Minnesota’s pro soccer team, Minnesota United FC, puts down roots in Woodbury.
Big news, sports fans.Woodbury has long been a hot spot for youth soccer, and now a pro team is making the move to our great community. This summer, Minnesota United FC, our state’s only pro soccer team, moves into its new training facility at the Bielenberg Sports Center, bringing with it a roster of top-notch players and coaches who are eager to join the Woodbury soccer scene.
Minnesota United FC
We asked Minnesota United president Nick Rogers for a brief history of pro soccer in Minnesota—but there’s no such thing as a “brief” history, he says with a laugh. Suffice it to say, our state has hosted a serious pro team since 1976, which saw the birth of the popular Minnesota Kicks. A team known as the Minnesota Strikers played from 1984-88, and then came the Minnesota Thunder. The National American Soccer League decided to sell that club in 2012.
The team came under new ownership in early 2013 and was officially reborn as Minnesota United FC (Football Club). “We wanted to have a name that marked a new chapter in pro soccer,” Rogers says. “We’re uniting communities, uniting the Twin Cities…it’s a new day.”
For most of its history, the team has practiced, trained and competed at the National Sports Center (NSC) in Blaine. “It’s been great being up at the NSC,” says Minnesota United vice-captain Brian Kallman, a Woodbury High School (WHS) graduate. “But one of the things they couldn’t offer us was a full indoor field, where we could play full scrimmages or host some exhibition games in the winter.” When the city of Woodbury started on plans to expand the Bielenberg Sports Center, Minnesota United paid attention.
“When we started to learn about what [the city of] Woodbury had in mind, it really represented a unique opportunity for us: The ability to have a full-size indoor [practice] field,” Rogers says. “We figured out what our needs were and continued the dialogue.” While they’ll continue to play regular-season games at the NSC in Blaine, the team plans to hold its day-to-day soccer operations at the new training facility at Bielenberg: a 7,500-square-foot space that includes locker rooms, fitness areas, a players’ lounge and more. Minnesota United financed its part of the state-of-the-art expansion, projected to be in excess of $1 million, in partnership with local organizations that will use other parts of the gigantic new Bielenberg space.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our organization,” says Minnesota United head coach Manny Lagos. “[Bielenberg] will offer our professional athletes a world-class training facility to hone their talents and help us put the best product on the field on game days.”
As the club settles into its new home at Bielenberg, several Minnesota United players are already coaching youth soccer in town, including Woodbury natives Brian and Brent Kallman. “That’s the really cool thing about [the team] coming to Woodbury,” Brian says. “I’m out in the community, and I know all these kids. Now that we’ll have some training at Bielenberg…it will be great for the kids to come out and see what the pro scene looks like on a day-to-day basis.”
Peter Rivard, director of coaching for the Woodbury Soccer Club–the Woodbury Athletic Association’s youth recreational and competitive soccer organization–is also excited about bringing “more soccer people” to Woodbury with the pros’ arrival. “[Minnesota United’s] proximity is going to help improve our environment,” he says. “It gives [our coaches] an opportunity to see the professional game at work, up close and personal…Having friendly neighbors is the best piece of it, and enlarging our soccer community.”
Rogers is looking forward to connecting with Woodbury soccer kids and coaches, too. He notes that Minnesota United hopes to host camps or clinics for youngsters at their new training facility sometime in the future. “Woodbury is a massive soccer community…and they’ve made us feel right at home,” he says. “It’s an incredible community.”
All in the Family
The Kallman soccer dynasty.
Minnesota United’s move to Woodbury is something of a coming home for two of its players. Brothers Brian and Brent Kallman, who both coach youth soccer in town, grew up in Woodbury and are, perhaps, more excited than anyone about being back at their old stomping grounds.
“I feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to play [in my hometown],” says Brent, who is finishing his second year with the team this spring. “It’s really cool to be able to live near my family, and have them watch the games and support us.”
Brent, a 2009 WHS grad, is following in the footsteps of older brother Brian, who graduated from WHS in 2002 and has played for Minnesota United (and its past iterations) since he turned pro in 2006. “It’s great,” Brian says. “I get to play in front of my friends and family.”
The Kallman brothers are modest about their impressive success on the soccer field, but they love to share news about their equally impressive siblings: All six Kallman kids—Brian, Brent, Brad, Krystle, Kylie and Kassey—were star high school athletes at WHS, and five of them went on to play Division I soccer in college. Kassey, a Florida State University standout, was recently drafted fifth overall by FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Mom Laura Kallman, who stays involved with youth athletics at the Woodbury Sports Foundation and the Woodbury Athletic Association, still can’t quite believe all that her children have accomplished. “It is so fun watching them,” she says. And she’s quick to tout the importance of kids’ sports. “Kids with too much time on their hands get into trouble,” she laughs. “Just to have those activities is important. Some people think [youth athletes] don’t have time for homework when they’re playing sports, but most of them are such high achievers in whatever they do. There are so many benefits.”
Woodbury leads the way for youth soccer.
While Minnesota United brings its professional experience to town, the team is an addition to a youth soccer scene that’s already flourishing. East Ridge High School girls’ coach Mark Abboud says it best: “Nothing breeds success like success.” Both Woodbury and East Ridge high schools have seen their soccer programs grow into true dynasties, and the Woodbury Soccer Club (WSC) and East Ridge Soccer Club offer recreational and more competitive options for kids. “These programs became a magnet” for top-notch players from all over the Twin Cities, Abboud says, “and allowed Woodbury’s top talent…to find the state’s best development environment right here in their backyard.”
In the end, of course, kids’ sports should be all about fun. “My favorite part of coaching soccer is having the ability to have a positive effect on the kids,” says Jeffrey Montpetit, who grew up playing soccer in Woodbury and now coaches his own kids on their WSC club teams. “Whether they become world-class soccer players isn’t my focus. Creating good human beings, and watching them develop these friendships…That’s the most important thing to me.”
WSC’s director of coaching, Peter Rivard, agrees. “We want kids to have a great soccer experience,” he says simply. And after years of development by devoted volunteers—including parents and coaches—the WSC has youth soccer down to a science. “We offer recreational soccer as an entry point, and competitive soccer at the traveling level,” he says. WSC has recreational as well as competitive teams for kids of all ages, and over 2,500 area families are involved. “The value of youth soccer…is the goal of nurturing personal qualities, like sportsmanship and perseverance. Not everyone will turn out to be a Minnesota United player,” Rivards says with a smile, “but everyone should get something out of playing youth soccer.”
To register for rec and competitive programs, go to woodburysoccer.com (Woodbury Soccer Club) or eraamn.com (East Ridge Soccer Club).
Catch Minnesota United in action this season. Visit mnunitedfc.com for more info and to purchase tickets.