IMG_8051U.S. Bank Stadium’s primary tenant will be the Vikings. But on Wednesday night, the billion-dollar palace will open with a big-time soccer match when English Premier League power Chelsea takes on A.C. Milan. Powerhouse soccer combined with the opening of the stadium are an intriguing 1-2 punch of story lines, to say the least, heading into the 8 p.m. start.

Chelsea defender Matt Miazga, an American-born player who came up through the ranks of Major League Soccer before making the transition overseas, said earlier this week that matches like this can only help grow the sport in the United States.

“I think it’s great. I’ve been on teams that have opened a few stadiums, and this is special,” Miazga said. “I think it will be very intriguing and a special moment for the fans here to see a big brand like Chelsea come and play another big team like (A.C.) Milan.

Some evidence of that was already apparent six hours before the match started. While walking around the perimeter of U.S. Bank Stadium to survey how the space looked and to see what work is left to be done (more on that in a minute), I ran into a pair of young guys from St. Cloud fresh off the light rail. Both were in soccer garb — one in a Didier Drogba Chelsea jersey, the other in an Ireland jersey. Both were marveling at the new stadium, seeing it up close for the first time.

Around U.S. Bank Stadium, there were clear signs that plans were in place for tonight’s big test — while there were other signs that work is still going on even as the building officially opens (click to enlarge each photo):

IMG_8053*There were countless neatly organized rows leading to metal detectors under canopies outside the main entrance near the light rail station. That should ensure an orderly flow into the stadium, but again you never really know until you try it for the first time with tens of thousands of people arriving at roughly the same time.

IMG_8048*Construction on the Vikings’ “Legacy Ship” just outside U.S. Bank Stadium continued Wednesday amid the heat, humidity and preparation for the building’s first event. Stadium workers in polo shirts already at the helm of security lines were juxtaposed against workers a few hundred feet away in hard hats.

IMG_8054*Some temporary soccer games were being set up across the street from the stadium, including an area branded with A.C. Milan logos and gear. Both teams and their fan bases have been cruising around the Twin Cities in recent days. Eight of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world are soccer teams — including Chelsea.

IMG_8046In case you forgot how expensive it was to park around an urban football stadium, let this final photo serve as a reminder. This is a ramp right across the street from U.S. Bank Stadium, photographed at 2 p.m. today — so I assume that’s in preparation for the game tonight.

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