Soccer is the world’s game and two or three times every year, Minnesota United will say hello.
This season, the team has scheduled “friendly” games with German Bundesliga league’s Hertha Berlin in May, English Championship league’s Aston Villa in July and probably one more to come in September.
All of it is part of a strategic plan intended to grow what United CEO Chris Wright calls “our global footprint and our global contacts.”
He wants to do so to spread Minnesota United’s “brand” worldwide while also bringing some of the world’s biggest brand clubs to Allianz Field for exhibition games scheduled within the team’s MLS season.
International play presents three windows during the season to play such games: Late May when the European season ends; mid-July to early-August when European teams start training for the next season, and September when South American teams start training.
Founded in 1892, Hertha Berlin plays its home games in the Olympic stadium that was site of the historic 1936 Summer Games. It will play United at Allianz Field on May 22.
Aston Villa, founded in 1874, was an original member of the English Football League in 1888 and Premier League in 1992. It’s one of two teams in England’s second largest city, Birmingham, and one of five English teams that have won the European Cup, doing so in 1982. It will open its season training by spending a week training with the Loons in Blaine before playing a game, announced this week, at Allianz Field on July 17, in the middle of the massive USA Cup youth tournament.
Currently in England’s second-division Championship league, Aston Villa could win its way back to the Premier League by the time it arrives in Minnesota in mid-summer.
“I want us to grow our following, so I want to play teams from all over the world,” Wright said. “But I also want to play teams from the major soccer hotbeds of the world.”
He aims to increase United’s name recognition worldwide, partly to help it recruit international players and partly to boost the team’s marketing overseas and at home. Wright notes United has a “very broad, multi-cultural fan base” in a metro area where he said 251 languages are spoken.
“It’s really important as we establish the club that we bring in opponents representative of the people who walk through our turnstiles game by game,” he said.
Wright wants to grow a relationship with the Bundesliga because of its quality and its technically skilled players, developed by a well-established youth feeder system. Germany also is home to Allianz, one of United’s major corporate partners.
He wants to do the same in England’s top two leagues, where he and coach Adrian Heath have many contacts.
Heath calls such friendlies important for his club’s visibility. He also calls them — and possibly U.S. Open Cup games — an opportunity for young players Hassani Dotson, Wyatt Omsberg and Mason Toye to play what he deems “top-class” competition.
“Guys who don’t get to play as much as they’d like, these are perfect opportunities to give them a run out,” Heath said. “I think it will be a benefit to us all.”