As Minnesota United FC have geared up to make their MLS debut, they’ve often eschewed the flash and hype surrounding their fellow new kids on the league block, Atlanta United. But their signings and off-season moves, for close observers, have offered plenty of moments to impress – including those off the field.
For anyone previously unfamiliar, it’s time to meet Kyndra de St. Aubin, Minnesota United’s new official color commentator, who will join play-by-player Callum Williams in the broadcast booth this season. A veteran reporter who most recently worked at Fox Soccer and FS1, and the PAC-12 and Big Ten Networks before that, she’s also a Minnesota native whose new role brings her back home after more than a decade.
It also signals part of the club’s laudable MO in this phase: drawing on the area’s deep soccer traditions, and boosting it all with legit knowledge and chops.
“It's just going to be phenomenal,” de St. Aubin says, when asked how she predicts the Twin Cities will receive this iteration of the team. “I just think people underestimate the soccer community, the soccer culture here.”
De St. Aubin knows that culture, well, firsthand. A former NCAA Division I soccer player at the University of Minnesota, she lettered twice as a Golden Gopher, and also as a freshman at UW Madison before that.. And even further back, she grew up going to matches of former USL club the Minnesota Thunder and playing in the Twin Cities’ thriving youth-club scene.
“We had to train at Augsburg College at 11 pm on a weeknight,” she recalls, “because it was the only time we could get on the track because it was so packed.”
A nascent career in sports broadcasting after her college career eventually took de St. Aubin away from Minnesota. After starting with a local radio affiliate, mostly covering basketball and baseball, she moved to Scottsdale, Arizona to do more similar work. But then, a new opportunity presented a chance to reconnect with her main sports love.
“Early in my career, there weren't a lot of options for soccer broadcasting, unless you were like Fox Soccer or one of the bigger networks,” she says. But then, a gig opened at the then-new Big Ten Network. That, in turn, led to more spots with FOX, including reporting on the NWSL and the US national teams, most notably the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.
“I covered all sports when I graduated from college with a major in broadcasting, but the soccer thing was just such an easy bet because I just love soccer and I'm so passionate about it,” she says. “And so for me right now I think again it's like where I sit at home on the couch with my husband we watch a game and we talk about it – just on a bigger level.”
Indeed, one of de St. Aubin’s biggest credits as a soccer broadcaster is a deep, on-field experience with the game. Still, she says, she doesn’t believe that alone makes for a good commentator – or that it’s even necessary.
“I'm not going to say you have to have played at the highest level to be a good broadcaster, just like you don't have to play at the highest level to be a good coach,” she says. “I think it always helps, but it's not necessarily a thing where it goes hand in hand [with being a good broadcaster].”
Instead, she says, she comes back to words of wisdom from North American soccer broadcasting legend JP Dellacamera. “He said, ‘It’s about educating people without making them feel like they’re being educated,”’ she says. “A lot of time it's how you're saying it, how you phrase it, because you don't ever want to make people feel like they don't know what they're doing, or they don't know what they're talking about.”
Besides that smart, but approachable tone, de St. Aubin’s close observations of – and close ties to – the team will only boost her ability to really convey the spirit of Minnesota pro soccer. As a fun, six-degrees-of-North American-soccer fact, her husband Bobby played at the college level himself — and even got drafted by the Minnesota Thunder, though he turned it down to pursue a different career path. He, in turn, is a cousin of recent Minnesota draftee Tanner Thompson. (Another tangential fun fact: He, in turn, is also the older brother of Tommy Thompson, of the San Jose Earthquakes.)
And since her early days playing club soccer, she’s closely watched the sport’s stature grow, first burnished by top-flight programs for women, especially, and then beyond. Just look at the fandom the NASL version of Minnesota United developed, she says, while playing in relatively remote Blaine, Minnesota, inaccessible by public transportation from the Twin Cities proper.
“Unless you’re playing soccer, Blaine is not really a destination,” she says, “and they were averaging 8,500 fans a game there, where there’s no real transportation to get there. I think that’s a huge testament.”
In the meantime, then, as the days wind down towards Minnesota’s first match in MLS, de St. Aubin’s gearing up to come full circle, and serve a community that’s embraced her return.
“I've really gotten a lot of support professionally from people that I've worked with in different markets, and different networks, and of course just fan support as well. So it's been really kind of humbling, you know, and an honoring experience to come back home,” she says. “I mean, I just can't wait for it to get started.”