By the time Minnesota United returns home from Dallas by chartered flight late Sunday night, it will have played 12 of its 17 regular-season games away.
A limited number of spectators — 1,456 one night, 3,478 another — have been allowed in all but one of those games played in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee while Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order restricts outdoor events and entertainment to 250 people.
Those have kept supporters away from Allianz Field in St. Paul and will continue to do so at least until regular season’s end Nov. 8.
Club CEO Chris Wright said “in the spirit of keeping our players, our staff and our supporters safe,” fans won’t return to Allianz Field “until the executive orders allow us to do something different.”
He didn’t rule out a limited number allowed if state guidelines change and the Loons earn home playoff games. Unless MLS finishes its regular season the way it restarted it in July under a single-destination bubble.
“We want to somewhat leave the door open to fans at a home playoff game here,” Wright said.
Nashville SC allowed fans for the first time Tuesday, 3,478 of them in the Tennessee Titans’ 78,000-seat stadium. Loons coach Adrian Heath called himself “quite surprised” by noise created by 3,212 fans when his team played in FC Dallas’ 20,500-seat Toyota Stadium in August.
“I’m like everybody else, I can’t wait for the stadium to get full,” Heath said. “It’s what makes this game of ours so special. It makes our stadium special.”
Minnesota United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay called Tuesday’s small crowd in such a big stadium “so weird” compared to crowds gathered in normal times.
“When it’s quite full, you can’t hear all the chitter-chatter,” Finlay said. “Now you can hear everyone and their mother. I’d say your hear more and have a better understanding what has been yelled at you, whether they’re cheering or jeering you.”
Finlay didn’t consider Tuesday’s crowd a home-field advantage.
“For us, it didn’t play a factor,” Finlay said. “Obviously, it’d be great to have fans here in Minnesota, but we understand health and safety is the No. 1 priority.”
Heath notes the difference between 3,500 supporters in a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium such as FC Dallas’ and that same number in a huge NFL stadium in Nashville.
“I don’t think it impacts the way it does when it’s full obviously, but it was nice to see a few faces in the stadium,” Heath said. “I know these decisions are difficult for clubs to make. There’s probably as many people outside the stadium working carparks as there are in the stadium. It’s a huge undertaking for the clubs. I’m sure financially it’s not an incredible amount of money [made].
“I’ll leave that up to the club. As soon as we get everybody back in the stadium, the better.”
As have the Twins and Vikings, the Loons have allowed family members, employees, founding partners and others totaling 250 people at home games. MLS’ midsummer tournament in Orlando operated successfully after Dallas and Nashville were sent home because of viral outbreaks within both teams.
Outside the bubble in the restarted regular season, three consecutive Colorado games have been suspended after some players and staff tested positive.
The league’s “bubble” success could lead the playoffs to be played under one as well, as did the NBA and NHL.
“It’s not ideal, having been through it once,” Heath said. “If it means getting the playoffs done in time and everybody playing when they do, if that’s the way it’s got to be, maybe that’s something they’ll consider. But I speak for everybody when I say we’d like to go ahead as normal, where higher seeds get home-field advantage. That’s only fair.”