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History of Professional Soccer in Minnesota
Minnesota Thunder The Birth of the Minnesota Thunder occurred in 1990 with the hard work and determination of Buzz Lagos and Tom Engstrom. During their five amateur seasons the Minnesota Thunder played in 81 games, compiling a record of 65 Wins, 11 Draws and 5 Losses, and earning a winning percentage of 0.870% (based on awarding 1/2 pt for a Draw).

Outdoor Amateur
Year G W L D
1990 5 5 0 0
1991 11 8 0 3
1992 11 7 3 1
1993 26 19 2 5
1994 28 26 0 2
1990 (5-0-0)
Buzz Lagos and Tom Engstrom combined to create a team that would bring top-level soccer back to Minnesota. They developed the Minnesota Thunder to provide high level competition for Minnesota-based players while entertaining fans with an attractive style of soccer. Anxious to play the best available talent, the Thunder scheduled four professional teams and one of the nation's top amateur clubs.

The Minnesota Thunder's inaugural season began May 20 at home against the Winnipeg Fury. Goals by Gerard Lagos and former Minnesota Striker, Neil Roberts lifted the Thunder past the Fury and set a standard for the season and the years to follow. June brought the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks here, to Minnesota. The Thunder, with goals by Manual and Gerard Lagos, overcame wind, rain, and the Blackhawks to post a 2-1 victory over a team that had become the 1991 American Professional Soccer League Champions. Competition in the next two months proved just as formidable; the Thunder and the Madison 56ers battled to a draw in early July. The game, decided by a 3-2 penalty kick margin, leaves the Thunder unbeaten at home and only two games remaining against two professional indoor soccer teams. Building on these early successes, the Thunder concluded it's first season with a perfect record (5-0-0), beating the Chicago Power (3-1) in late July and the Milwaukee Wave (2-1) in August.
1991 (8-0-3)
The second year of the Minnesota Thunder saw many changes while providing many of the same results. Many younger players such as Don Gramenz, Tim Foster and Amos Magee entered the ranks ready to learn and carry the success of 1990. These youngsters learned from their more experienced teammates. Victor Kasanezky, Tony Peszneker, Roger Bridge, and Pat Kocourek. Kocourek, the team's captain, provided the scoring leadership with twelve tallies. His speed, determination, and ball skills on the field combined with a charismatic personality and a love of soccer to form a complete role model for the future Thunder Superstars.

The Thunder completed the season, after claiming eight victories and three draws without upsetting their undefeated overall record. Still an amateur club, the Thunder continued playing top-level competition, always trying to improve on their last performance.

"We enjoy adversity; we welcome the challenge. We must continue to improve as a team, and to do that we must play the best teams available. They must challenge our ability, our determination, and stimulate our desire."
- Buzz Lagos, Head Coach.
1992 (7-3-1)
Expansion continued during the Thunder's third season which meant more traveling and more national exposure. The players and coaches showed a developing maturity throughout the season. They played through two early defeats on the road at Madison and Winnipeg, understanding that winning future games is more important than mulling over past losses. The Thunder's undefeated streak fell, but national coaches and players recognized the individual talent of players on the team. After an impressive performance against the Wisconsin State Select Team, the National "B" Team invited John Swallen to play for the United States.

"This (invite) is really a tribute to the Thunder coaches and players. It is great to be able to play for a quality team and then have a chance to represent the Thunder at a national level."  - John Swallen, Goal Keeper.

The Thunder finished the season with a 7-3-1 record, losing an international "friendly" to a Russian International Team (Torpedo Minsk) in Chicago. Still unbeaten at home, the Thunder adapted to the loss of attacking mid-fielder, Manuel Lagos for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Team. Manuel represented the Thunder well overseas with individual skill, team play, and a game-winning rebound volley that found the back of the net against Kuwait.

"Playing for the U.S. was an unbelievable opportunity and a great thrill. The international support for soccer is incredible; the excitement everyone has for the game is bigger than anything I've ever encountered."
- Manuel Lagos, Mid-Fielder.

1993 (19-2-5)
After four exhibition seasons, the Thunder prepared to join the 1994 season of the United States Interregional Soccer League (USISL). They completed the year with an 11-2-0 national and an 8-0-5 international record while remaining undefeated in Minnesota. The Thunder posted wins over many professional teams including a 2-0 mark over the Chicago Power and a 6-0 thrashing of the 1992 USISL National Champions, the Palo Alto Firebirds. The season became an excellent starting block from which the Thunder began two international tours.

In August, the Thunder traveled to Europe for two weeks to play teams from the Netherlands, France, Zambia, Morocco, and Belgium. After impressing the European media, the Zambian National Team invited the Thunder to the French Training Center to play an international "friendly".

"I think we had to play above our individual talent, we had to attack as a team, defend as a team, and play to our team strengths. It was a game I'll never forget."  - John Menk, Mid-Fielder.

At the final whistle, the scoreboard showed Zambia-1, Minnesota-1. The Thunder finished their European tour in France playing eight games and posting a 5-0-3 record. The city of Loudon asked three Thunder players, Dan Houck, Amos Magee, and John Swallen, to stay in France to play as professionals.

December found the Thunder back in international territory on a five-game tour of Costa Rica, Chato Alvarado's home country. Off the field, the Thunder drew national attention, as they held soccer clinics for local clubs and orphanages. Christmas Day the Thunder visited a Costa Rican Children's Hospital to interact with patients, sign autographs, and promote goodwill. On the field, the Thunder continued with the success of their European Tour. They tied San Ramon (2-2) and Herediano (0-0), edged Saprissa (1-0), defeated the U-19 National Team (5-4), and shocked San Carlos (1-0).

The 1-0 win against Saprissa held a truly international flavor before a crowd of 15,000. The crowd enjoyed the Thunder's professional attitude and elegant style of play and expressed this in their support for the Thunder. In the 63rd minute, Amos Magee collected a well-driven ball from Manuel Lagos, beat two defenders as he dribbled to the near post, and passed beyond Saprissa goal keeper to a darting Tim Foster who one-touched the ball into the net. Play was suspended while the streams of paper and other confetti were cleaned from the field. The Costa Rican crowd showed their support for the Thunder with chants and a full chorus of "Ole" each time the Thunder touched the ball.

A similar drama unfolded in the final Costa Rican game when the Thunder opposed San Carlos, a team that Chato played for as a professional before coming to Minnesota.

"The people of San Carlos were great. They appreciated the high level of soccer we play, and at times they were cheering for us."
- John Swallen, Goal Keeper.

Possibly the most climactic moment of the Costa Rica Tour occurs in the final thirty seconds of the game.

"Tim (Foster) was chasing a ball that was certainly out of bounds. Then, all of a sudden, he was able to turn the ball and serve a perfect one-time cross in the goal mouth for Manuel (Lagos) to head home. It was truly a fantastic effort by Foster."
- Buzz Lagos, Head Coach.

1994 (26-0-2)
The Thunder joined the United States Interregional Soccer League's (USISL) Midwest Division in 1994 as an amateur club riding a 16-0-5 undefeated streak that began in June of 1993. The 1994 schedule included nine divisional and three intra-divisional teams. The more intense games set the Thunder against the Milwaukee Rampage. They first came at the USA CUP game before a USISL record crowd of 10,113 at the National Sports Center.

"We knew coming into the game that they would be tough. The crowd gave us a definite advantage. It was nice to play high level competition at home in front of 10,000 people and give the fans a 2-0 win."  - Gerard lagos, Forward.

The Thunder completed the regular season defeating Milwaukee 3-2 in overtime. Minnesota found themselves unbeaten and untied in regular season play, a perfect 20-0-0, a record that stands alone in the USISL.

The Midwest divisional playoffs began at home against the St. Louis Knights. Pierre Morrice provided the game winning goal with a left-footed volley from twenty yards. The Midwest divisional championship placed two rivals, the Minnesota Thunder (20-0-0) and the Milwaukee Rampage (18-2-0), in a home-and-away, best-of-two playoff. The Thunder won, 3-2, at Milwaukee on a right-footed volley by Tim Foster with nine minutes remaining in the second half. At home, the Thunder overpowered the Rampage, improving their record to 24-0-0.

"Anytime a team can shut down an offense like that (the Rampage) you've got to be happy. Donny's (Gramenz) bending shot for the 1-0 lead was the pivotal point in the game. It was nice to have a total team effort, offensively, and defensively"  - John Coughlin, Defender.

The USISL Championship Tournament brought the best teams in the nation together for one week in Greenboro. The Thunder beat the Long Island Rough Riders, 4-2, in a fast-paced and highly physical game. The next day, Minnesota battled the Los Angeles Cobras in an emotional, end to end thriller that ended in deadlock, 2-2. The breakaway shootout turned sour for the Thunder handing them their first loss of the season. However, that game, plus the physical style of the Rough Riders proveds too much for the Cobras, who lost the next night 6-1. The Thunder claimed first place in their group and advanced to the finals.

The semi-finals sent the Thunder to Charleston Battery, while the Rough Riders stayed in Greensboro to play the Greensboro Dynamo. The Thunder blasted the Battery throughout the game, finishing the game on the strong side of a 5-0 goal differential. Amos Magee and Manuel Lagos each scored twice, paving the way for the younger players like Aaron Leventhal, who added the fifth, to showcase talent of their own. The game winning goal came on a nice defensive tackle and pass to Amos Magee in the Charleston half. Magee, then, bent his shot to the right of the keeper and left of the goal post for a 1-0 lead.

"This was probably the best game I have ever seen them play, strong, tenacious defense, incredible skill, and a total team effort. This team is ready for the next level."  - Buzz Lagos, Head Coach.

The Thunder returned to Greensboro to play the Dynamo before their home crowd of 5,000. The Dynamo struck first scoring in the first half on a shot that bounced off the post and into the path of a Dynamo forward. One minute earlier the Thunder had a goal disallowed after a disputed offside call. Gerard Lagos evened the score in the 71st minute of play with a well executed turn, quickly followed by a driving shot that caught the Dynamo's defense and goalkeeper on their heels. The game remained deadlocked for the final nineteen minutes ofd regulation, and all of overtime play. Finally, after 120 minutes of soccer and an overtime shootout the Thunder found themselves with their second shootout loss of an almost perfect season.

Data Sources:

1995 Minnesota Thunder Yearbook, with the permission of the Minnesota Thunder.