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MLS commissioner says Allianz Field creates new standard

MLS commissioner Don Garber stands for the national anthem before the start of a game between New York City and Minnesota United -- the first game at Allianz Field. David Berding / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL -- Don Garber had heaps of praise and one wish for Allianz Field during Saturday’s 3-3 draw between Minnesota United and New York City.

After saying the St. Paul venue has helped create a new “standard,” Major League Soccer’s commissioner said he felt the soccer-specific stadium should be bigger. With a capacity of 19,400, the Loons added some standing-room-only spots for a sellout of 19,796 for its inaugural game.

“We are riding this wave of momentum that is sort of the next generation of professional soccer in North American,” said Garber, who celebrated his 20th stadium opening as league commissioner Saturday, April 13. “I don’t think there is any end to what the sport can be.

“I wish the stadium wasn’t 19,000 and that it was 27,000 because I think at some point we are going to be thinking of how do we make the stadium bigger,” he continued. “I think we are going to be dealing with that in a number of different markets.”

Allianz Field has the ability to increase capacity by about 6,000 seats, with an additional 1,500 or so possible in each of the four corners. United CEO Chris Wright said in March 2018 that could cost around $40 million but that it’s premature to explore that this soon.

Minnesota United’s principal owner, Bill McGuire, began planning for the stadium years before an understanding on demand was understood. During that time, costs rose from $150 million to $200 million before coming in at $250 million.

The Loons had the fifth-best average attendance in MLS at TCF Bank Stadium last year, with an average of 23,902. For its first MLS game, Minnesota had 35,043 in a March snowstorm at the Gophers football stadium in 2017, and its last game there in October 2018 had an announced crowd of 52,242.

With the amount of season-ticket holders capped at 14,500 right now, Minnesota United has about 5,000 on its season-ticket waiting list.

Among the 18 soccer-specific stadiums in MLS, Minnesota’s capacity ranks 13th largest. FC Cincinnati, this season’s expansion club, has plans for a $250 million-plus stadium with capacity between 25,500 and 26,500.

Abbott recalls

Before Mark Abbott was MLS deputy commissioner based in New York, he was a kid from Oakdale and a ballboy at the Minnesota Kicks’ first pro game in 1976. This connection made Saturday’s game at Allianz Field a bit of a homecoming.

“As I was thinking about if (soccer) could work, I thought about Minnesota in the 1970s,” said Abbott, whose family had Kicks season tickets. “I always knew Minnesota would be a strong market, but it wasn’t until we had a strong ownership group and a stadium plan.”

Abbott watched the match with nine longtime friends and two high school teachers from Minnesota.

“I’m thinking a lot about how fun it was back in the 1970s,” Abbott said at halftime Saturday. “It was a great community moment, and I think that’s what’s being recreated here.”

Loan break

United’s four players out on loans to USL affiliate Forward Madison returned to Minnesota on Saturday.

Instead of having them play against North Texas SC on Saturday, Madison coach Daryl Shore let the players — goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair, forward Mason Toye and defenders Carter Manley and Wyatt Ombserg — come back for the first game at Allianz Field.

“This is a one-off thing,” Shore was quoted in a tweet from the club. “We felt like this is a special moment for the organization and we have to be supportive of them.”

All four players went 90 minutes in Madison’s season-opening 1-0 loss to Chattanooga on April 6.

Capacity of MLS soccer-specific stadiums:

Toronto (2007) — 28,500; Los Angeles Galaxy (2003) — 27,167; Orlando (2017) — 25,500; New York Red Bulls (2010) — 25,000; Houston (2012) — 22,039; Portland (2011) — 22,000; Los Angeles FC (2018) — 22,000; Salt Lake (2008) — 21,030; Montreal (2012) — 20,801; Chicago (2006) — 20,000; D.C. United (2018) — 20,000; Columbus (1999) — 19,968; St. Paul (2019) — 19,400; Philadelphia (2010) — 18,500; Kansas City (2011) — 18,467; San Jose (2015) — 18,000; Denver (2007) — 18,061; Dallas (2005) — 16,000.

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