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‘As good as anywhere in the world’: The debut of Allianz Field ushers in a new era for Minnesota United. And for soccer in Minnesota

MinnPost photo by Pat Borzi
Inside the stadium looking north toward the Brew Hall and old-school scoreboard.

For a guy standing where he didn’t want to be Wednesday, Minnesota United Coach Adrian Heath was in a pretty good mood. Cold temperatures and an approaching snowstorm forced United inside for training at their National Sports Center practice site in Blaine, and Thursday’s practice scheduled for sparkling-new Allianz Field already had been moved there. Ahh, springtime in Minnesota.

Heath would have liked more outdoor practices, especially on the lush pitch at Allianz, the club’s $250 million new stadium that debuts with Saturday’s home opener. The place holds 19,400, and the 4 p.m. game with New York City FC is a sellout. It may not be as sunny and warm then as it was for United’s only practice there April 3 — the forecast calls for clouds and high of 40 — but a new home is a new home. And Heath and his players are anxious to get started.

“Just calling it home, getting into that stadium … The club has done an incredible job of catering to everything that we need,” Heath said. “I’ve been doing this since I’ve left school at 15. This is as good as anywhere in the world. I know the supporters are going to be impressed with everything.”

This is United’s third season in Major League Soccer, and for the first time they’ve given those scarf-wearing supporters some on-field success to cheer about.

Eight veterans added since the middle of last season helped United tighten up defensively and start well. A club that won one road game all last season tripled that total on its first road trip, going 3-2 and earning nine points. United undertook that long a trip in part to avoid the cold and the NCAA men’s Final Four in Minneapolis, and mainly to ensure Allianz was ready to go. Good thing, too. Workers in yellow vests and hardhats busied themselves with final touches while United practiced there last week.

From Interstate 94, Allianz resembles a spaceship that landed in the Midway neighborhood looking for 3.2 beer. That the exterior, thanks to LED lighting, can change color almost at will adds to the effect. The Allianz opening completes a remarkable period of Twin Cities arena construction that has seen venues built or renovated for seven professional franchises since 2000 — the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves/Lynx, Wild, Saints and United — plus University of Minnesota football. Allianz was the only one privately financed.

Allianz is exactly what MLS officials preferred when it awarded Dr. Bill McGuire and partners the franchise: A open-air, soccer-specific, natural-grass stadium close to public transportation. With A Line express bus service and Green Line light rail stops a block away, Allianz is much easier to get to than United’s old stadium in Blaine. But drivers, beware; nearby parking is expensive. Expect to pay $20 to $50 at area ramps and lots. It’s $15 at the State Fairgrounds, with a free shuttle to and from the stadium.

Allianz Field
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Allianz Field photographed on Thursday as crews work to remove snow from this week's storm.
“We believe this can be the best soccer-specific stadium in the country when you begin to take a look at the design, the design features, the finishes, the proximity to the field,” said United Chief Executive Officer Chris Wright. “It’s been designed beautifully. It’s been built beautifully.

“We have one or two surprises when we win games, what we’re going to do with the outside of the stadium, how were going to light the stadium for special events, national holidays. That will be a very unique feature of the stadium itself.”

Inside, the worst seat in the top row of the second deck seems close enough to the pitch that players shouldn’t look like ants. One unique feature: The 2,900-capacity supporters section in the south end zone for the Dark Clouds and True North Elite, with room to sing, jump and carry on responsibly. (It probably isn’t an accident that the club put the Brew Hall on the opposite end of the stadium.)  The supporters section intrigued defender Ike Opara so much that when United practiced at Allianz last week, he walked to the top row check it out.

“Kudos to whoever is going to go up there,” said Opara, who was acquired from Sporting KC in January. “It’s going to be rocking for sure. I’m scared of heights so it’s too steep for me.

Allianz Field
MinnPost photo by Pat Borzi
The supporters section on the south end of Allianz Field featuring the Loon backdrop.
“I want to see every crevice of the stadium, because I think it’s unbelievable. Kansas City, this stadium, LA FC, I think those are some of the best stadiums in this league. That’s what every team should aspire to be. Some of these teams play in baseball stadiums and football stadiums, which is garbage. Every team should want to have a stadium like Allianz.”

Ethan Finlay, the Duluth-born midfielder who grew up in Marshfield, Wis., couldn’t stop raving about it. “You walk out of the tunnel over there and you look around, and you can just kind of see the detail that’s been put into this stadium,” he said. “We were joking about the lights they put in this building, from our locker room to the premium areas to the concourses. They’re beautiful. It’s truly going to be a special place for years to come.”

Heath’s lineup for Saturday remains uncertain. Winger Miguel Ibarra (hamstring strain) sat out Saturday’s 2-1 victory at the New York Red Bulls, didn’t practice Wednesday and probably won’t play. High scoring forward Darwin Quintero missed the Red Bulls game with a groin strain but returned to practiced this week. Mid-week, a cautious Heath said he might rest Quintero again and stick with the 3-4-3 formation that worked so well in New York.

“The one thing about having a good group, we’ve got extended depth now,” Heath said. “We’ve got better players all around. It does gives us a chance to make sure they’re 100 percent fit, because we’ve got people who can contribute when they play.”

Either way, Heath is excited to see how Allianz plays, and how loud it can get. “This is going to be home now,” he said. “And we’ve got to make sure that we make this a fortress, a place people don’t like to come. That obviously starts this week.”

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/12/2019 - 03:50 pm.

    I still want to know just how much the property tax exemption granted for this $250 million stadium costs the people of St. Paul and Ramsey County. Perhaps Mr. Borzi could look into that.

    • Submitted by Joe Anderson on 04/12/2019 - 09:57 pm.

      It’s costing us 0 because the city was generating 0 in property tax revenue before. Go be a NIMBY somewhere else.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/14/2019 - 09:02 pm.

        You are pre-supposing that the property would generate zero property tax dollars in perpetuity. Which was not necessarily the case.

        • Submitted by Scott Walters on 04/15/2019 - 07:38 am.

          Not necessarily. But the odds were looking good. The Midway and Saint Paul got an awesome deal. The world’s crappiest grocery store and a toxic gravel lot bus graveyard for a privately funded jewel of a stadium and a great opportunity to boost a struggling retail zone. Sounds like a good plan to me.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/15/2019 - 11:16 am.

          Well, it didn’t produce any for 50 years and the closest anyone came was a Home Depot, which didn’t work out.

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/15/2019 - 07:01 pm.

            You can’t count the time it was a publicly owned bus garage.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/16/2019 - 03:06 pm.

              Actually, you can. Because the buses could have been kept anywhere, and they would have gladly moved them if someone wanted to develop the site without tax breaks. But no one did.

              But ok. The bus garage was torn down in 2002. So it has been a vacant lot for 17 years as well as generating no tax revenue for 50.

              I went to Hamline and lived in the Midway for a number of years. This is a neighborhood that needed something like the stadium to spur development. It wasn’t going to happen on its own. Since the construction was privately funded, the costs (less infrastructure that would be provided to any new business) is the loss of tax revenue that *might* have been generated someday.

              So, yeah, maybe Home Depot would have come in, built an ugly orange building, and created some minimum wage jobs. But the Home Depot building wouldn’t cost $250 million and would produce a tiny fraction or the tax revenue as the stadium would if it were taxed. But we’d still be stuck with the crappy old strip mall instead of the new (taxable) development that is going in.

              This one isn’t even a close call.

    • Submitted by Mark Kulda on 04/13/2019 - 12:55 pm.

      The ‘exemption’ was simply the club asking that it be allowed to be taxed at the current rate and not the windfall rate the city would have demanded with the site’s improvements. In exchange, the city gets to reap many tax and other benefits from the dramatically increased economic activity in what was essentially a deserted, polluted empty lot previously.

  2. Submitted by Dave Carlson on 04/13/2019 - 10:18 am.

    I toured the new Allianz Field on a nice day in March and it is very nice. The $13 beer in the Brew Hall was a bit of a sticker shock but maybe that’s how they are paying for it. Besides transit or driving, biking is free and convenient as they have installed hundreds of bike racks right next to the stadium… nearby Pascal Avenue has bike lanes and an easy way to cross I-94. The team is off to a good start and I wish them well this season!

    • Submitted by Gary Derong on 04/15/2019 - 01:02 pm.

      Beer mark-up has helped pay for every one of our string of sports pearls, along with a real-estate grab and a tax break or public financing component. But the benefit to the community has been real-estate development around every post-Metrodome sports venue. The next such venue in the metro area is a Northwoods League ballpark fashioned from the former Hudson greyhound track that will have a brewpub.

  3. Submitted by Tate Ferguson on 04/15/2019 - 08:04 am.

    We still need NASCAR, for the TC to become the total US sports mecca. A new motorsports arena would be a good fit at the New Brighton/Arden Hills Superfund Site a/k/a Twin Cities Ammunition Plant. I’m almost not joking.

    • Submitted by Gary Derong on 04/15/2019 - 12:46 pm.

      NASCAR interest and attendance has been falling due to the retirements of popular drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ever-changing and confusing racing formats. Drive to Joliet or Kansas City if you still care.

  4. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/15/2019 - 08:32 am.

    $50 parking and $13 beer? I’m sure the residents of Midway will flock.

    I’m a guy who doesn’t give a whit bout sportsball of any sort but if folks in Minnesota want another one to choose from, I’m all for it. I just wonder how viable it will be, starting out with insane prices and all.

  5. Submitted by Jack Lint on 04/15/2019 - 02:51 pm.

    The $13 beers are only Surly Furious and Xtra Citra and Lupulin Hooey (20 oz draft.) The beers on tap at the Brew Hall are mainly craft beers with one import, Heineken. You can also get 16 oz canned beer. The cheapest beer is a 16 oz. domestic light beer for $9.50.

    The Twins charge $12 for “Super Premium Draft Beers,” $9.00-$10.00 for domestic, and $10.50-$11.50 for premium. So it’s not like the Beer Hall prices are totally out of line with what you get charged at sporting events and I would argue that they’re serving better beer at Allianz.

    Lesson is that beer is always overpriced at sporting events and you shouldn’t buy it unless you think it’s worth the amount they’re charging. A soccer game last about two hours. Drink before. Drink after.

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