Minnesota United’s Finnish players see a slice of their homeland at Loons vs. Twin Cities games

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Each game day at Allianz Field, Minnesota United fans at the south end of St. Paul’s Stadium will bring their own unique flags to waive. For some larger matches, fans will have sequestered themselves to make large handmade banners called tifos, which are first unfurled to the public just moments before kick-off.

The Chicago Fire game on April 23 had a 9,000 square foot tifo draped over five sections in the Wonderwall fan sections. At least 35 fans volunteered more than 200 hours to craft colorful signs depicting a rural Minnesota field, a city skyline and a huge loon emerging from Allianz Field.

Mandi Berndt’s show of support, however, is much more low-key, but has become a tradition. Since the club moved up to MLS in 2017, Shakopee’s season ticket holder has given up the blue and white flag of Finland.

Berndt, who followed the European leagues before his MNUFC fandom took hold, came up with the idea once the club signed Finnish midfielder Rasmus Schuller ahead of its expansion season six years ago. The routine continued as Schuller left and fellow Finnish forward Robin Lod came to Minnesota in 2019.

When Lod scored the game-winning goal in the MNUFC’s 3-1 victory over Colorado Rapids on April 16, Berndt was in the front row, gently waving the flag as the Finn finished.

“It’s really cool to see it,” Lod told Pioneer Press. “It gives you something extra that there is someone cheering for you and the team. That’s good.”

Berndt is not Finnish; she is of Norwegian descent.

“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 etc. It’s really cool to meet other people who come here.

Berndt said she met people from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

Berndt had “perfect timing” to meet Schuller on the same day the central midfielder scored his only goal for the Loons against Los Angeles FC at TCF Bank Stadium in 2018. And when Lod arrived mid-season 2019, Schuller informed Lod that there was this home bracket in the Loons’ home games.

Berndt, who speaks 14 languages ​​and teaches Latin and English as a second language at Savage’s Aspen Academy, said she and Schuller speak Swedish in their chats. When she met Lod a few times after games, they spoke English.

Berndt, who studied in France, will give up a French flag when Lod is not playing to support French Loons players. She met and spoke with Adrien Hunou and Romain Métanire.

Berndt’s language skills extend to Czech. Although not fluent, she still took a chance when she met Slovakian midfielder Jan Gregus when he was a Loon.

“He thought it was pretty funny,” Berndt said. “He’s like, ‘wait, you try. Do you speak Czech? I was like, ‘well, sort of.’ Then he helped me a little.

Berndt makes an effort because she wants foreign Loons players to feel a bit at home. “You wouldn’t expect a Minnesota United fan to meet you after the game and speak Swedish with you,” she said. “I think it’s just another way to connect with the players, to speak their language instead of assuming they come here to America and already speak English.”

The Loons (4-3-2) take on FC Cincinnati (4-5-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field, and there will likely be a standard Finnish flag flying during the game. “Unless I’m dying,” Berndt joked. “I try to do them all.”

BRIEFLY

Two key Loons strikers were absent from Friday’s training session: Lod (illness) and Luis Amarilla (personal reasons). Amarilla and his newly married wife gave birth to their first child on Friday. MNUFC manager Adrian Heath said he would be surprised if Lod and Amarilla weren’t available to play on Saturday. … Midfielder Wil Trapp will return to the starting lineup after missing the 2-0 loss to LAFC last Sunday due to a suspension of accumulated yellow cards. Joseph Rosales will leave the XI. … The Loons are 3-0 in MLS against Cincinnati, a 2019 expansion franchise, but after a 7-1 bombardment in 2019, Minnesota won 2-0 and 1-0 in 2020. They won’t haven’t faced each other in 2021. … Cincinnati has four wins in 10 games this season, matching last year’s total in 34 games. … Cincy’s Luciano Acosta is second in MLS with 35 key assists, which is the distribution that directly sets up a teammate for a shot on goal. Heath praised the “imaginativeness” of Acosta’s shows on the pitch. … Carles Gil of New England is No. 1 in MLS with 36; Minnesota’s Emanuel Reynoso is sixth with 26, per fbref.com.

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