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From Brew Hall to defensive miscues, Loons seek improvements at Allianz Field

Minnesota United midfielder Jan Gregus (8) prepares for a corner kick against New York City in front of Loons fans during the first half of their April 13 game at Allianz Field in St. Paul. David Berding / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota United wants Allianz Field to be both a cathedral and a fortress.

A cathedral -- in soccer parlance -- for fans to revere the beautiful game, and a fortress in terms of difficulty for opposing MLS teams to visit and come away with a win.

United has been working to refine both that consumer experience and its sporting operations after the St. Paul stadium debuted April 13 with 19,796 fans watching the Loons settle for a 3-3 draw with New York City.

The Loons (3-3-1) will now face the Los Angeles Galaxy (6-1-0) in the first night game at Allianz Field at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 24. It will kickoff three straight home games, including matches against D.C. United at 12:30 p.m. Sunday and the Seattle Sounders visiting at 7 p.m. May 4.

In the stands

United had about 15 run-up events before the stadium opener, but only one training session for the Loons ahead of their first game there. A snowfall of 8 1/2 inches fell on the grass field about 48 hours before kickoff and precluded the Loons from training at the stadium a few days before to the game. A few snowbanks on the West side of the field were the only traces of winter left by game time.

“When a stadium gets opened, there can be a a negative tone to what happened,” United CEO Chris Wright said. “There can be a negative tone to what went awry operationally, or something happened that maybe was a deflection from the pride that everybody has in the stadium. To be very honest, we didn’t get that.”

But Wright said United has a list of 200 items to be improved, all organized on a big spreadsheet. Some of the main objectives come in food and beverage service.

The Brew Hall on the north side of the stadium was a massive success during the Saturday opener, Wright said. The demand, however, was too much for United -- which is self-managing the stadium -- to keep up with the sales of suds.

Delaware North, United’s food and beverage partner, has since spent $25,000 to convert its paper point-of-sale system to a digital operation to speed up sales. The club hopes to have that enhancement up and running by Wednesday’s game.

Allianz Field also had shortages of pizza and cuisine from Hot Indian and Brasa. “(They) got completely shellacked,” Wright said of the latter two stands. “They were out of food about halfway through halftime. So that is over 400 units per stand. We’ve got to address that, which they are. That’s a good problem to have.”

The Allianz Field opener, which also dealt with the stress of nearly 1,000 credentialed staff, media and other officials, also served as the rollout of Minnesota United using 100 percent digital tickets. Wright reports few substantial issues in how that software on MNUFC’s app was first adopted.

On the field

On the soccer side, Minnesota reverted back to the defensive struggles from its first two years of MLS play, which originated at TCF Bank Stadium. After giving up three goals to New York City, they gave up four to Toronto FC in a 4-3 loss Friday in Ontario.

With that spike, the Loons are on pace to give up more goals than they did in either of their first two MLS seasons. That in itself is remarkable considering they set an MLS record for most goals allowed in consecutive campaigns.

“One of the things that we are searching for is a defensive identity,” said Wright, who oversees sporting director Manny Lagos, coach Adrian Heath and the rest of the sporting staff. “We’ve long been criticized, and rightfully so, for the number of goals that we give up, the way we give up goals, etc.

“I know our coaching staff and players are working very, very hard on changing that,” Wright said. “I want Allianz Field to become a place that is very, very difficult for opponents to play in. We’ve got to seek that, and a big part of that is the mentality of our players and our coaching staff. The mentality of our soccer operations and the mentality of our supporters.”

Heath and players such as Ozzie Alonso, Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman have chalked up the defensive lapses to individual errors or a lull that has come in the moments after one goal is scored. Against New York City and Toronto, the Loons gave up two goals over a few short minutes.

“We are trying to eradicate individual mistakes,” Heath said Monday. “It’s what we’ve spoke about. I don’t think there has been anything wrong with the collective positioning of the group, but individuals are making errors that’s costing us dearly every single game.”

Loons players said the first game at Allianz Field was difficult because the stadium was new to them, too.

“We’ve got to go on and make it our home now,” Heath said. “It’s early days, I know, but we’ve got to make it a fortress.”