Allianz Field opening a 'once in a lifetime experience'

There is a certain buzz inside the gates at Allianz Field this week, and it’s not just from the Stoli Mule or the craft beers that are served in the stadium’s Brew Hall.

History that’s about four years in the making will take place near the intersection of Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue, the Midway area in the Twin Cities, on Saturday afternoon. Just after 4 p.m., the Minnesota United hosts New York City FC.

The Loons will take the field in their new home, officially for the first time. They’ve held at least one workout on their new grass, but they officially break it in Saturday with a game that matters.

Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright said he plans to address the team at some point before Saturday’s game. He’s not completely sure what the words will be just yet, but this is more than just an opening game.

“There’s a season opener every year, but there’s only one game where you open a brand new stadium,” Wright said. “They’re part of it, they’re our club, they’re our roster, they’re our product. They are our team, and the meaningfulness of them and that performance on Saturday will be great in front of 20,000 fans.”

It will be a full house as Allianz Field has 19,400 seats and has extra room for standing-only spectators. And at least for one game, there will be plenty of them.

“The best part has been seeing people when they walk in for the first time and you see their eyes light up. They start thinking ‘this is my team’s stadium.’ Everyone knows you always feel more attached to something if you feel ownership of it,” said Jamie Watson, a former pro soccer player and now the United’s sideline reporter for TV broadcasts.

It all becomes real on Saturday, but it doesn’t happen without years of hard work and preparation from everyone associated with the United. Team officials held an event Wednesday to display the popular concessions and drinks that fans can indulge in during soccer games.

The Allianz Field Brew Hall features 96 taps, mostly local craft beers. There are also craft cocktails, highlighted by the Stoli Mule. The Brew Hall also features popular foods, including the MyBurger Double Burger, Brisket Pub nachos and Wild Rice salad.

Fans will find several food vendors along the concourse. Some of the expected favorites include the Handsome Hog Carolina BBQ pork sandwich and the pretzel and cheese from the Hungry Loon, Brasa’s signature burritos, Nice Slice Pizza from World’s Fare, tacos from the Global Street Grill and nachos from Los Ocampo Express.

Many options are gluten-friendly. United officials also worked hard to get the Hot Pastrami Sandwich from Cecil’s Diner.

At least so far, the product on the field appears to be worth the trip to Allianz Field itself. The Loons got off to a 2-0 start before dropping consecutive games to the L.A. Galaxy and New England Revolution. The United ended that short skid last Saturday with a 2-1 win at the New York Red Bulls.

The Loons improved to 3-2 on the season, are sixth in the Western Conference and most importantly, have momentum going into one of their biggest games of the season. It’s a rare opportunity to break in a brand new facility.

“As a player you may never get this moment in your career again, and there’s no bigger motivation than to have a once in a lifetime experience in a stadium opening,” Watson said.

For Wright, the Allianz Field project comes full circle on Saturday. He’s been with the Minnesota United for about 19 months after being in the Timberwolves’ front office. There wasn’t a hole in the ground at the stadium site when he started.

Now it’s finished, it will be a full house on Saturday and the quality of the soccer is getting better every day. It’s as much satisfaction as it is celebration.

“At this stage in my career to be involved in a project like this and know that 20,000 people are going to be inside this stadium on Saturday supporting our club is truly remarkable,” Wright said.