Minnesota United went 10-1-6 during its first season in the friendly confines of shimmering new Allianz Field a year ago.
Ten months after the Loons last played a game there, they’ll restart their pandemic-delayed regular season at their St. Paul home Friday against Sporting Kansas City.
Just how friendly will those confines be without their cheering supporters present for a spectacle that makes soccer what it is?
Professional leagues in Germany, Spain, Italy and England, among others, resumed playing games in markets without spectators well before Major League Soccer did last week. Germany’s Bundesliga was the first, back in May.
Analysis by the London-based Financial Times published last month found a home-field advantage mostly unchanged from seasons past regarding victories, points gained and goal differential in England’s Premier League for teams now playing without their fans. But that home-field advantage fell steeply in Germany and Spain.
“I’ll say you won’t have the fans cheer us on, get us going or get up on their feet during corner kicks,” Loons veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said.
They also might not have an edge with referees previously swayed by a home crowd’s size and noise.
The Financial Times data also indicated referees now aren’t as influenced by those crowds — measured by yellow and red foul cards distributed — as they were when supporters filled stadiums.
Loons coach Adrian Heath watched games from across Europe and came to his own conclusions.
“If you look at the rest of the world, there have not been as many home wins without crowds as there were before that,” Heath said during a Wednesday video conference call with reporters. “Teams didn’t dominate the ball as much without crowds there and home teams didn’t get as many [referees’] decisions that they normally do.
“Maybe that has an influence. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes. It didn’t seem to do Toronto much harm last night.”
Toronto FC, playing at home, defeated Vancouver 3-0 on Tuesday.
Minnesota United and Sporting KC will fly to their destinations on game day and return the same night by chartered flight to try and minimize chances of contracting the coronavirus. Most MLS teams are expected to do the same for most games.
Finlay considers that a home-field advantage itself for the three games his team will play at Allianz Field during a six-week “Phase 1” through mid-September.
“Not having to travel on the day of to play a soccer game will be an advantage for the home team,” Finlay said. “When we look at these three games we’ll have in Phase 1, we hope to get nine points out of it. We understand how important home-field advantage is, and it might be even more important because of the travel arrangements the away team will have in this COVID scenario.’’
The Loons haven’t played a game at Allianz Field since they lost a first-round playoff game to L.A. Galaxy last October. They opened the 2020 season by winning games at Portland and San Jose before it was suspended three days before their scheduled March 15 home opener.
One winner in the season’s four-month pause was the Allianz Field pitch, which had drainage issues last year. Heath calls it “in absolutely magnificent condition.” The grass was replaced in September.
“Everybody’s glad to be back here,” Heath said. “A lot of good memories in this place. It’ll be nice to get back in here Friday.”
Starting left back Chase Gasper said he and his teammates were “ecstatic” to return.
“We miss our home, we miss this place and we miss all our fans,” Gasper said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling to be back on your home field, in this amazing stadium, best in the country. But we definitely do miss the fans. It’s bittersweet, but I’d say more sweet to be back home.”