Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber made one thing clear Tuesday when he came to St. Paul and announced the league's 26th All-Star Game will be played there next August at Allianz Field.
He noted the league promised such a celebration when Minnesota United managing partner Bill McGuire's ownership group paid $100 million for an expansion team, then spent another $250 million itself to build a soccer-specific, sold-out stadium next to the freeway linking Minneapolis with St. Paul.
Then Garber made a distinction about a week of concerts, parties, days of service and an All-Star skills competition that lead to an Aug. 10 game against an as-yet undecided opponent.
"The big events, they're just not awarded," Garber said. "They're earned. We have lots of teams. This is a perfect place to celebrate our league and everything we're about in a market with a stadium and a fan base that represents everything that's great about Major League Soccer."
The Loons earned the eighth All-Star Game held in Minnesota by building a 19,600-seat stadium that gleams both day and night. It includes a standing-only wall of wonder behind one goal that creates a unique game-day experience.
Then a team that began MLS play in 2017 and opened Allianz Field in 2019 upgraded its roster these past three seasons with talent that came within minutes of reaching the MLS Cup last December.
Major League Baseball held its All-Star Game in Minnesota in 1965, 1985 and 2014; the NBA held its in 1994; the NHL in 1972 and 2004; and the WNBA in 2018.
"There was a commitment that you get one, but you've got to earn one," McGuire said in an interview alongside Garber before Tuesday's news conference featured St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as well. "I'm not sure we'd be doing this today if we had produced a mediocre stadium and had an average experience for people."
As the host team's coach, the Loons' Adrian Heath is set to lead a MLS All-Star team that in August beat Mexico's Liga MX all stars on penalty kicks at Los Angeles FC's Banc of California Stadium. LAFC's stadium opened in April 2018, a year before Allianz Field.
Heath echoed both Garber and McGuire, saying "the biggest thing to come out today is we've earned this All-Star Game."
"Not only do I think we've got the best stadium, we've got the best supporters," said Heath, who has coached seven MLS seasons in Orlando and Minnesota. "You only have to see this stadium on game day: sold out every week, incredible atmosphere. What we've done since we've been here is just rewards for everybody who has put so much time and effort in over the last few years."
Loons star Emanuel Reynoso was a coach's pick for this summer's MLS All-Star team, but was injured. Defender Romain Metanire played in the 2019 game in Orlando. Then-Loons star Darwin Quintero played in the 2018 Atlanta game.
Midfielder Ethan Finlay represented Columbus in the 2015 game against English Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur in suburban Denver.
"It means a lot," Finlay said about the honor. "It's acknowledgement for a lot of hard work, for doing well halfway through the season. It's a collection of great players who come together, right? Every year you see the stars come out. It's important for our sport. It's an awesome opportunity."
The game has grown noticeably these past six years, becoming a week of festivities that will spread across the Twin Cities. The game's presenting sponsor since 2017 has been Minnesota-based Target.
"The gifts I know have gotten better," Finlay said.
Finlay said August's MLS-Liga MX game "started to get a little feisty out there." He welcomed such competition in an all-star game against a league with which MLS is building relationships. Finlay and Heath both suggested it might be time for one of Europe's great clubs to return. Heath mentioned Bayern Munich, which plays in the original Allianz-sponsored stadium, 75,000-seat Allianz Arena.
Garber said the Loons will be involved in choosing the opponent.
"Whatever format they go with, I'm sure there are going to be a lot of stars here to play the beautiful game, the world's game," Heath said. "It's going to be a celebration of football, which is what it's all about and it couldn't be better being here."