An hour before Minnesota United’s scheduled Sunday home opener, one lonesome car and the club’s team-store truck parked in an otherwise empty Allianz Field west-side lot. The lights were on inside the locked “Brew Hall” pub at the stadium’s north end, and the field’s “grow lights” illuminated its shaded south side.
There was no soccer in St. Paul on Sunday.
And there might not be any for much longer than MLS’ announced 30-day suspension of its season last week, not after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday evening recommended event organizers cancel all gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
On Sunday, Loons management, its players and supporters experienced for the first time a changed, strange world that left its stadium and others in other sports and across the country empty.
Until the coronavirus pandemic changed so much, Loons Dark Clouds supporters group president Sam Solberg would have attended a “night before” gathering of group members and New York Red Bulls supporters Saturday night.
Sunday would have brought pregame festivities at crowded Black Hart of St. Paul bar 1,000 steps from Allianz Field’s front door, as well as a gathering of the team’s several supporters groups on the stadium’s Great Lawn before all of them marched into the stadium in a parade of sound and smoke.
Ten people sat at the bar in an otherwise empty Black Hart 75 minutes before Sunday’s scheduled kickoff.
Instead, Solberg’s husband, Collin, watched again last week’s 5-2 victory at San Jose late Sunday afternoon before the two of them ate a lasagna dinner and together watched an FS1 replay of a LAFC-Philadelphia Union game.
“Whatever is going to keep the most people as safe as possible is where I land on this,” Sam Solberg said. “The CDC are the pros. I’ll defer to them. It’s going to be hard in so many ways. Soccer is such a very small portion of all this … The last week has felt like a year. I feel you take this very much one day at a time.”
Solberg is president of a 1,200-member group that — along with supporter groups True North Elite, Red Loons and Dark Glitterati — is part of Wonderwall, the parent organization for those groups that fill Allianz Field’s standing-only south end with sound and song.
Sunday’s scheduled home opener was the first of 17 home games set for this season. Last week’s MLS announcement that it will suspend the season for 30 days still made a full 34-game season possible. The CDC’s recommendation that no events such as soccer games attended by 19,000 fans be held for eight weeks could mean a revised season or, possibly, games played without fans.
The Loons won the season’s first two games at Portland and San Jose and were scheduled to play their next four games at Allianz Field. The team already has postponed three of those home games: Sunday’s, March 21 against Montreal and April 4 against San Jose.
“It feels strange to be sitting at home instead,” said Solberg, a senior communication associate for nonprofit College Possible who has been a Loons fan since 2012. “You want to protect everyone and make sure everyone stays safe. It’s still sad, very sad. There was a lot of excitement around this year and it started with a really wonderful two games on the road. We were looking to forward to getting back into Allianz for a second season.”
There was no soccer Sunday, unless you count an improvised virtual showdown between the Loons’ e-sports video game professional and the Red Bulls’ own pro online.
Loons fans, meanwhile, commune through computer group chats and have discussed their own online soccer video games played against each other.
“We’ll all virtually be together, if not physically in the same room,” said Drew Thesing, True North Elite’s president and a University of Minnesota health care research coordinator who was told Sunday to work from home until further notice.
“I watched the San Jose game again, even though I know the outcome,” Thesing said before the CDC recommended eight more weeks without public gatherings. “It’s soccer and it’s fun to watch.”