ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United will welcome 4,100 fans into Allianz Field for its home opener against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, but getting there hasn’t been easy.
The Loons’ front office has had to work within the state’s coronavirus pandemic protocols, which call for 25 percent capacity within its 19,600-seat stadium in St. Paul. They won’t reach the full 25 percent because of a need to have supporters socially distanced inside the venue.
“It’s been a massive, heavy lift,” United CEO Chris Wright said.
Wright said after the club went the entire 2020 season without home fans, there was “pent-up demand” to return to home games. The club has 15,500 season-ticket holders and 6,300 on a wait list.
On April 6, the club and its ticketing partner SeatGeek released that amount of tickets to season-ticket holders for the first four home games through May 15. They were gone within 45 minutes, and it was wrought with overwhelming demand that caused the ticketing system to crash. During that rush, Wright said SeatGeek had more than 5,000 people in a virtual waiting room before being allowed to buy tickets.
“I felt a personal apology was in place because we are obviously dealing with a third-party vendor, as all franchises do with their ticketing system,” Wright said. “… Because it crashed, and we had little control over that, we’ve worked very hard with our ticketing partner to make sure that system has been shored up and (when) we do go on sale again with even more tickets, hopefully that system will not fail the way it did two weeks ago.”
Wright said the club’s hope is more tickets will be available to each game with new executive orders from the state of Minnesota later on this spring and summer.
Given the Loons’ defensive struggles in a 4-0 season-opening loss at Seattle last Friday and starting center back Bakaye Dibassy still working his way back from a thigh injury, Minnesota could turn to Jukka Raitala at the left-sided center-back spot instead of Brent Kallman.
While Loons starters from the Sounders game divided up for a scrimmage on Tuesday, Raitala played next to regular center back Michael Boxall. Raitala had starter Chase Gasper to his left and defensive midfielder Wil Trapp in front. Raitala, 32, arrived in Minnesota after three season with CF Montreal and has played more than 50 games for the Finnish national team since 2009.
“He’s a great player, very technical, knows the game well, reads the game well,” Gasper said last week. “He adds a lot of competition, so it’s going to push everybody, myself included, as well as the center backs because he can play center back as well.”
Heath said Dibassy’s leg has been improving, but the Frenchman hasn’t played in five games (four preseason and season opener).
Amos Magee, the Loons’ director of player personnel, is currently on a scouting trip in Croatia, according to Manny Lagos on Tuesday.
Magee, a St. Paul native who returned to his hometown club in 2016 before United went to MLS in 2017, interviewed for the vacant General Manager position at D.C. United earlier this month, according to the Washington Post. Lucy Rushton was hired for that position.
The Loons will play Western Conference foes in 32 of 34 regular-season games. While Michael Boxall bit his tongue instead of sharing his true feelings on the topic last week, Ethan Finlay was more forthcoming.
“I was really disappointed with the schedule, if I’m being honest with you,” said Finlay, a member of the MLS Players’ Union executive board. “I hate that there is no balanced schedule. I understand that it’s never equal, but I think it’s part of our sport that you get to play everybody. They can hide behind the idea that it’s based on travel and that COVID stuff, I totally understand that, but for a place — Minnesota — we are going to be traveling equal time if we were going to Orlando or if we were going to L.A.”
Abila on side
Loons striker Ramon Abila did not train with the team on Tuesday, but worked out on his own after making his debut against the Sounders. After having groin surgery last winter, “Wanchope” had two shots in a 33-minute shift in the opener.
“We have him on a personal plan; obviously he has not played a lot of football,” Heath said. “We feel as though we don’t want to put him in with the group in big situations where he’s prone to maybe pulling something. … We’ll see where we are and where his fitness is come the end of the week.”
Winger Niko Hansen (thigh) worked out on the side with Dibassy on Monday. … Aziel Jackson remains with the first team as the club tries to work out a contract. Jackson played right wing in Tuesday’s training session. The 20-year-old New Jersey native was a part of the New York Red Bulls’ youth academy, two French teams Toulouse FC in Ligue 2 and Blagnac in National 3 and before going to Crossfire Premier in the U.S. Development Academy in 2019-20.