The day has come and gone. Minnesota United FC have arrived at their new home of Allianz Field, and opened it with an absurd delight of a game with New York City FC.
The game featured four goals in an eight-minute first-half stretch, two VAR decisions, one of the worst own goals seen in MLS in years, and ended with a 3-3 draw that neither club could be fully content with.
Minnesota’s lineup returned to nearly full strength after defeating New York Red Bulls without Darwin Quintero in its previous match. Quintero returned, as did Adrian Heath’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation, and the stage was set. New York City entered the game struggling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and needed to ruin the occasion.
This game was always going to be about so much more than the events on the field while simultaneously revolving around them. Minnesota has been waiting for its own stadium for the first two years in MLS, and the tantalizing details of this Midway site have drawn closer and closer to reality for the last several month.
April 13 was the day, and the people came.
The announced attendance on the day was a sellout of 19,796, and they were loud and lively from the start to the end of the game and for hours before. The supporters’ section marched and displayed an elaborate tifo celebrating the history of Minnesotan professional soccer and its culmination in this day and this space at the game’s beginning.
The occasion’s effect on the actual soccer to be played was predictable. The game was wild, almost out-of-control as it began, and both New York City and Minnesota were vulnerable to the rousing effects of the crowd. With the absurdity of the game’s second ten minutes, the possibilities were laid bare.
First came the euphoria of a stadium’s opening goal for its home team, and the source was among the game’s least likely. A cross from Romain Métanire was cleared but only to the top of the box, and Ozzie Alonso met the volley with great force, blasting it through the net and letting the celebrations begin just 13 minutes in.
“It was crazy. I just saw the ball go high, I hit it well and I scored the goal and people started screaming,” Alonso said after the game. “It was a great moment for me.”
Unfortunately for the jubilant Wonderwall, their joy was to be short-lived. Valentin Castellanos dropped two defenders entirely too easily on a cross into the box and finished easily past Vito Mannone, and the lead had lasted all of two minutes.
Two minutes more and Allianz Field met its first deficit, as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi found the back of the net on his second attempt, with his first blocked right back into his path. Again United were too easily taken apart, and the question could easily be asked if the nerves of the occasion were getting to them.
The real answer was that the nerves of the occasion were getting to everyone, as the game was tied again within yet another two minutes. Ethan Finlay escaped down the right side almost completely unguarded, and his cross perfectly met Ángelo Rodríguez’s forehead to blast past Sean Johnson.
The game had seen just twenty minutes of action, and had already seen a whopping four goals. Both teams settled down a little bit at that point, but this was clearly no ordinary occasion. The fifth goal would add a layer of comedy to the frantic pace of the day.
Johnson was positioned normally to accept a backward pass from his defender as New York City maintained possession, under little to no pressure from any Minnesotan player. Johnson attempted to redirect the ball to his right to pass it away, and instead steered the ball directly into the back of his own net out of absolutely nothing.
Before the half expired, Minnesota had a penalty chance wiped away by VAR due to Finlay being offside before he was fouled, and it seemed like nearly every circumstance possible in an MLS game had been achieved in just the first half. The five minutes of first-half stoppage time were both totally ridiculous in concept and entirely necessary due to the sheer number of stoppages in play for goals alone.
The second half proved much more typical, and New York City was the team on top for its critical portions. The halftime substitution of Alexandru Mitrita for Tony Rocha, who Métanire and Finlay had run roughshod over, both shored up the away defense and enhanced the potency of their already dominant possession.
Minnesota finished the first half with just 30.6 percent possession.
City had the ball in the back of the net a second time through Castellanos in a weird play on the hour mark, but VAR correctly disallowed the goal as Castellanos had controlled the opportunity with his arm. Instead, it was Tajouri-Shradi who would score his second and tie the game up, on a direct free kick that took a slight deflection off of Francisco Calvo.
The neutralization of Minnesota’s attacking forces had been complete, and while Quintero was not pleased to be subbed off for Abu Danladi, he had been ineffective and a change was clearly necessary if the Loons wanted all three points. As the game’s final 10 minutes struck, some of Minnesota’s best soccer of the night came.
The home side sent in cross after cross, recording the majority of their nine corner kicks in the latter portion of the second half. Finlay and Métanire both had opportunities to wriggle free, and Calvo had likely the two best single opportunities, with free shots that he could not put on the frame of goal in the game’s dying moments.
The mood of the affair was further dampened by an unfortunate collision between Ike Opara and Castellanos, which resulted in both players being substituted with likely head injuries. Opara’s was less likely than obvious, as he was bleeding after the collision. When the teams resorted to arguing calls, flopping and nearly getting into physical confrontation in stoppage time, it was fortunate that nothing more than words were exchanged in anger.
In the end, the points were split, and it was hard to argue that the draw was not the correct result. Both teams had taken many of the opportunities they had been given, and both had missed chances to take the lead and therefore the three points.
In many ways, it was good for Minnesota that the occasion was now done with.
“I’m sure for the neutral it was an entertaining game,” Heath said to open his postgame remarks. “Not too good for both coaches, I wouldn’t have thought. The game was too open for my liking. We gave away three poor goals, they didn’t have to work hard for the goals.”
“It’s been a great day. Pretty much relieved it’s out of the way now and we can concentrate on just doing what we do, which is playing football and not doing an interview every 20 minutes about the stadium.” The coach confirmed the suspicion that many in the club would relish the return to normalcy after the day’s festivities.
“It was amazing. We just have to say thank you to the fans, thank you to the organization,” said Calvo. “They did a really good job. I think we put effort on the field. The game was weird. I’m pretty sure the upcoming games will improve.”
Calvo talked more about the effect of the day’s energy on the field. “I think that affected not just us. We were really excited, I’m pretty sure New York wanted to stop that, so it was a really weird game. But now it’s gone, this day is gone. We know that we have [the Los Angeles] Galaxy coming here, and I’m pretty sure that game is going to go so differently.”
Calvo said it right: this day is gone, for all of its fanfare. Allianz Field is just part of this team now, and in just over a week’s time it will host its second and third MLS games. It can become the new normal, and one suspects that normal will do nothing but help Minnesota as they attempt to solidify their strong early season.