The 11 team USL First Division season begins on April 11 and will again see each team play 30 matches with three against each opponent. The season will come to a close September 20 with seven teams advancing to the postseason. The league adds two teams and loses two in 2009. Joining the First Division are the expansion Austin Aztex and promoted Cleveland City Stars. Not returning are the Seattle Sounders, who are moving up to MLS, and the Atlanta Silverbacks, a team that was folded at the end of 2008.
“We are extremely excited to continue building the great atmosphere at the National Sports Center,” said Thunder president Manny Lagos. “We ended last season on such a high note after creating what is truly an intimate soccer stadium at the NSC. We’re looking forward to seeing our fan base continue to grow as we bring high level soccer and a great atmosphere to Minnesota.”
The biggest change in the league will be the expansion of the two-leg, aggregate score series format to the USL First Division Championship match. It will mark the first time the format will be used for a top-level US-based league since the North American Soccer League’s 1970 season.
“The advancement in the quality of teams on and off the field in the USL First Division has given us the opportunity to bring this great format to the league, allowing fans of both teams to experience the championship,” said USL First Division Senior Director Chris Economides. “We’ve seen numerous thrillers in the aggregate series format in the past eight years and we look forward to a captivating USL-1 Championship in 2009.”
The Commissioner’s Cup winners, as regular season champions, will automatically be seeded in the semifinals, with the remaining six sides squaring off in the first round. The teams will be paired in the semifinals with the lowest remaining seed playing the regular season champion.
Fox Soccer Channel will return to Minnesota in 2009 for the first time in four seasons with nationally televised home games on Friday, July 24 and Friday, September 4. The Thunder will also be on Fox Soccer Channel for two road games on June 19 at the Portland Timbers and August 14 at Miami FC.
“With the new professional venue at the National Sports Center, we are thrilled to have Fox Soccer Channel return to Minnesota,” said Thunder general manager Djorn Buchholz. “We are excited to show the country what truly special and passionate fans we have in Minnesota.”
“I think our schedule is fantastic this season,” said head coach Donny Gramenz. “We have very few multiple game road trips, and should have plenty of rest for the guys between games. This should help us get the results we are expecting, but also leaves us no excuses to get the job done.”
Flexible and regular season ticket packages as well as discounted group tickets to all 15 home games are currently on sale at www.mnthunder.com or by calling the Thunder office at (651) 917-TEAM (8326). Single-game tickets will go on sale in the spring.
Other Thunder schedule highlights include:
The Thunder have and will continue to schedule a number of exhibition games that could include a Major League Soccer (MLS) opponent, an international opponent, a school day event, a Kids' Day game and US Open Cup matches.
2009 Thunder Home Schedule
*Games LIVE on Fox Soccer Channel
The Thunder’s complete schedule will be listed on www.mnthunder.com on Monday, January 26, 2009.