Nearly 20,000 fans converged on St. Paul’s new Allianz Field on Saturday for its inaugural pro soccer game, oblivious to a raw wind and eager to celebrate their Loons in a home they can finally call their own.
“I’m positively elated,” said Casey Giltner, snapping photos of the manicured emerald grass hours before the game. “It’s so much cooler inside than I thought it would be. It feels tight, like you’re right on top of the field.”
Giltner and his wife, Brittany Bybee, of northeast Minneapolis, were among the crowd that started arriving around noon for a loud pregame party in and around the new stadium. They described their trip to St. Paul on the Green Line from downtown Minneapolis as “super smooth,” leaving them to focus on what Giltner called “the sport of the people.”
Transportation pros are analyzing the gameday traffic patterns around Allianz Field, a $250 million privately funded stadium wedged into a Midway neighborhood on Interstate 94 that is already congested.
While a few fans lamented the lack of parking, most said their gameday trek went off without a hitch. They rode buses and light rail, took shuttle buses from the State Fairground parking lots, walked and used Uber.
The transportation management plan the city of St. Paul issued last month projected that about 40% of fans would take the Green Line or bus on game days.
Although Snelling Avenue was jammed, overall, there appeared to be few major pregame traffic mishaps.
Some who drove parked in the few nearby garages; others took their chances. Lori and Molatlhwa Tschosa drove in from Blaine and, when asked where they parked, pointed east and said: “Way down that way!”
No one appeared to mind that the lawn was soggy and fenced off, and that big mounds of dirty snow hulked nearby. Fans bellied up to the food trucks, snapped up freebies, kicked soccer balls and got their faces painted with loon logos as the rock band the 4onthefloor blared.
Molly Cave, who lives nearby, said she understands that some of the neighbors are angry about the disruption of having a stadium in their midst, but she thinks it’s great. Molly and her husband, James, are season-ticket holders.
“We feel really privileged,” she said. “We never splurge on anything. For us, it’s a big deal.”
Julio Hernandez, 16, who plays forward for the Austin High School soccer team, said he drove up from Austin with his father and brother for the game. Hernandez said he has dreams of playing professionally and was in awe of the soccer team’s new home.
“The whole thing is amazing,” Hernandez said. “The grass is so nice, so perfect.”
Guards had worried that the exit might be more chaotic than the arrivals, which were spread over several hours, but as of 7:30 p.m., things appeared to have gone smoothly.
Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said that after the game, both Green Line light-rail platforms were cleared of fans in about an hour. “For the most part, things went pretty well,” he said.
St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said after the game that things “went swimmingly,” with no arrests or major traffic snags.
Michelle Haley Hudson surprised her husband, Eric Hudson, with tickets to the game when he arrived home from a business trip Saturday afternoon. They took an Uber to and from the stadium to avoid the traffic.
They had their Uber ride pick them up after the game at the Cub Foods parking lot across from the stadium to avoid the crowded reserved ride-share stop. She said it took about 20 minutes for the ride to arrive. She noted that school buses and city buses were waiting to pick up fans after the game, and many others left on foot, perhaps heading for the light-rail platform.
“I’m very glad we went,” Haley Hudson said. “Super fun fans. Great food! I’d consider going often.”