Photo Credit: Wes Burdine

The Angle

What Allianz Field Means to Me

by on 9 April 2019

It was a June afternoon in 2012 when a small group of Minnesota soccer fans sat around a table with then-Mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak.

The Vikings stadium legislative press had really begun in earnest and Major League Soccer had been peppered into promotional pitches to legislators. They were familiar empty gestures we had seen rehearsed around the country: “We’ll build this with soccer in mind,” Vikings officials and politicians would say somewhere before a stifled yawn. That day we met with the Mayor to try to advocate for just what MLS might mean for a place like Minneapolis and to make sure soccer was never an afterthought.

We left that meeting with vague positivity that maybe we could help make something happen, a feeling that waned as the summer turned to fall and Minnesota pro soccer drew closer toward its death.

Only four months later, after years of being on the brink, fans of professional soccer watched the Minnesota Stars downed by penalty kicks in the North American Soccer League final. All but a handful of people believed these to be the final moments of professional soccer in Minnesota. The players slouched back to their locker room, their final kick of the ball—perhaps forever—was saved by the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Jeff Attinella.

When the live cameras found head coach Manny Lagos he tried to summarize his feelings and failed. He mustered some composure through stifled tears. “This fucking team,” he said. They had pushed through so much and come up short, but they did everyone proud.

They had wanted to keep it a secret as negotiations continued, but NASL Commissioner David Downs decided he could not let the players sit in that locker room, believing their team dead. He walked in and announced the sale of the league-owned club to Dr. Bill McGuire, the former head of United Healthcare.

Those days were apocalyptic, emitting the kind of panicked death sweat that beckons to vultures. And though they were some of the headiest days for a fan—two finals in a row and a kind of cult-like atmosphere amongst a burgeoning Dark Clouds—I miss nothing about them. Fans were desperate: for politicians to do something, to get more fans out to games, or for some rich benefactor to just show up out of nowhere.

On April 13th, Minnesota United, a team reborn, will open its new stadium. The first time I stepped into the concourse and looked out on a pitch still covered in snow, goosebumps spread across my body like a blush. It is a beautiful stadium—to be sure—but what it is matters less than that it exists.

For me, the stadium is Cloud City, the realization of a dream, and a permanent home of our own. It is a monument to all the work done by players and coaches mostly long gone, who taught us to sing the song we use to celebrate our wins, “Wonderwall.” It is also the work of an owner and staff of a team that wanted to build something that was more than just another stadium.

Manny Lagos and a few others have referred to Allianz Field as a “cathedral to soccer” on a number of occasions and the metaphor certainly fits. The stadium is where fans come together to practice their bizarre rites and to commune. Previous Minnesota stadiums had birthed their own unique parts of Minnesota soccer culture: the Jimmy is where the Dark Clouds formed, the Nessie was where Wonderwall was first sung, and TCF Bank was where it all stepped onto the national stage. And Cloud City will be the place where that tradition will continue to grow and evolve. For the next few decades it will be the place we come together to yell and sing and the place where new traditions emerge.

I said the what of the stadium matters less, but certainly the stadium’s details affect the experience. A privately-funded stadium in the heart of the Twin Cities matters, as does the stadium’s luminescent beauty. The supporters’ section’s ADA seating is right in the middle of the supporters and not shunted off to the side as an after-thought. The supporters’ section design is made to amplify sound. The team built an analog clock and scoreboard at the request of supporters who wanted to bring the supporters-designed old clock from the Nessie. Many of these amenities have been praised elsewhere, but they stand out as heightening the excitement.

Living half a mile from the stadium and working even closer, it sits firmly in my subconscious. It allows me to look back on those years of fan tumult with a bit more fondness, now that the dread has been sterilized. For other fans, they will have their own set of associations. Many will see their first Minnesota pro soccer game in that stadium and know nothing else. Each of us will carry those emotions to the stadium and allow them to draw up to a head of steam for the kickoff.

For me, that moment of kickoff will be over-determined by a million different emotions. Soccer has grown to an absurd level of meaning in my life—a thing that has created friendships, changed my career, and re-oriented how I interact with my community. On Saturday, we will step foot in that new home, that cathedral, that place we could not have dreamed of years ago, when we would have killed just to be the afterthought of the Minnesota Vikings.

During Minnesota’s inaugural MLS year, and that now-infamous horrid start, a fellow supporter, Matthew Eide, traveled from his D.C. home to New England to watch the dismal 5-2 drubbing at the hands of the Revolution. “We’re just happy to be here,” his sign read. There may be goals on Saturday, maybe more of them will be scored by the Loons than NYCFC, but it will hardly matter. We are just happy to be here, just happy we still have soccer to cheer for, and to have a place to do it.

There are a number of people over the years that made it all possible. Some of them you know—Dr. Bill, Manny Lagos, Carl Craig, Bruce McGuire, Brian Quarstad, or Kevin Friedland. Most of them you don’t—Angie Blaker, Andy Wattenhofer, Djorn Buchholz, Tom Donovan, Jim Oliver, Jim Crist, and a hundred others that helped build a team, a culture, and a stadium. Minnesota United is a team that almost died a million deaths and somehow came through it all, stronger. And at that kickoff, I’ll be saying a bit of thanks to everyone who helped make that happen. Thanks to you.

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