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Minnesota United FC opens Allianz Field with scarf-raising ceremony

ST. PAUL, Minn. — On Monday, Minnesota United FC officially opened Allianz Field with what it called a scarf-raising ceremony. Among those invited to speak at the event were MLS commissioner Don Garber, Minnesota governor Tim Walz, lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan, St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter III, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey, and Allianz Life CEO Walter White.

 The visiting dignitaries, along with MNUFC managing partner Dr. Bill McGuire, gathered to speak about the realization of a state-of-the-art, soccer-specific stadium and its impact on its state and community.

“We’re here today on behalf of a group of Minnesotans who made the commitment, and had the vision to do things in this state that will make it continue as a great state. That will bring soccer — really the world’s game — to our community in a long-lasting, less erratic than-in-the-past way. And certainly with a vision that says,  ‘We want the future to be better than the past, and do the things that in fact make that happen,'” said McGuire, referencing departed Minnesota professional teams like the Minnesota Kicks, Minnesota Strikers and Minnesota Thunder.

McGuire told the crowd comprised of community and business partners and supporters’ group members, who sat in front of a riser full of media with cameras, that Minnesota United decided on four goals upon being awarded an MLS franchise. The first was to establish a top-tier professional team the community. The second was to build a stadium for fans of the sport that would allow them to sit outside and enjoy Minnesota’s weather. The third was to have that stadium serve as a catalyst for economic and social development. And the last was to foster the sport in a way that expressed soccer’s values and made those manifest throughout the community.

“We’re certainly not done,” McGuire said. “But we are partway down that path. And I am happy to say that there’s really nothing in the way of us completing and fulfilling all of those original ideas.”

Carter spoke of the cooperation between the public and private sectors, and thanked the city council, state legislature and his predecessor, former-mayor Chris Coleman, for their work to help transform a dirt lot used to store city buses into Allianz Field.

“It does feel like just a couple of months ago, we were breaking ground,” Carter reminisced.  “And kind-of being in this space and saying, ‘What if?’ I’ll tell you, one thing as the mayor of St. Paul, I think I spend over half of my time just encouraging people to think bigger. I’ve never had that problem with Dr. McGuire.”

Carter’s Minneapolitan counterpart, and three years’ the 40-year-old Carter’s junior, Frey also took to the podium in a gesture of Twin Cities metro-area solidarity.

“This is an extraordinary asset not just for the city of St. Paul, but for the entire region,” said Frey. “Until recently, Minnesota kids who wanted soccer jerseys needed to wear other states’ and other clubs’ and other countries’, and now I see Minnesota United jerseys all over the Twin Cities. There’s something special about having role models right here in your community.

“You know, growing up I supported Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. But now, growing up, young kids are going to be able to support Darwin Quintero and Bobby Bobby Shuttleworth and Collin Martin.”

In light of the Twin Cities’ sibling rivalry, Frey added that as long as Carter stamped his passport on his way back to Minneapolis, he would remain a frequent visitor at Allianz Field.

Walz held up Allianz Field as an example of the growth that can be achieved when private investment joins public infrastructure, noting the Green Line light rail that will deliver thousands of fans on game days. Flanagan mentioned the poster of Canadian international and Minnesota Kicks and Strikers goalkeeper Tino Lettieri she had as a child.

“As we talk about this, the same feeling that I had when I got to meet Lettieri as a little kid was the same feeling that my daughter had when she met her hero, Collin Martin,” said Flanagan. “This is truly something that brings us together across lines of difference and I cannot wait to share it with my daughter, with our family, and with our great state of Minnesota.”

White spoke of the seven other stadiums to which Allianz has purchased naming rights — which include the home grounds of European giants like Bayern Munich and Juventus — and said that including Minnesota United was part of his company’s worldwide affiliation with soccer. Flattering the home crowd, he added, “I think this [stadium] is the most beautiful.”

Last to address the crowd, Garber did his due diligence thanking the assembled politicos. He also took a moment to poke fun at McGuire’s fashion sense while praising the aesthetic design of Allianz Field.

“[McGuire] has an enormous style sense. I’m not sure about the fashion sense,” he said. “One of his partners is in the fashion business, and we’re going to work on tighter suits for Bill.”

Garber, returning to the subject of the stadium: “[McGuire] has such an unbelievable touch and vision for what it is that that he believes can represent the beauty of big buildings and facilities. And from the very get go, this stadium, he promised us — and he’s over-delivered on it — it would be an icon in the north, and it will be a soccer stadium that would be recognized around the world.”

And while Garber praised McGuire’s vision, it was a vision that changed during the process of finding a location for MNUFC’s new home. When Garber visited Minneapolis in May, 2015 to announce Minnesota had been awarded an expansion team, McGuire was considering purchasing a parcel of land adjacent to Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop neighborhood.

“I had a conversation with [Frey] and he remembered when we were looking down by the [Minneapolis] Farmer’s Market,” said Garber. “You know, there’s a lot of activity going on down there with the other sports teams, and I think this is [MNUFC’s] own special piece of real estate. The idea of being a connector between the Twin Cities and to have dueling mayors talking about being to come into each other’s cities I think is kind of cool.”

On the subject of utilizing Allianz Field’s undersoil heating system and Minnesota’s climate, the MLS commissioner — who also sits on the USSF’s board of directors — was in favor.

“For sure. Not just for the [U.S.] national team. Remember, the kickoff for the Gold Cup will be right here — is a sold-out match. The fact that we now could push north to play international games, both friendlies and official  competitions, and be able to start Major League Soccer north as we continue to expand our season is one of the things that is going to be a game changer for us.

“[MNUFC] put a very sophisticated heating system under the field. Frankly, we think it’s something many of our other stadiums should be looking at.”

In parting, on an unrelated hot-topic of discussion, Garber pivoted to address future MLS expansion. He stated the league would endeavor to make a decision on a 28th team by the end of the year, and that a board meeting in April would be used to determine if the league will expand beyond the currently-proposed 28 teams.

“It’s pretty clear to me as you see sort of what’s happened in Cincinnati, which was not on anybody’s soccer radar screen three or four of five years ago, that there’s a lot of opportunity to continue to grow this league in cities across our country,” Garber said. “And that’s something we’ll have to wrestle with in the years to come.”

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