The past month has been a blast.
First, there were the final touches on Allianz Field and the first looks inside. Media tours, open houses and food tastings got us all properly excited for the opening of Minnesota United’s new stadium.
In the week leading up to the home opener, the excitement reached a fever pitch. Google searches related to Allianz Field more than tripled and stadium-centric content flowed non-stop from the mouth of every relevant outlet.
Loons players and front office personnel granted interview after interview, recapping the club’s journey to MLS, the development of the stadium and the players’ excitement over performing in such a fantastic setting.
Then came the home opener.
It was exactly the kind of carnival we expected it to be. With close to 1,000 credentialed staff members and media working the match, according to Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press, the game was a spectacle by design.
Though the ensuing 3-3 draw between United and New York City FC was highly entertaining, and the magic of the stadium’s first real event was special, there was a sense of disappointment. The Loons failed to win on the day, despite having a real chance to do so.
The third time was the charm for getting that win, as Minnesota topped DC United 1-0 over the weekend. After the referee called time on the game, Wonderwall began to echo around the stadium.
First Wonderwall at Allianz Field https://t.co/KxSsSlCahJ— E Pluribus Loonum (@EPluribusLoonum) April 28, 2019
After booking it down to the supporters section from the press box, I took in the song’s first rendition at Allianz. Great as it was, it felt like it come more out of relief than out of some celebratory emotion.
Or, maybe, we were happy because the “firsts” were behind us.
After the home opener, manager Adrian Heath expressed relief that the team could return to focusing on playing quality soccer again. “It’s been a great day,” he said in his post-match press conference. “[I’m] pretty much relieved it’s out of the way now and we can concentrate on just doing what we do, which is playing football and not doing an interview every 20 minutes about the stadium. I’m glad that it’s all over.”
Heath may have exaggerated the frequency of his appearances in the media, but his frustration is on the mark. So many of the questions asked of players during that week were about the stadium and its meaning for Minnesotan soccer, when very few of them have lived in the state for more than three years.
I can’t blame them for starting to give some of the same answers to the same questions. I also can’t blame them for losing focus of their job: playing soccer.
On a smaller scale, a similar situation played out for Sunday’s match, a national TV game.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” explained Heath after the win. “It was obviously a relief for everybody. You know, yesterday, that’s all Fox [Sports] wanted to talk about. When will we hear Wonderwall? Which is nice. It’s out of the way now. We can start concentrating.”
In one case, the network’s desire to talk about the tradition distracted from the tradition itself. After taking a moment to recall which network it was that demanded his time, Ike Opara lamented the fact that he had to miss most of the supporters’ anthem. “Unfortunately, Fox took me away. Fox took me away from it halfway, so I didn’t even get to experience the full [Wonderwall],” he told reporters postgame.
It’s not like the Loons have played poorly at Allianz Field — two draws, two clean sheets and a win is not a bad tally against three strong clubs — but there is now a sense that they can strengthen their play in the new ground.
With the Seattle Sounders coming to town this weekend, Minnesota United gets its first shot at a “normal” game inside Allianz Field. No first games, goals or wins (there will be a first loss at some point, but that won’t steal storylines). No national media swooping in to dig a swamp of interviews.
Finally, we can enjoy normal soccer there.