ST. PAUL — Minnesota United has had an underlying problem all season.
Since the Major League Soccer franchise opened its new $250 million Allianz Field in April, players would run and cut, and the grass would come up in divots small and large. During game in April, superstar Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbed a piece of loose turf and spiked it.
The club’s initial reason for the loose turf was that the new Kentucky bluegrass needed time to take hold after a long Minnesota winter. But as summer turned to fall and the chunks continued to come up, the questions persisted.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, United CEO Chris Wright shared the club discovered an underground drainage problem where rain and sprinkler water was pooling underneath the grass and affecting the grass’s root growth. Sending remote cameras into the piping, the club’s grounds crew identified the issue and worked to correct it by mid-August.
But with St. Thomas-St. John’s college football game scheduled for Oct. 19 and a potential MLS Cup playoff game at the St. Paul stadium the following day, United has decided to replace the the grass starting Monday. There will be no rescheduling of the 89th playing of the Tommies-Johnnies rivalry game.
Wright said the club is working on potential liability issues for the drainage problem with unnamed subcontractor of Mortenson Construction, which primarily built the stadium from 2017 to early 2019. Wright did not share a cost for the sod replacement.
“They (Mortenson) have third-party vendors, who work on the field with us,” Wright said. “We are working through the replacement (sod) with Mortenson. They will … have staff in here to oversee the laying of the sod with our grounds crew.”
A three-week break between United’s MLS game Sunday against Los Angeles FC and the Tommies-Johnnies football game will give the club ample time to replace the field, Wright said.
United will wait for MLS to announce a potential date for a home playoff game, which Minnesota would clinch with a win against LAFC on Sunday. The likely date is Oct. 20, but not before on, say, Oct. 18 because a FIFA international window precludes games from being played then.
This predicament of a college football game potentially tearing up a grass field before a pro soccer game came wasn’t expected to happen during the playoffs. United was prepared for the club to have to fit in the college football game during the MLS regular season. MLS teams in the playoffs at Allianz Field will still have to deal with the chance of football line markings remaining on the new grass and the wear and tear football brings to a field, especially between the hash marks.
United was negotiating with St. Thomas and St. John’s for approximately a year to host a game at Allianz Field, Wright said, after the Tommies-Johnnies drew an announced crowd of 37,355 for their game at Target Field in 2017.
United entered into a binding contract with the two MIAC schools “well before we understood and knew” the new MLS Cup playoff schedule and format, Wright said. After the agreement was made, MLS condensed the schedule by three weeks, Wright said.
Wright said the club will bring in the sod from Heath Farms in Coloma, Wis.; it’s the same type of surface the Loons have at their training grounds at National Sports Center in Blaine. They used a company in Colorado for the original surface.