The Kicks and a Minnesotan Soccer Spirit That Never Quite Died
Where do I begin with the Minnesota Kicks, an orange and blue-clad club that made Minnesota a core piece of the NASL long before the Stars or United would make even the slightest of marks in the 21st century?
The Kicks, who drew an average of 23,000 fans to Bloomington, Minnesota, were the state’s first proper professional soccer club and in turn its most memorable footprint on the beautiful game in the 20th century. Bringing international notables like Glasgow Rangers, Hammarby IF, and Ipswich Town to Met Stadium through the years, the boys in orange weren’t just part of another club from the golden age of the NASL, they made up one of the league’s great teams. Needless to say, the club- which started as a two-year flop in Denver known as the Denver Dynamos and recording a record of 14 wins and 28 losses -found its home in Minnesota.
When it comes to stats and basic history, the Kicks are famous for a variety of achievements ranging from a single game attendance of 49,572- a state record only recently broken by Minnesota United -to their long list of division and conference titles. It should be known that the Minnesota Kicks won their division four times in a row from 1976 to 1979. It may very well be, however, that there is a greater testament to the power of the Minnesota Kicks than what they accomplished on the pitch. That measurement is their ascension to an almost folklore-like existence in the consciousness of Minnesota soccer clubs and supporters young and old.
One can find references, dedications, and inspiration from the Minnesota Kicks at every corner of the beautiful game in the state of 10,000 lakes. From a Kicks-themed away kit for the 2011 Minnesota Stars to a dedication involving several former Kicks players at Minnesota United inaugural MLS home match in 2017, professional soccer in the state has never tried to run too far away from its roots. In anticipation for its attendance record-breaking match against the LA Galaxy, Minnesota United promoted the match with retro footage and images of the Kicks, a marketing plan which visibly won over the hearts of soccer fans who could remember Kicks games and young fans who were desperate for a glimpse into the blurred past of professional soccer in the United States.
The Kicks, who were quite cleverly named via a name-the-team contest, also find themselves the target of adoration from Minnesota’s modern-day lower league landscape. This is best shown by recent summer actions taken by Minneapolis City SC. Following the opening of its Club Shop, a wide variety of merchandise was sold that included homages to the NASL club, its kits, and its star players. City went as far as to briefly change its logo to one designed in dedication to the Kicks’ logo and invited Kicks players to the store’s grand opening.
The core story of the Kicks, like most from the original age of NASL, ends on a sad note. Following changes in ownership, changes within the NASL as a league, mixed results on the pitch, and financial roadblocks, the team found itself up for sale and missing a payment toward its players and staff at the end of the 1981 season. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam attempted to find a buyer for the club but was not able to do so, leading to the club’s exclusion from the 1981-82 NASL Indoor season. The club folded in December of 1981 and had its players released in a dispersal draft.
The Minnesota Kicks are no longer, and it’s been that way for quite some time, but that hasn’t stopped the boys in orange and blue from cementing themselves in the hearts and imaginations of Minnesota’s ever-growing crowd of soccer fans. From winks and nods by the Stars and United to open dedications at the history-making Minneapolis City SC Club Shop, the NASL may be dead and gone but the Kicks are very much alive, just not in the way you might expect.