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Zulgad: Warm reception: Allianz Field’s first impression makes it the star of the show

ST. PAUL — Adrian Heath seemed relieved it was over. Brent Kallman marveled at what he had witnessed, though the end result wasn’t what he or his team wanted. And Minnesota United fans? They are unlikely to forget what they experienced Saturday, although it’s highly unlikely they will remember the end result.

That was a 3-3 tie between Minnesota United and New York City FC. Yes, the fact the Loons got one point instead of three left Heath and his players lamenting missed opportunities, but they had to realize they weren’t the star of the show Saturday. The star was the brand-new, $250 million Allianz Field, and the sell-out crowd of 19,796 who jammed into the stadium just off Snelling Avenue on a chilly 39-degree day seemed perfectly happy no matter who won.

“It’s been a great day,” said Heath, the Loons coach. “I’m pretty much relieved it’s out of the way now. We can come to (focus) on just doing what we do which is playing football and not doing an interview every 20 minutes about the stadium. I’m glad it’s all over, glad that we didn’t lose. I thought our supporters were magnificent. I though the noise in the stadium was incredible and it bodes for better times ahead, I think.”

The noise in the stadium was pretty much nonstop and came in large part from the single-tiered, standing-room only, general admission section that can hold more than 2,920 fans and is home to supporter groups the Dark Clouds and True North Elite. Members of these groups make up a good portion of the fans at the south end of the stadium and, in addition to not having seats in which to sit, they also spend the game singing and chanting. This starts outside the venue — as it did on Saturday — and continues until the final whistle blows.

“It was better (than I expected),” Loons midfielder and Duluth native Ethan Finlay said when asked about the first game in his team’s new home. “This will probably be the only time in my career I’ll have the opportunity to do what we did today and open up a new stadium and be a part of that. It was special. I had hairs on the back of my neck standing up as we came out of that tunnel and just to hear the fans for … you can’t even say 90 minutes, when it was 98, 99 minutes when you include the stoppage time. A special day.”

The United, which is in its third season in MLS, is Minnesota’s third shot at big-league soccer. The Minnesota Kicks of the North American Soccer League played their outdoor games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington before folding and were followed by the Minnesota Strikers, who played at the Metrodome. The United spent their first two seasons in MLS playing home games at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

All three venues — the Met, the Metrodome and TCF Bank Stadium — where either baseball/football stadiums, or a football-only stadium that happened to be capable of playing host to soccer. But none provided an enjoyable experience for a non-soccer fan. The view was too distant and the incentive to pay great attention wasn’t great.

That has changed with Allianz Field. The listed capacity is only 19,400. The good thing about that is there not only isn’t a bad seat in the stadium, but just about every seat puts you on top of the playing surface.

Kallman called Allianz “a proper soccer stadium,” adding, “everybody is right on top of the field and then the ‘Wonderwall’ behind the (south) goal, I think is a pretty intimidating thing for opposition to come in and see.”

Kallman grew up in Woodbury and joined United back in their NASL days in 2013. He was the first Minnesotan to join the Loons in MLS in 2017.

Asked if he ever thought he would see this day, when a professional soccer team in Minnesota was playing in its own stadium, Kallman said: “Probably not, no. It’s awesome. What a roll we’ve been on to get here. I’m just so happy for everybody at the club. The ownership group, the staff, everybody who has done such a great job on this place and put work into it over the course of the last few years. … What a stadium. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, really wanted to win for everybody, but at least we didn’t lose.”

Actually, the match was extremely entertaining with six goals scored. The Loons took a 1-0 lead, and Allianz erupted with cheers, when Osvaldo Alonso scored in the 13th minute but NYCFC rallied to take a 2-1 lead. NYCFC was down 3-2 at halftime, but tied the score in the 64th minute on Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s second goal of the game, this one off a free kick.

United took a 3-2 lead when a New York defender played the ball back to goalkeeper Sean Johnson and Johnson accidently put the ball into his own goal. At that moment, it looked as if everything might go Minnesota’s way. The team had played its first five games on the road, trying to get to the point where Allianz would open with decent weather, and won three of them. NYCFC came into Saturday’s match with an 0-1-4 record.

“We knew it was going to be quite an emotional day and I was really proud for a lot of people,” Heath said. “I was so pleased for Dr. (Bill) McGuire (the team’s managing partner) and the ownership group. (This is) something that was a dream, pie in the sky, two or three years ago and now to see this stadium full. The atmosphere within the stadium. I was really pleased for a lot of people.

“I thought the crowd was magnificent. The noise in the stadium was everything we thought it was going to be. It was an exciting game. There were goals as well. So, overall, it was probably a fair result, but obviously a disappointment that we didn’t go and get all three and send everybody home happy.”

A case could be made that everyone except for Heath and his players did go home happy Saturday. No matter the final score.





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