Professional soccer in Minnesota, particularly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has been around since 1976 when the Minnesota Kicks played at Metropolitan Stadium in the nearby suburb of Bloomington.
Nearly 50 years later, all eyes in North American soccer were fixated on the Twin Cities as Minnesota United FC hosted the 2022 Major League Soccer All-Star Game at Allianz Field in St. Paul. When the evening’s final whistle blew on Aug. 10, the mission was accomplished — the MLS All-Stars defeated Liga MX All-Stars 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,797.
“This is kind of our coming out party where people can really see and get the feel of what soccer means for Minnesota,” Minnesota United chief marketing officer John Guagliano tells Boardroom. “Our values and our ‘why’ is to promote soccer and through it inspire and unite the community. We want our community and we want Minnesota to be proud.”
Opened in 2019, Allianz Field is a $250 million, entirely privately funded soccer-specific stadium situated off I-94 between Minneapolis to the west and St. Paul to the east.
Despite an estimated 1.9 million Minnesotans living within 30 miles of the venue, Allianz Field boasts an intimate feel, whether standing at the top of the supporter’s section or seated pitchside. The closest seat to the field is 17 feet away, while the furthest is just 125 feet.
“When you walk into the building at first you’re like, ‘It’s big.’ Then, when you get over the seats, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s close,’” Guagliano said. “It’s tight, it’s close and it’s intimate, and we love that. We want that feeling that you can almost touch the players.”
Then there’s the Wonderwall, one of three current MLS safe-standing sections. It holds 2,920 people and is a pyramid-shaped supporters’ section — the steepest standing section in the league at an angle 39.8 degrees. MLS regulations permit up to 40 degrees.
Allianz Field is wrapped in a translucent, mesh-like skin and a curvy, 360-degree canopy above open-air seats overlooking a natural grass field. And while its physical structure is cosmopolitan, it showcases several amenities and accents inside that are uniquely Minnesota.
As the players walk onto the field, they pass a 300-pound piece of taconite mined from the northern part of the state; the popular local iron ore also serves as inspiration for the particular shade of gray in the club’s crest, which also features the loon, the official state bird. Loon iconography is featured prominently throughout the venue, including in the stands opposite the players’ bench and around the supporters’ section.
“Those are things that no one can have but us because everything is from here,” Guagliano said. “Minnesotans take a lot of pride in being Minnesotans. The weather is harsh but the people are resilient. This building is kind of our homage to them.”
Allianz Field, at which Minnesota United debuted with a 3-3 draw against New York City FC on April 13, 2019, additionally hosted CONCACAF Gold Cup matches that year, as well as a pair of US Women’s National Team friendlies and a USMNT match on Feb. 2, 2022 that kicked off at a bone-chilling five degrees.
While the venue has also hosted an opera performance, a pair of Drone Racing League events, and a football game between local colleges St. Thomas and St. John’s, Guagliano said Allianz Field is a soccer facility first and foremost — and he hopes it becomes a regular stop for both the USMNT and USWNT.
At the moment, Allianz Field — which hosted an average of 14,326 fans for Minnesota United matches in 2021 — doesn’t have plans to expand despite some early hesitations from MLS Commissioner Don Garber when it opened three years ago. During the All-Star Game announcement, Garber said the venue was “the appropriate size for our league where it is today.”
“We really love the intimate feel and the fortress,” Guagliano said. “It is loud, it is tight and it’s home-field advantage and we’re okay with that. We want to make sure we don’t just do things to do things. We have to really take our time and analyze. … Right now, we’re just enjoying having a nice fortress.”