ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright provided an update on the playing surface at Allianz Field and the team’s communication with Major League Soccer regarding it ahead of the club’s regular-season home finale Sunday.
One ongoing concern is the upcoming St. Thomas vs. St. John’s Division III football game scheduled for Oct. 19 at Allianz Field. The two schools previously set the Division III single-game attendance record when they met in 2017, drawing more than 37,000 to Target Field in nearby Minneapolis. Now, they’re scheduled to play at the Loons’ home ground during the first weekend of the MLS Cup playoffs.
Wright reiterated and elaborated upon previous statements, noting that MNUFC and the two Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams began negotiations more than a year ago and the three parties had an agreement in principle prior to MLS announcing changes to both the duration of its regular season and the format of its postseason.
“We have a binding agreement with them,” Wright said. “We have a contract with them and we intend to uphold that agreement and the things that we have committed to.”
Wright confirmed the 89th meeting between the Tommies and Johnnies will be played at 1 p.m. Central Time on Oct. 19.
Ahead of the contest, MNUFC will be replacing its playing surface. Wright said the football game isn’t the motivation behind the change to the field.
“The reason that we have determined to bring all of this forward is really the fact that we have the potential of a home playoff game that weekend,” Wright said. “We could have played Tommies-Johnnies on the [current field]. That is not the issue. The reason we are doing this is because we want the very best surface that we possibly can have for our team in our inaugural season in Allianz Field, in our inaugural run in the MLS Cup playoffs.”
The reason the field needs to be replaced in Allianz Field’s first season stems from blockages in the drainage system that the team identified by sending cameras down drainage pipes. These blockages, according to Wright, cause stormwater to back up and steep up through the playing surface. The resulting pooling of water damaged the root system in several areas of the field.
The team confirmed the drainage issue has been resolved and should not be a problem going forward.
After talking with consultants and reaching out multiple NFL teams for advice, Wright and his staff decided at the beginning of September the root system was irreparably damaged and the current playing surface could not be fixed.
Needing replacement sod trucked in, the Loons turned to the company that provided the grass for its practice facilities at the Nation Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., after that surface received the endorsement of MNUFC players and staff. Heath Farms, located in neighboring Wisconsin — and of no relation to MNUFC manager Adrian Heath — is scheduled to deliver new sod on Thursday.
Prior to then, MNUFC along with Mortenson Construction — the firm that built Allianz Field — will remove the top 18 inches of earth from the field at Allianz, then bring in a surveyor to ensure the field remains level. Since a drainage issue was identified as the cause of the damage to the existing turf, Wright confirmed the team and Mortenson have talked about liability issues with regards to the third-party agreements Mortenson entered into during the stadium’s initial construction.
After conversations with Minnesota head groundskeeper Ryan Moy and consultants, the team is confident — given the three weeks between the Loons’ home finale and the Tommies-Johnnies game — that replacing the playing surface will provide the best possible conditions should Allianz Field host any playoff games this year.
In order to earn the right to host, Minnesota will need to pick up two or more points during its final two regular-season games. Should the Loons win both of their last two, they would be in position to host a pair of playoff games if they won their first postseason matchup.
Wright, when asked to confirm that the Loons would play on Oct. 20 should they host in the first round, noted that out of respect for the teams still fighting to make the playoffs and those still fighting for seeding, he would not be confirming the date or time of MNUFC’s first-round game until that information was officially released by the league.