United has 5 straight road games before Allianz Field debut

The newest professional sports stadium to hit the Twin Cities is hard to miss.

In the heart of the Midway area of St. Paul at Interstate 94 near Snelling Avenue sits Allianz Field. It’s the new, state-of-the-art home of the Minnesota United.

Sporting Director Manny Lagos says it’s “by far the nicest stadium in the country.”

He’s hoping the product on the field matches the multi-million dollar investment this upcoming season. The United FC is coming off an 11-20-3 campaign in its second full year in Major League Soccer.

They struggled to find the net last season, scoring 47 goals in 34 games. They finished minus-23 in goal differential, last in the Western Conference, and 10 points out of a playoff spot. The United also struggled on the road with a 3-12-2 record.

But a new season means new opportunity.

“In soccer the atmospheres make it so hard to go play well on the road, there’s such an intensity from the home fans from the field to absorb that type of pressure and we have to do a better job of that,” Lagos said. “We can say that we have to do better when we go on the road of having the mentality that we’re going to try to get one point, or straight out wins on the road.”

Lagos is hoping that translates to a big home field advantage for the Minnesota United at Allianz Field in its first season there. The United were 7-6-4 at TCF Bank Stadium last year.

Lagos said the environment the fans created there was hard to match.

“We’ve had 25,000 fans at TCF the last two years, and it was an insane atmosphere. It was raucous, we had fans that stand and cheer the whole game,” Lagos said. “I can tell people 100 percent they are going to be in for 10 times that. It’s going to be even louder, more of a light show and the product on the field is going to be awesome.”

The only problem? Minnesota United FC is on the road for the first five weeks of the season. The Loons’ home opener is April 13 against New York City FC.

It also helps when you add really, really good players. The United acquired midfielder Darwin Quintero in March of 2018. He was with Club America for the previous three seasons, scoring 27 goals and adding 23 assists in 146 matches. He won consecutive CONCACAF league titles in 2015 and 2016.

In 27 games with the United last year, Quintero had 11 goals and 15 assists.

“He’s one of the top players in the league. He is no matter what going to be exciting, win lose or draw. He’s one of the most exciting players in the league,” Lagos said. “It’s exciting to build a team around a guy like that. We should be excited about the talent we have and his ability to change a game.”

They also expect to have midfielder Ethan Finlay back from injury, and Kevin Molino is expected to make a full return after tearing an ACL last season. Add in Miguel Ibarra, and the United has a recipe to field a competitive squad this season. Quintero, Ibarra and Christian Ramirez combined to score 25 of the team’s 47 goals last season.

The Loons open the 2019 regular season Saturday at Vancouver. Coach Adrian Heath said there could be as many as eight new faces on the field for the United’s first real game.

“We’ve never had this strength and depth, and that’s really, really positive,” Heath said.

One of those new faces is defender Ike Opara. He was acquired in a trade with Sporting Kansas City on Jan. 28. He started 100 games there over six seasons, and had five goals and 12 assists. He was named the Defender of the Year in 2017.

He’s ready to go on Saturday.

“There’s no feeling like when you have an offseason and then you get back on the field. It’s like you’ve missed this for a few months and the adrenaline is at an all-time high,” Opara said.

The United has never been to the playoffs. Their ultimate goal this year is to change that.

“Last year I thought we left three results out there that would’ve put us very close. This is a better group than that,” Heath said. “I know a lot of teams have improved, but if we have a little bit of luck along the way and stay injury-free, I’m confident that we can challenge for the playoffs this year.”