MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Aurora FC found itself in a spot it had never been in during `12 regular season games Wednesday night at TCO Stadium against Indy Eleven in the USL W Playoffs: They were trailing a game in the second half.
Minnesota Aurora entered the night on an 11-game win streak, but found itself down 1-0 after Indy’s Ella Rogers beat Sarah Fuller on a shot in the 34th minute. Nine minutes prior, Fuller made a stunning save on a penalty kick.
The Aurora came out in the second half needing a spark. Coach Nicole Lukic made a tactical adjustment, switching from a 4-5-1 formation to a 3-5-2. Their luck started to change, and they have the team’s bus driver to thank for it. A man by the name of Stephen who works for Jefferson Lines and drives the Aurora to their away games, was at his first home match.
He joined his team on the bench, and everything started to change. Morgan Turner scored in the 50th minute to tie the game 1-1. About 15 minutes later, Minnesota Aurora took a 2-1 lead on Mayu Inokawa’s penalty kick.
While taking questions from reporters after the win, keeper Sarah Fuller brought Stephen into the scrum with a simple message for their newest luck charm: "Thank you."
"He sure is, I’m glad he finally made it to a home game. He’s incredible," Fuller said. "You’ve just been amazing all season and every single one of us appreciate you for what you do."
He said he talked to his wife during halftime, wanting to give Minnesota Aurora a spark for the second half in whatever way he could. Once he got approval from team co-owner Andrea Yoch, he didn’t hesitate.
"I was up in the stands and I was telling my wife at half, I said ‘I need to come down there on the bench.’ She said, ‘Yeah right.’ Andrea came and got me and said ‘Do you want to go down there?’ I said yeah. She said oh come on, you’re going to go down there in the 70th minute? I said I need to go there now," Stephen said. "So I came down there and as soon as I came down, everyone was high-fiving me and they gave me all the inspiration and they were ready to go, ready to play. It was fun seeing everybody cheering and yelling for everybody."
Lukic was busy trying to coach her team to a comeback win, when one of her assistants alerted her that one of their biggest supporters was on the bench with them.
"That was amazing. All the sudden one of our assistants turned to me and was like Stephen is on the bench. I was like great!" Lukic said. "And then we see him running around the stadium shaking everybody’s hands, everybody just really embraced him and we love having him around, so it was great to see him down on the pitch. He is definitely the good luck charm."
Two goals later, the Aurora could celebrate their 12th straight win, first playoff win in franchise history and a trip to the USL W semifinals. As is the new tradition, players did a lap around the stadium and high-fived their supporters after their latest win. They were joined by Stephen, their newest good luck charm.
In its inaugural season, Minnesota Aurora FC still has yet to lose a game.
"They’re an amazing team. They play together, they’re strong, they got a lot of heart and they really play together. I’m really proud of every one of them," Stephen said.
Next up? Minnesota Aurora hosts McLean Soccer out of the Mid-Atlantic Division, which won their playoff quarterfinal 8-0, at 3 p.m. Sunday at TCO Stadium. Will their good luck charm be there?
"I gotta be here. Sunday, I’ll be there," Stephen said.