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Official Review by Blake Benzel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Home to the NASL Minnesota United FC, the National Sports Center (NSC) Stadium was built in 1990 as part of the National Sports Center. It has hosted the US Men's and Women's National Teams, numerous track and field stars, and the USA Cup (the largest international soccer tournament on the continent) prior to it housing the current Minnesota United FC -- the soon-to-be newest expansion team in MLS. Its confines are, essentially, akin to a high school football stadium, with quite a few extras to boot.
While the stadium itself is in need of serious updates, fans of Minnesota United FC are unlikely to see many of those given that the team should have a new stadium upon their arrival to Major League Soccer. If you go to the NSC Stadium with high expectations, you'd likely be a bit disappointed, but if you take it for what it is, it's more than sufficient.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
While the standard fare at the NSC Stadium is nothing to write home about, it shines in its unique offerings, with numerous food trucks from around the Twin Cities frequenting the games and finding their homes at either end of the field. Because of that, much of the food you can purchase at the games is a truly unique experience that you can't have at any other stadium in the Twin Cities.
The concession stands at the stadium are generally underwhelming. It's about what you would expect to find at a high school sporting event with hot dogs, brats and slices of frozen pizza highlighting the list, all for $5 and under.
At the beer gardens, the concessions improve, but the prices rise as well, as you're able to find burgers and local brats.
Where NSC Stadium shines, however, are with the food trucks that are available. Peeps Hot Box, Cruzin' Cousins, Pharaoh's Gyros, and Taste of Target Field are four trucks that frequent the stadium, with Peeps Hot Box offering items such as a housemade brat with fried onion rings, pickled cabbage and spicy mustard or a Banh Mi sandwich. Cruzin' Cousins offer wraps and sandwiches, all for between $7 and $10. Not only are the food truck prices quite affordable, you'll find the offerings to be really tasty as well.
At the concession stands, you can find Pepsi fountain drinks (both 16 oz and 32 oz size) for a quite good price ($2.25 and $3, respectively). They also offer bottles of water, cans of Red Bull and, for the colder months, hot chocolate and coffee.
The selection of alcoholic drinks served is comparable, but just as limited, with cans of Lemon-Rita and Strongbow served, as well as a couple of Summit beers, and six draft beers. The bonus to the draft beers, however, is that all (with the exception of Bud Light) are either local or craft. The alcoholic drinks are also quite affordable topping out at $6.
If you're going to get food here (which I would imagine you would want to), the food truck route is the way to go. It's food that is made to order and isn't the normal stadium food and is ridiculously good as well.
The experience when entering the stadium is very basic and bare bones. While the massive cheering sections are what make the experience fun, you'll be about as comfortable as you would be at a high school game.
While the stadium is very basic and seating is fairly limited, given that it holds about 10,000 people at capacity, that does mean there isn't a bad seat in the house. At the north end of the stadium there is a wealth of standing room only seating, while bleachers adorn the south, as well as the sidelines. The only seating in the stadium that isn't bleacher seating is literally just a few feet off the pitch, where you have a handful of very nice, cushy seats flanking the benches on either side.
What makes the experience, however, are The Dark Clouds -- what Minnesota United's cheering section calls themselves. Standing on the bleachers surrounding the scoreboard, you'll know them by their raucous cheers and chants, the colorful banners and general gregarious nature. The other unique fixture in the stadium is the scoreboard that is flanked by the Dark Clouds. With an analog clock and a scoreboard that must be changed by hand, it's certainly a unique item that lends an interesting feel to the stadium.
There are no covered seating areas in the stadium, but there's no real bad seat in the house. The eastern side of the field is going to get the majority of the sun, however, as the western side is a little more sheltered because of its concrete back.
NSC Stadium is located in a northern suburb of the Twin Cities and is fairly off the beaten path. In terms of attractions or restaurants, you're going to be fairly limited, and in terms of places to stay, you're even more limited.
There aren't a ton of options to eat nearby, with McDonald's, Chipotle, and Arby's all being within walking distance, as well as Clive's Roadhouse, which is the only restaurant within walking distance that isn't a fast food place. If you head north on Central Avenue a couple miles, you'll find some more restaurant options -- again, most being chains (Chili's, Which Wich, Buffalo Wild Wings), but you'll also find Wild Bill's Sports Saloon and the Tavern Grill. Depending on what you're looking for, your best option might be to tailgate in the parking lot prior to the game, where they have additional food trucks serving the tailgaters.
Being that the NSC is in the middle of a suburb, there aren't many attractions of note nearby, with the exception being TPC of the Twin Cities and Victory Links golf course, for those that like to golf.
The only place to stay nearby is a Super 8 motel that is a few minutes south of the stadium. Otherwise, you'll likely be looking at fairly decent drive which isn't bad, as the stadium is quite easy to find.
NSC Stadium is home to one of the best fan bases in the Twin Cities. The Dark Clouds are energetic and supportive, loudly cheering on Minnesota United FC the entire game.
The typical attendance for the games is easily 3/4 full, meaning that tickets are usually available, but the crowd is usually loud enough to make it a fun experience.
The Dark Clouds especially have a very intimidating presence with their constant chanting and cheering. While the rest of the crowd doesn't typically get into the game as much as the team's big fan club, the Dark Clouds chants are loud enough to draw you in.
If you're going to get to NSC Stadium, it's going to be by driving, as there is no public transit to and from the stadium. There is a fan bus, but you must be 21+ to ride.
There is no public transit to and from the stadium; however, if you're 21+ you can meet at the Nomad World Pub or Brit's Pub in Minneapolis and hop on the Dark Clouds "Dethloon Express" bus. It leaves at 5:00 from Brit's and 5:30 from the Nomad and departs from the NSC at 9:30 pm following the game. The cost to ride the bus is $10 which gets you a ticket on the bus and a beer at the pub beforehand.
The good news about parking? It's free, and close to the stadium. The bad news? You have to share it with the rest of the NSC, so if there's another event going on at the same time as the game, parking is going to get very difficult, very quickly.
There are only two entrances to the stadium, with the North entrance being right off the parking lot and the Main entrance being by the ticket booth. The North entrance requires you to have your ticket available immediately, while the Main entrance allows you to purchase your ticket before heading through the gate. Security is present, but quite friendly and it's easy to get from the ticket booth and into the stadium.
The concourse by the concession stands is cramped, but still easy to navigate, while the rest of the stadium is quite open. Both entrances are wheelchair accessible, and Sections 1-15 have disability seating. In order to assure seating in those areas, however, you must contact the Minnesota United FC Ticket Office to reserve your seats. Restrooms are not especially spacious, but they're clean and easy to access and are behind sections 8 and 9. There are also portable restrooms around the field, and a larger restroom inside the Schwan's Center in the Northeast corner of the field.
While the experience is fun and the food once you get inside is affordable, some of the ticket prices may be pushing it a bit for what you get in return.
A lot of the tickets are quite affordable for the game. The East and West sidelines are $20 and $24 respectively, while you can sit in the South "endzone" and the corner of the southern end of the field for $15. They also have seating at "The Edge" for $10 which is about as far away from the field as you can get with still having a seat. Midfield seats are $33 while premium seating is $50 for Premium Midfield and $90 for Pitchside. You can also get Dark Clouds seating for $20, which will put you smack dab in the middle of the action with the fan club.
While there is no bad seat in the stadium, not all seats are created equal. The best bang-for-your-buck seating in the stadium is on the East sideline if you can stand the sun, or on the West sideline if you don't want to. My recommendation, however, is simple as long as you don't mind standing. Spend $10-$15 on a ticket, then find yourself a place to stand on the northern end of the field. This obviously may not be for everyone, but it will give you one of the better views of the pitch. All-in-all, given that you don't have to pay for parking, you won't be spending a ton to go see a very high quality soccer game, which is always a good thing.
There are not a whole lot of extras involved with NSC Stadium. The food trucks are the main special attraction. However, their merchandise booths are fairly priced and easy to access (one right within the main gate and the other near the beer garden at the north end of the field) and they have a good kid's area behind the bleachers on the east end of the field where they have games that kids can play. The staff are friendly and easy to find, as well.
The quality of the stadium and the surrounding area that Minnesota United FC play at is certainly a case of not being indicative of the amount of fun you could have at a game. While it's not easy to access and is fairly dated, the food options as well as the quality of soccer being played easily balances out the cons of the stadium. It's not likely a place you'll necessarily travel to the Twin Cities to visit, but if you're in the cities and have the ability to get there, it's definitely worth checking out.
Member Review by bcbenzel on Aug 13, 2012
While the state of Minnesota is devoid of an MLS team (which could change with the Vikings’ new stadium), that doesn’t mean that there is a lack of interest in the sport. This is evidenced by the NASL’s Minnesota Stars FC, who blend some great soccer with a terrific stadium experience. The Stars, the 2011 NASL champions, play at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.
The NSC opened in 1990 and has grown to a 600-acre campus that has over 50 fields, eight rinks for hockey, a cycling race track and the National Youth Golf Center. It is also the largest sports center in the world.
The Stars’ home is the NSC Stadium, which was renovated in 2008 to move the pitch 80 feet closer to the stands, making for a terrific and intimate venue to watch the Stars.
10400 Baltimore St NE
Blaine, MN 55449
11444 Tournament Players Pkwy
Blaine, MN 55449
9410 Baltimore St NE
Blaine, MN 55449