Minnesota United players and coaches said hello to their new Allianz Field with the first practice there on real grass on a sunny Wednesday morning.
“It’s going to be home for a long, long time,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “It seems two years ago it was a dream and now it’s a bit more reality when you get in the locker room, and suddenly players see where they’re going to change and what they’re going to do.
“It’s nice to be outside on grass. It’s nice to be in what is going to be our new home. It’s a terrific field.”
It marked the first time players ran, kicked and fell on grass that was grown in Colorado, then harvested, trucked and planted last October. It was put to bed for the winter and awakened for spring, controlled by a sophisticated heating system and “grow lights” that provide what nature can’t in shaded areas.
Coaches and players visited the $250 million, soccer-specific stadium for tours during its various stages of construction, including a look last month when they sat at their locker stalls and paced the field after the MLS franchise officially accepted the keys to the shiny, new place.
On Wednesday, the new field was soft and a little uneven in spots. One player executing a sliding tackle tore up a chunk of turf. Star Darwin Quintero left early after he appeared to injure his groin when making a crossing pass during a scrimmage.
“He’ll be fine,” Heath said. “I think it was more a precaution. He felt his groin a little bit. But knowing Darwin, he’ll be fine.”
His teammates trained on, practicing on grass at home in Minnesota for the first time this season.
Veteran defender Ike Opara said the grass still is growing its roots with the April 13 home- and stadium-opener against New York City FC fast approaching.
“That’s the process with all new fields and stadiums, especially one that was covered with probably 15 feet of snow,” said Opara, acquired during the offseason, with slight exaggeration. “You know how that goes. For the most part, the grounds crew has done a great job. They’ve tried to get it as ready as possible for us. I have no concerns about the opening kick here.”
Afterward, a worker repaired a couple of patches where cleats tore the new turf.
“It’s just a little bit soft,” United midfielder Ethan Finlay said. “It takes a little bit of time for roots to grow in certain spots. You can tell some spots are pristine and ready to go and a couple areas need a little bit of help. I think maybe we’re out here a hair too early for it, but there’s still plenty of time to get pitch perfect. It’s on its way.”
Heath called the new surface “good.”
“Like most times when it’s new, there will be a few divots popping up,” he said. “But, hey, it certainly beats playing on turf, let’s say that.”
The stadium was mostly empty and quiet Wednesday, except for the sound of kicked balls and teammates calling out to each other. That all will change when more than 19,000 people arrive and fill a stadium designed to create and contain sound.
“I’ve said a number of times, I know it’s going to be good,” Heath said. “But I don’t think people realize how good it’s going to be when this place is full, with the atmosphere we’re going to generate. It’s exciting for us.”