Minnesota United’s Finnish players see slice of native country at Loons games
The Loons (4-3-2) play FC Cincinnati (4-5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field.
ST. PAUL — On any given match day at Allianz Field, Minnesota United supporters in the south end of the St. Paul stadium will bring their own unique flags to waive. For a few bigger games, fans will have sequestered themselves to make large handmade banners known as tifo, which are unfurled to the public for the first time only moments before kickoff.
The Chicago Fire game on April 23 had a 9,000-square-foot tifo draped over five sections in the Wonderwall supporters sections. At least 35 fans spent more than 200 volunteer hours to make a colorful signs that depicted a rural Minnesota field, a city skyline and a massive loon rising out of Allianz Field.
Mandi Berndt’s show of support, however, is much more understated, but it has become tradition. Since the club climbed to MLS in 2017, the season-ticket holder from Shakopee has been waiving the blue-and-white flag of Finland.
Berndt, who followed European leagues before her MNUFC fandom set in, came up with the idea once the club signed Finnish midfielder Rasmus Schuller before its expansion season six years ago. The routine continued as Schuller left and fellow Finn, attacker Robin Lod, came to Minnesota in 2019.
When Lod scored the game-winner in MNUFC’s 3-1 victory over Colorado Rapids on April 16, Berndt was in her front-row spot, gently waiving the flag as the Finn finished.
“It’s definitely cool to see it,” Lod told the Pioneer Press. “It gives you something extra that there is someone who is cheering for you and the team. It’s nice.”
Berndt isn’t Finnish; she’s of Norwegian heritage.
“We’re all friends up there,” she explained in an interview. “When I wave the flag, people from all over Scandinavia will come down and talk to me and stuff. It’s really cool to meet other people that come here.”
Berndt said she has met people from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
Berndt had “perfect timing” in meeting Schuller the same day the central midfielder scored his only goal with the Loons against Los Angeles FC at TCF Bank Stadium in 2018. And when Lod arrived midseason 2019, Schuller tipped off Lod that there was this slice of home at Loons home games.
Berndt, who speaks 14 languages and teaches Latin and English as a second language at Aspen Academy in Savage, said she and Schuller spoke Swedish in their chats. When she’s met Lod a few times after matches, they’ve spoken English.
Berndt, who studied in France, will waive a French flag when Lod isn’t playing in support of the Loons’ French players. She has met and conversed with Adrien Hunou and Romain Metanire.
Berndt’s language skills reach into Czech. While she’s not fluent, she gave it a shot anyway when she met Slovakian midfielder Jan Gregus during his time as a Loon.
“He thought it was pretty funny,” Berndt said. “He’s like, ‘wait, you’re trying. You speak Czech?’ I was like, ‘well, kind of.’ Then he was helping me out a little bit.”
Berndt makes an effort because she wants the Loons’ foreign players to feel a little bit at home. “You wouldn’t expect a fan of Minnesota United to meet you after the game and speak Swedish with you,” she said. “I think that’s just another way I can connect with the players, speak their language instead of assuming they come here to America, and they speak English already.”
The Loons (4-3-2) play FC Cincinnati (4-5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field, and there will likely be a standard Finland flag flying during the game. “Unless I’m dying,” Berndt joked. “I try to make them all.”
Two key Loons attackers were missing from Friday’s training session: Lod (illness) and Luis Amarilla (personal reasons). Amarilla and his newly wed wife were giving birth to their first child Friday. MNUFC manager Adrian Heath said he would be surprised if Lod and Amarilla were unavailable to play Saturday. … Midfielder Wil Trapp will return to the starting lineup after missing the 2-0 loss to LAFC last Sunday due to yellow-card accumulation suspension. Joseph Rosales will drop out of the XI. … The Loons are 3-0 in MLS play against Cincinnati, a 2019 expansion franchise, but after a 7-1 shellacking in 2019, Minnesota won 2-0 and 1-0 in 2020. They didn’t play each other in 2021. … Cincinnati has four wins in 10 games this season, which matches last year’s total in a 34-game season. … Cincy’s Luciano Acosta is second in MLS with 35 key passes, which is the distribution that directly sets up a teammate for a shot on goal. Heath praised the “imagination” Acosta shows on the field. … New England’s Carles Gil is No. 1 in MLS with 36; Minnesota’s Emanuel Reynoso is sixth with 26, per fbref.com.