European soccer coaches and local fans agreed, opening night at U.S. Bank Stadium offered the beautiful game a setting to match.
AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella, addressing the media through a translator, called the atmosphere “fantastic” and joked he hopes to come back in 2018 and watch Super Bowl LII. Chelsea coach Antonio Conte echoed his counterpart’s view.
“The players were pleased to play in this type of atmosphere,” Conte said.
Jon Lung of Brooklyn Park and Rashid Battuta and Richfield, part of the announced sellout crowd of 64,101 fans, were in awe of a record-setting night for soccer in Minnesota, when Chelsea won 3-1.
For Lung, 53, Wednesday’s match felt like old times. He was one of the 46,370 fans in 1978 that cheered the Minnesota Kicks at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington against the New York Cosmos. That match held the previous state attendance record.
“I thought it was going to be great, and it is,” said Lung, who has two soccer-playing sons. “It’s definitely a soccer crowd, but I wanted to see U.S. Bank Stadium, too. That was the other motivation for getting in here.
“It’s been great,” Lung said. I’m surprised at all the Chelsea people here. Everybody is wearing some kind of a soccer jersey and seems to be excited.”
Since moving to Minnesota from Ghana in 2002, Battuta, 38, believed Minnesota to be a rising soccer market. Wednesday’s crowd provided affirmation.
“I always knew that once people get to know soccer, it’s infectious,” Battuta said. “I’ve always said Minnesota is a golden opportunity to grow soccer. The enthusiasm has always been here. It just needs to be nurtured. We still have to get to the point where we’re cheering throughout the match. But Minnesota is just laid-back.”
The Champions Cup previously was held in 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium. Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was critical of the sod laid over the artificial turf.
Montella and Conte took an opposite view Wednesday. Conte said the temporary grass pitch played better than the match against Real Madrid at Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I loved the pitch,” Montella said. “It was in great condition. It couldn’t have been any better.”