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Scarves up! Allianz Field’s grand opening packed the stands with super fans and a few Loons

Fans pose in front of the big United sign as Minnesota United FC held their home opener at Allianz Field in St. Paul Saturday, April 13. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 2
A huge "tifo" or banner is unfurled by fans in the south stands, as Minnesota United FC held their home opener at Allianz Field in St. Paul Saturday, April 13. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

ST. PAUL --The grand opening of Allianz Field on Saturday, April 13, was sensory overload.

There were fireworks and helicopters, drumbeats and horns, singing and chanting. The corridors encircling the field smelled like beer, cheese curds and smoke bombs.

Mingling with the crowd of over 19,000 were security officers, building inspectors, fire marshals and police officers making sure that the new Major League Soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood went off without a hitch.

Inside the stadium, Minnesota United played New York City FC to a 3-3 tie.

“For an opening day, it’s been pretty smooth,” said Chris Dubois of Minneapolis. Dubois works with Allianz and said compared to other opening day events he’s been involved with, Allianz did everything right. “It’s kind of an exciting day for us,” he said.

After an hour at the new $250 million, privately financed stadium, it became obvious that not everyone was there for the soccer game. Some were there just to see what all the hype was about.

“I was curious to see everything that’s happened,” said Terry Harris of Minneapolis as she warmed up in the Brew Hall with family. She said she’s been driving back and forth on Interstate 94 for months watching the 346,000-square-foot stadium grow from the ground up. “I just like being part of the excitement. The stadium is beautiful.”

In the upstairs VIP portion of the Brew Hall, Shawn Schwingler of Belle Plaine was enjoying the fruit of his labors. He works for Mortenson Construction of Minneapolis, the company that built Allianz Field.

“It’s cool,” he said, surveying the field from his perch. “Everyone that helped work on it got tickets.”

A soccer kick from his position was a beam over the northwest entry covered in signatures. Schwingler pointed to it and said his name was up there.

Julie Hottinger of St. Louis Park was enjoying time with friends after arriving via Uber, a popular choice for those not wanting to fight the crowds on public transit or stress about finding a parking place in the limited lots — Allianz set aside a special lane for taxis and ride-share vehicles. She was also looking forward to sampling the food.

There were, of course, soccer fans at the grand opening, fans who probably fell into one of three categories: fans, super fans and Loons.

Joe Nigro is a super fan. He doesn’t even live in Minnesota.

A public defender from Lancaster County, Nebraska, he bought season tickets for his family and flew in for the grand opening.

“I’m a huge soccer fan. I’ve been in love with soccer for 50 years,” he said. He brought sons-in-law Kyle Citta of St. Paul and Tanner Winslow of Plymouth to the game. Nigro said he coached soccer for his three kids, and both of his sons-in-law played soccer. He said it used to be hard to find friends who shared his passion, but as the sport becomes more popular, he’s finding it easier.

“I thought it’d be something we could enjoy for years,” he said.

Across the field from the Brew Hall is the Wonderwall. That’s where the Loons reside.

The Wonderwall is a section of seating sans seats. It’s standing room only. The Loons were jammed in body to body underneath the giant video board. A bass drum pounded out a beat for chants and songs, usually borrowed from a pop song with the words altered. Even the national anthem got a twist. The Loons listened respectfully until the last line: “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the LOONS!”

It’s definitely the rowdiest section of the stadium. It may have something to do with the beer, too.

Alex Buszmann of Prior Lake was really feeling it Saturday as he came down from the Wonderwall for a refill.

“I love Minnesota Loons,” he said enthusiastically, a Loon emblem painted on his cheek. “This is the most exciting space there is. There’s so much energy!”

As if on cue, the Loons scored the first goal of the game. The stadium roared and thousands of blue and gray scarves twirled simultaneously.