On a night that saw a moment of silence for Wisconsin legend and former USMNT player, Jimmy Banks, who lost a brave fight to cancer, about 4 inches of snow blanketed a sellout crowd of nearly 4,500 (which doubled the league’s home attendance to date) in Madison, Wisconsin. The quiet calm of the night was punctuated by drums, chants, and cheers as Forward Madison FC took to the pitch.
Even former USMNT player and new Greenville head coach John Harkes stood in awe of the atmosphere.
Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes was there for the honorary kickoff, but it was the 500+ fans marching down Washington St. to Breese Stevens on the inaugural night of home soccer in Madison that drew the attention of locals.
Kickoff was delayed for nearly half an hour as ATVs outfitted with plows cleared the pitch of snow. In the locker room, Forward Madison captain, Connor Tobin, was settling players who had never played a match in this much snow, much less, any snow. “I told them how one of my first matches in Norway with Nybergsund had more snow,” he said. “So much so, that the ball was actually stopping in snow and there was one guy whose job was to walk around the touch line of the field the whole game just to keep the lines clear.”
Watching on ESPN+, you’d be hard pressed to find an empty seat at the stadium. While there was an empty section of bleachers, those were kept empty as the upgrades were not yet completed and inspected. In all, nearly 4,500 screaming fans made a showing in snow. If this is the beginning of soccer in Madison, the rest of USL League One has a long way to go to catch up.
Madison even managed to draw some True North Elite members from Minnesota for this inaugural match. Speaking to them as a group at half time, they had a lot of positives to say about what has been done in such a short time. “There’s a lot of good potential here. I can see a lot of what they’re doing and where they are going. It may be a little rough, but they’ve got promise.”
Madison took the field in a 4-1-4-1 with the most significant changes being the absense of Don Smart (yellow card accumulation), JC Banks (bereavement) and their replacements in Michaud and Toyama. Greenville lined up in a 4-2-3-1.
Greenville was much more direct in their attack throughout the night. Both teams had 7 shots, but Madison held 51% possession. Considering the snow covered pitch, passing under 67% success for both teams shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yet Madison, despite a handful of opportunities, was unable to put a shot on frame in 96’. For their part, the Triumph managed only 4 but the best chance of the night came off a free kick by Madison that just clipped the upper right outside corner of the net. The shot sent the Flock supporters into another bout of singing and flag waving. Both teams saw three yellows for their aggressive play in the snow, but these were more cautionary because of the conditions as none warranted more than a quick talking to.
In the end, a 0-0 draw perhaps was about right for the opening night. Greenville has been stout in defense, giving up 3 goals in 5 matches while Forward Madison has only found the back of the net twice in 4.
Next week sees Toronto FC II travel to Madison, in balmy 68 degree, and typical Wisconsin spring weather. In order to succeed, Forward better find their shooting boots as Toronto has given up only 1 goal in it’s first 3 matches in USL 1.
Why should you make the trip? At a little over four-hour drive from Minneapolis, Madison makes a welcome place to view a few Minnesota United players on loan, and they are always up for a #fullmingo celebration.