Draw with NYCFC christens new digs
Allianz Field, Minnesota United’s palatial 19,400-seat stadium in Saint Paul, was merely minutes away from kickoff before a crisis struck in the stands. The 2,900 fans packed on the Wonderwall were gearing up to show off their latest work of art — a tribute to the state’s soccer history.
At 20,000 square feet, the tifo was the largest ever displayed at a professional match in Minnesota. Five panels honored the state’s four former squads, the Kicks, Thunder, Stars and Strikers, with the fifth for MNUFC.
The countless hours spent working on the banners were erased in a matter of seconds, however. The center tifo honoring MNUFC ripped in half on its way up the wall, meanwhile the vertical banner depicting a loon never completely unfurled. The collective anguish in the crowd was palpable as Allianz Field was off to a rocky start.
The ripped tifo fortunately was not a portend of the action on the field. No, there would be no “curse of the tifo” Saturday evening. Kickoff came and Minnesota was off, with a raucous crowd of 19,796 in support.
The Loons opened with goals on their mind, attacking down the flanks and consistently causing trouble in the penalty box. The forward momentum paid off when Ozzie Alonso swung his foot through the ball and put MNUFC ahead.
NYCFC would not roll over and die, scoring a pair of goals in front of the Wonderwall within the next five minutes to take the lead. After an electrifying start, the wind had been taken out of the building.
The Loons responded through Angelo Rodriguez to tie the score two minutes later, and a gaffe from New York City goalie Sean Rodriguez gave MNUFC the lead at halftime. It wouldn’t last though, as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi sent an unanswered cross into the penalty area that breezed past Loons goalie Vito Mannone.
Minnesota was unable to re-establish the attacking prowess it showed in the first half and the result was a 3-3 draw. The final line on the scoreboard no doubt stung; it meant a rendition of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” would be put on hold.
For many though, the score was never going to be the No. 1 takeaway from April 13 anyway.
Yes, April 13 will always be the date of Allianz Field’s inaugural match. More importantly though, April 13 will always be the date that generations of Minnesota soccer fans got their due.
It’s a date that will always carry special meaning for Minnesota fans, regardless of whether they watched the Kicks playing in the ’70s or became a fan when the Loons moved to Major League Soccer. New or old, it wasn’t lost on a single person in the building that they were witnessing the beginning of a new era for the sport in their state.
As time wears on, the score on April 13 will long be forgotten. What was truly unforgettable, even for someone who only recently began to follow the team, was the atmosphere. The sensation of witnessing Alonso’s first goal and sharing in the ensuing ecstasy with thousands of others was an indelible experience.
As a sports fan, Allianz Field is bucket list material. The crowd was raucous and relentless throughout. The stadium itself is a gem, standing out in the Twin Cities and illuminating Saint Paul’s Midway neighborhood. That’s no small feat considering the Twin Cities is home to five other sports venues built or remodeled in this millennium.
Allianz Field is all the more impressive when considering its place in Minnesota’s soccer history. It is a testament to individuals such as Buzz Lagos, former Thunder manager, and Dr. Bill McGuire, who purchased the Stars, rebranded the team and successfully bid to bring the franchise to MLS.
April 13 won’t be remembered as the date of MNUFC’s first win at Allianz Field. That said, it will forever be the date that the Loons found a permanent nest.