On Tuesday afternoon, Minnesota United’s players got their first opportunity to tour Allianz Field as a team, now complete save for a few finishing touches here and there. They were welcomed to the Field Club on the ground floor by Managing Partner Dr. Bill McGuire and CEO Chris Wright, who asked them to make themselves at home.
And so, given free rein to check out the new digs, they headed to the home locker room, taking in the club facilities and amenities appreciatively while snapping photos on their phones. Goalkeeper Coach John Pascarella, who was with Sporting Kansas City when they opened Children’s Mercy Park in 2011, noted that he felt there were a lot of similarities between SKC at that moment and Minnesota United right now, especially in terms of how they worked to stake their claim as part of the culture in Kansas City. There was a feeling, he felt, of a team coming into its own.
As the players started to drift away from the locker room, I followed a group up the stairs to the concourse. The pitch was still perhaps 75% covered in snow, although it was rapidly melting thanks to the heated pipes under the grass that have already raised the soil temperature to the mid-60s. The grow lights were on in the southwest corner and players took a moment to take in the pitch before one, then another, then a few more made their way down the still snow-packed steps to the edge of the field and onto it, mad for it to be in contact with them.
It’s easy to appreciate why. This is it — this is where they’ll start writing the first chapters of a new story about Minnesota United. This is where they’ll build memories for themselves and the fans. There’ll be good, there’ll be bad, there’ll be tough moments and there will be moments of triumph over adversity. A few players in the stands huck snowballs at the ones on the pitch. Mason Toye takes a selfie in the warm glow of the grow lights. Francisco Calvo squats down to roll the almost ludicrously long grass between his thumb and forefinger. Underneath the snow, it’s been setting down roots.
Up above, some of the rookies have wandered up to the press box area and they whistle down. Calvo gently chides Ozzie Alonso — who picked up a yellow in the game against Vancouver — about not getting suspended for the home opener. As one of three MLS teams with perfect records currently, the team as a group feels confident, cohesive, but not swaggery, not cocky. Ready to open Allianz Field but not desperate for it. They are, as Paul Newman says in The Hustler, “tight, but good.”
Michael Boxall and new goalkeeper Vito Mannone make their way out to the middle of the field where it’s still covered in snow and stand, chatting. They’re two of the last to leave the pitch.
I ask Boxall if there’s any sense yet of ownership, of any feeling about the place yet. No, not really, he answers frankly. Once the people start coming in, he says.
It’s almost like it’s waiting for something, I offer.
“Yeah,” he says. “Like it’s waiting for its soul.”