Minnesota United brings fans back on Saturday night and not Sunday morning, but their return after 18 months away nonetheless might border on the spiritual.
Other than family, friends and very special guests, the Loons have not played before their own at gleaming Allianz Field since an October 2019 first-round playoff game before.
They will do so in limited numbers against Real Salt Lake, in their pristine home that Loons veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay calls "our place of worship, if you will, on the weekends."
Some 4,100 buyers got lucky on the first day of online sales when demand shut down the system. Both ticketing agency SeatGeek and club CEO Chris Wright personally apologized to those fans denied and angered.
The Loons have played before a limited number of fans in Dallas, Houston, Nashville and elsewhere when MLS' season resumed last August. But Minnesota state health guidelines governing the pandemic kept local pro sports teams from admitting supporters until venue guidelines were loosened April 1.
About 7,000 fans attended last week's season opener at Seattle in a setting Loons coach Adrian Heath called "quite emotional, really." Finlay termed it "super exciting."
"Even though it wasn't our fans, it was great to hear what real cheers and real jeers sound like again," Finlay said.
Gov. Tim Walz's current executive orders permit Minnesota pro sports teams 25% capacity in their stadiums and arenas. That would mean about 5,000 fans at 20,000-seat Allianz Field, but physical-distancing guidelines limit the Loons to those 4,100 sold for the first four home games.
All fans are advised to wear protective masks from the time they leave their vehicles.
"Of course, it's always nice to play in front of the fans," Loons and Finnish national-team midfielder Robin Lod said. "It is a huge thing. It brings the soccer to everybody. That's why we play."
Tickets went first to the club's "Itasca Society" original season-ticket holders, then the rest of its 15,500 season-ticket base and 6,300 people on a waitlist. A limited number went to the public.
Tickets for those first four games — many bought in packages — sold out in 45 minutes, Wright said. At one point, 5,000 people were in the online waiting room to buy before the system crashed. Tickets for remaining games will go on sale later in hope that state guidelines then will allow more spectators.
Wright called it "massive pent-up demand" to see soccer live again.
"The demand and the need to get back to some level of normalcy in the COVID world is there," Wright said. "It's palpable. You can feel it. Therefore, we are excited. I think 4,100 people will make the noise of 20,000 this Saturday."
Finlay well knows that feeling.
"There's something about competing in front of your home fans or going to an away stadium and having fans boo you, that feeling that it's just us, just the guys in blue or gray tonight," Finlay said. "I personally like that mentality and I rally around it. That's exciting. That's what makes most of the guys in our locker room go. It really does."
Finlay wouldn't say a limited number of fans affects games such as last week's 4-0 loss, in which the Sounders scored all their goals after halftime. He did say the Loons wouldn't have defeated FC Cincinnati 7-1 two summers ago without Allianz Field packed with screaming fans.
Loons coach Adrian Heath isn't so sure.
"We spoke about Seattle and what a difference it made," Heath said. "It was just great to see. People back in and seeing what it means not only to the players, but certainly to the people back in the stadium.
"You could see it, how excited they were. I expect the same at our place on Saturday."