Fans will step through the gates of Allianz Field for the first time in 552 days Saturday as Minnesota United takes on Real Salt Lake for its home opener.
The stadium is reopening at 20% capacity after a year and half without in-person matches. Things will look different — social distancing, cashless payment and changes to parking and gates — but fans who scored tickets plan to bring that familiar high energy to the match.
St. Paul brewer Mike Lundell and his friends usually meet at the Dubliner Pub ahead of game time and take the light rail Green Line down University Ave. to the stadium. Lundell, who is a season-ticket holder, said he is excited to return to that tradition even if limited occupancy on the train means they may walk, scooter or ride over from the bar with a group of 12 friends.
"I was so excited to go to last year's home opener, but of course the pandemic hit days before and they started shutting everything down," Lundell said. "We'd had such a great start to the season, too."
Rosemount couple Ben and Kristina Powell have been season-ticket holders for 10 years, since the team played in Blaine before becoming part of MLS. They were thrilled to score two of the 4,100 tickets available.
"This is what my wife and I do for fun so a year and half where we haven't been able to do it has been tough," Powell said. "Anytime we can get grandparents or babysitters from the neighborhood to watch our kids, we use that up on Minnesota United."
Fan Austin Lee got into soccer a couple of years ago when Allianz opened. He said he had to be quick to get four tickets for himself and his roommates.
"It's one thing to join a watch party and be involved in the stream and watch people chat online about it, but its completely different to be in the same stadium, at a home stadium. Win or lose it's just gonna feel great to be able to be there with the crowd again. Hopefully win, and hopefully we'll be able to sing 'Wonderwall' again," Lee said, referencing a tradition of singing the Oasis hit after a win.
The team is hoping to host more fans later in the season.
"The pent-up excitement in my group is going to be magnified by the three or four thousand people that will be there," Lundell said. "I'm sure the players are going to love to see the fans … it's going to be fantastic."