern Allianz Field?

BRUCE McGUIRE: I just made a statement that moving the old manual scoreboard from the National Sports Center stadium to Allianz Field would make for a very cool connection to the past. Dr. McGuire did one better and built a newer, bigger and better manual scoreboard.

McGuire and fans made other recommendations that were adopted.

BRUCE McGUIRE: Having an entire end of the stadium just for the hardcore supporters and making it all standing came directly from talking to the fans. Then he went out and found the safety standards and built from there.

In the middle of the supporters section is a large platform where multiple drummers can set up and keep the beat. There are also two large areas for disabled seating in the supporters end.

The beer hall was another thing that came from many conversations with fans. And there is a beer garden on top of the beer hall, which is also where the manual scoreboard is located. Local beer and food at the stadium were both things that came from the conversations, too.

Dr. McGuire is constantly asking people questions about his ideas and if they have ideas. He likes to mingle with the fans, especially on game day.

Bruce McGuire’s favorite soccer books
Football Against The Enemy by Simon Kuper
The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinnes
The Damned Utd by David Peace
Among The Thugs by Bill Buford
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bruce McGuire’s favorite soccer-related movies
The Van directed by Stephen Frears
Victory directed by John Huston
Superbad (terrific snarky high school soccer scene) directed by Greg Mottola
Gregory's Girl (starring Clare Grogan from the band Altered Images) directed by Bill Forsyth
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (with audio by my friend Kevin Shields from the band My Bloody Valentine) directed by Douglas Gordon
Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos directed by John Dower & Paul Crowder

4 comments about "Bruce McGuire on the joy of soccer, the rise of American fandom, and Minnesota 'permanence'".
  1. Ginger Peeler, April 18, 2019 at 6:48 p.m.

    Thanks, Mike, for another great interview!

  2. beautiful game, April 18, 2019 at 7:58 p.m.

    McGuire is all into soccer...he discovered it, experienced it, lives it, and now talks about soccer always...a true connoisseur of the global game...super article.

  3. Mike Lynch, April 18, 2019 at 8:42 p.m.

    Toby Charles! “And look at that!”

  4. John Pepple, April 19, 2019 at 2:15 p.m.

    This sure brings back memories. Yes, in 1977 and 1978 one could go to the old Met Stadium on a Saturday night, and there’d be 36,000 fans there for a soccer game. The 9-2 thrashing of the Cosmos was fantastic: we all left the stadium in the highest of spirits screaming at the top of our lungs. And good old Toby Charles and his Soccer Made in Germany. (Wasn’t it followed by an episode of Monty Python? They had some priceless soccer sketches!)

    The Kicks had an enormous effect on my life: Looking at foreign newspapers for their soccer coverage, learning about relegation and promotion, the FA Cup, the European Cup, etc. Playing on an intramural team at the University of Minnesota, meeting lots of foreigners. Eventually traveling to foreign countries, like Brazil, and going to games on four different continents. Learning a lot more about geography, like the difference between England and Britain. Gaining some reading knowledge of French by looking at their soccer magazines. Noticing with surprise how many people I thought would support soccer refused to do so and how many others I thought would never support it became ardent fans. A lot of other things too numerous to mention.

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