A combined display of soccer fan craziness mixed with support for a local coach were front and center during what seemed to be an impromptu flash mob that engulfed the National Sports Center June 26.
What was dubbed Flash Crowd 2014, brought together 500-600 soccer fans to give members of the Lakes United Futbol Club (Forest Lake) and Centennial Soccer Club (Lino Lakes) something more than a typical under-14 girls soccer game experience on the soccer fields at the Blaine sports complex.
Soccer fever reached a new high, weeks before thousands in the youth soccer community descend on Blaine for Schwan’s USA Cup to not only give two teams a professional soccer experience but to show support for a coach with ALS.
Gavin Pugh, Centennial Soccer Club’s Director of Coaching, and former Champlin Park boys soccer coach, was diagnosed with ALS over a year ago and this was a way to show how he’s had an impact on youth soccer in the area.
Todd Andersen brought the idea forward with the Centennial Soccer Club board of directors and helped organize the crowd after seeing a similar flash crowd give youth players the all-star treatment in Denmark to promote a European under-21 championship tournament in 2013.
“(In Denmark) they trucked fans to the site and dressed fans in the Dannish uniform, ” he said. Andersen has coached six years in the program but had no connection to the U14 C1 teams.
Andersen said the flash crowd intended to elevate the atmosphere as an otherwise normal youth match “to that of a professional soccer final” complete with professional uniforms, a team walkout, national anthem, player introductions all playing on the stadium pitch.
Minnesota United FC donated personalized uniforms complete with names on the back of the jerseys, team logos and the letters GP to honor Pugh on the shorts. United FC also gave the players full access to the team’s locker and training rooms to prepare for the game.
Lakes United head coach Felipe Aceituno said his players responded with “pure shock and excitement.” Aceituno added that he was grateful for his club to be a part of the flash mob.
“This amazing opportunity came up and we jumped on it,”Aceituno said. “We did it for the love of the game—28 girls got the experience of a lifetime, and us coaches did too.”
Anderson was also pleased with the outcome.
“It came off very, very very well,” Andersen said, based on three success factors: to get people into place, leave the girls beyond surprised and to generate a reaction to a touching halftime tribute to Pugh.
After five months of planning for the perfect surprise, Andersen said the payoff of seeing, “perma-grin smiles” afterward was a great ending. Balancing the promotion versus keeping it secret was another dilemma. Before the game, Andersen and volunteers worked on the stadium field while both teams warmed-up on what they believed was a typical league game field.
“We got lucky,” Andersen said. “I asked the teams (if they suspected the surprise) and to a player they had no clue. Their socks were completely blown off.”
After warm-ups on the fake field, volunteers told the players that the field was unacceptable and they had to come inside the NSC offices before moving to another location. The players moved through cameras set up for what they believed was some type of photo shoot, without a clue of what was to come.
“They were completely oblivious to the bomb we were about to drop on them,” Andersen said. “I wasn’t in the (locker room) but the crescendo of screams was unbelievable,” he said.
The crowd moved into the stadium and sang an The Star Spangled Banner a capella, followed by “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in tribute to Pugh.
“We wanted to make it as big-time as possible and we did that along with the girls playing good soccer in front of a non-intimidating crowd,” Andersen said.