How Minnesota United’s upcoming Allianz Field in St. Paul became the site of the U.S. men’s national soccer team’s resurgence in 2019 all has to do with a curse.
When the U.S. plays at the 19,400-seat stadium in July of next year for the team’s opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup — a biennial tournament of 16 teams from the Caribbean and North and Central America — the team could be establishing a new home.
Since 2001, the Columbus Crew’s Mapfre Stadium has been the unofficial home for the U.S. men, a venue where the team has defeated its biggest rival, Mexico, 2-0 four times. But in November 2016, the U.S. lost 2-1 en route to crashing out of World Cup qualifying for next month’s competition is Russia.
“That was kind of like their fortress,” said Ben Grossman, who is part of United’s ownership group and helped bring this upcoming game to Allianz Field. “The curse was broken, and you kind of heard this chatter that the U.S. is going to need a new fortress. And here we are with Allianz Field being built. And with our fan base here just kind of exploding … and the electricity at our games, you started to put two and two together and say … why not us?”
The first major international soccer match at Allianz Field was formally announced Tuesday in a news conference at the under-construction stadium. Set to open for United next April, Allianz Field will be one of 15 venues in 13 cities across the U.S. to act as host during the tournament,
Jurgen Mainka, CONCACAF chief commercial officer, said the tournament will release a full schedule with exact dates and matchups later this year, as teams still are qualifying. But Allianz Field will host two games, one being the U. S. team’s opener, as group stage venues are typically for doubleheaders.
This will be the U.S.’s first competitive match since failing to make the World Cup this past October. The attention it will bring to Minnesota is something that excited Gov. Mark Dayton as well as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. Frey mentioned how research shows international games like these have an average economic impact of $5.5 million per game.
“Hosting such a big soccer game, we’ve never had a soccer game this big in Minnesota ever before,” Carter said. “So bringing it right here, bringing those visitors from around the world, bringing the virtual visitors from TV around the world as well, really gives us an opportunity to showcase what St. Paul’s all about.”
For United, it’s the first step in making Allianz Field and the Twin Cities a destination for soccer fans across the globe. Grossman said if he had he tried to pitch this idea a year ago, it never would have succeeded. But this time around, all he had to do was show CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer the designs of Allianz Field, and United supporters singing “Wonderwall” after a victory, to convince both that this was a market to tap into and a place to call home.
“Without a doubt, my dream, my goal, is I want U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier 2021,” Grossman said. “I want this to be where the U.S. men’s national team plays their biggest game.”
Stadium cost increase
That future site of a U.S. men’s national team game is set to cost more than originally projected. Once said to cost $150 million to build, the price tag for privately financed Allianz Field has increased to $250 million, according to a team spokesman.
“We’ve always been a little conservative in how we talked about it because there was no value in trying to talk about how much it cost,” team owner Bill McGuire said. “As we moved ahead, and we get a better understanding of all the pieces, and we build it out and all the bids, and we make some modifications and stuff, it’s accumulating. And, you know, it’s up there. It’s considerably higher than what we talked about at the beginning. And when we move in, we’ll have the final accounting on how to really talk about it, but it’s a substantive investment.
“But I think all on good things. I don’t think there’s any waste here. It’s all to make a great experience for the fans and the players.”