MNUFC christens new pitch with training session at Allianz Field

The inaugural soccer game at Allianz Field is still more than a week away, but Minnesota United players and coaches got their first on-field experience at the facility on Wednesday.

The Loons held a training session to get a feel for the stadium and the grass before they head east to face the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. After a 2-0 start, the United have lost two straight.

They’ll have played five straight matches away from their new home and been on the road for six weeks by the time they break in Allianz Field on April 13.

“It’s going to be home for a long, long time. Two years ago it was sort of a dream and now it’s become a little more of the reality,” United coach Adrian Heath said.

Ike Opara, a 10-year MLS veteran, knows what the atmosphere will be like as an opponent coming to a Minnesota United soccer game. He came to the Loons in a trade from Sporting Kansas City. He spent six years there and played at TCF Bank Stadium as a visitor when the United rented the facility for two seasons while Allianz Field was under construction.

He expects a lively atmosphere when the Loons host New York City FC.

“I can imagine that atmosphere translating to this stadium and everything that comes with it. It’s going to be amazing to be a part of,” Opara said.

Opara even called it a “lift in morale” to get out on the Allianz Field grass before the Loons head east this weekend. It was a change the players were looking forward to, offering a different visual from their usual practice spot at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

The grass is still a little soft in some spots and it needs some time to grow, but the team expects it to be ready to go for the first match of the season.

“It’s everything we hoped for and more. From what I’ve seen it’s unbelievable so we’re excited,” Opara said.

Midfielder Ethan Finlay is both excited to play in his team’s new stadium, and to feel healthy again. He got his first start and played 75 minutes in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New England. It was his first game back since a knee injury last season.

“Now it’s kind of getting through the mental challenge of what the game experience gives you and dictates, and that will take a couple more games,” Finlay said.

The Loons have a balanced scoring attack four games in, but Darwin Quintero is their clear scoring leader. He’s got three goals and 11 shots, including five shots on goal, through four games. Romario Ibarra, Miguel Ibarra, Angelo Rodriguez and Jan Gregus all each have one goal.

The April 13 match against New York City FC starts a stretch where the Loons will have three out of four at their brand new, $250 million stadium. Allianz Field will house more than 19,000 soccer fans, and it’s a safe bet the first game will feature a packed house.

“We know it’s going to generate an incredible atmosphere. We’ve just got to do our part now and that’s perform in this great stadium,” Heath said.