It was another iconic snow opener for Minnesota United, a night that will live on in images: Kervin Arriaga making a snow angel during warmups. Michael Boxall and Kemar Lawrence refusing to wear long sleeves or gloves. The grounds crew, wearing shorts, clearing the snow with leaf blowers. It was a night to remember, a night for photos and warm clothes and another edition of soccer in the snow in St. Paul. Iconic, right?
Unless you were playing or coaching, that is. Then you were peeved.
“I was disappointed that there was so much snow on the field,” said Adrian Heath.
“I wasn’t happy, but I played,” said Bongokuhle Hlongwane. “It’s my job, so I have to respect it whenever I have to.”
New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber went even further, after the 1-1 draw at Allianz Field, calling the amount of snow on the field “unprofessional”.
“Everyone here has the responsibility to keep the snow away,” he said, meaning that he expected the field to be more clear than it was. “This was not half meter or meter [of snow]… When I look to Austria, I am an Austrian man, and we know how we handle snow, and we sometimes have much more snow, and we can handle that. I absolutely have no understanding that we played today in these circumstances in an MLS professional game. I think both teams don’t deserve that, and this was not a big promotion for the league.”
A weather observer at St. Paul Central High School, just down the street from Allianz Field, reported four inches of snow on Sunday morning at 8am, but an inch or two of that snow fell overnight after the game had concluded. MSP Airport, a few miles south of Allianz Field, reported only two inches at midnight.
A Minnesota United team spokesman said that the under-soil heating at Allianz Field was fully operational, with the turf hovering between 50 and 65 degrees, measured ten inches below the surface of the field.
But only six grounds crew members, armed with those leaf blowers, were working on clearing the field, and they didn’t begin those efforts until an hour prior to kickoff, when the snow began to let up. By the time 7:40pm rolled around, they’d cleared both penalty areas and the lines of the field, but that was it, and the north side of the field was still mostly buried.
Could they have done more? Should they have done more? It felt like, given the forecast, everyone resigned themselves to playing in a snowbank, rather than trying to get the snow moved before the first kick.
In the end, the snow made for good pictures and memories, but it also made for an awful soccer game.
MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle reported that Minnesota’s pass completion rate for the game, under 48%, was the worst mark in the history of the league, and New York’s mark of 52.4% was the ninth-worst.
Every pass was a coin flip. It was like watching two kids play a bubble soccer table. New York’s main method of generating offense came in the first half, when they would launch a long ball with three or four attackers attempting to run under it, waiting and hoping for a defender to slip. Much of Minnesota’s offense came in the second half, through long throws from right back Zarek Valentin into the penalty area, something that happened so often that the Loons offense started to look like nothing so much as a rugby lineout.
Hlongwane scored from a rebound from a corner in the first half, Andrés Reyes scored for New York from a corner in the second, Dayne St. Clair made one really good save, and that was pretty much it for the game. I’m not sure either team learned anything about itself, except about which players have a high tolerance for low temperatures.
Maybe New York can work on defending near-post corners, and Minnesota can figure out how they managed to fail to mark a 6’1” center back on a corner kick.
But if anything, 2023’s home opener will be a little like 2022’s, which was also a 1-1 draw in horrible weather: lots of memories, forgettable game.