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Tajouri-Shradi, NYCFC ties Minnesota 3-3 in stadium opener

April 14, 2019
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In this March 26, 2019, photo, the new stadium of the Minnesota United FC Loons is shown in St. Paul, Minn. The MLS soccer team's home opener and debut of the privately-funded Allianz Field is April 13 against New York City FC in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota United made the first game at Allianz Field a real show, with end-to-end action that entertained the raucous fans as much as the new stadium itself.

Being swept up a bit too much by the energy of the moment might have kept the Loons from obtaining the ideal result.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi had two goals and an assist to help New York City FC forge a 3-3 draw Saturday in Minnesota United’s much-anticipated home opener, the debut of the $250 million facility and latest soccer-specific venue for Major League Soccer .

Osvaldo Alonso became the trivia question answer by scoring in the 13th minute for the Loons, who promptly gave up goals to Valentin Castellanos and Tajouri-Shradi for NYCFC in the 16th and 18th minutes. Angelo Rodriguez, with a setup by Ethan Finlay, scored for Minnesota in the 20th minute.

Then the over-capacity crowd of 19,796 went wild in the 32nd minute when NYCFC goalie Sean Johnson, a member of the U.S. national team who posted two shutouts in the first five matches, let in the most egregious of own goals . Johnson tried to control a seemingly harmless back pass by switching the ball from his left foot to his right foot, but he lost control and watched it skid past him and across the line.

“People will keep talking about it, but he’s a really good keeper,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said, “and he’ll recover from that.”

Johnson, jeered by the boisterous Loons supporters section every time he touched the ball after that, kept the sheet clean after halftime. In the 64th minute, Tajouri-Shradi scored the equalizer on a corner kick that grazed defender Francisco Calvo’s left foot on the way past goalie Vito Mannone.

Though only one goal was scored in the second half, the action was not lacking. Minnesota’s Ike Opara suffered a deep cut on his head after a collision with Castellanos, who was out cold for a few seconds after the two collided in the air jockeying for a ball. Both players were able to walk off the field.

In the end, the Loons played a little too aggressively for Heath’s liking, lamenting some of the defensive lapses despite the natural buzz from the crowd energy.

“It had the feeling of a playoff game where somebody had to win on the day,” Heath said.

Said Finlay: “The fans were a huge part of that. We just have to be able to manage their intensity and channel it the right way.”

Allianz Field, built halfway between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, was a brisk one with the high temperature at 40 degrees in the afternoon the day after a storm finished dumping as much as a foot of snow around the Twin Cities.

Of all the striking features of the 19,400-seat stadium, including a translucent Teflon skin embedded with LED lights that surrounds a curved European-style canopy, there’s hardly a more important than the heated soil underneath the natural grass playing surface.

The Loons played their first two MLS seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, a football facility where they drew 23,902 fans per game last year for the fifth-highest average in the league. The opener there on March 12, 2017, was memorably played in a snowstorm with a 20-degree temperature at kickoff to match what was at the time the coldest game in MLS history. The Loons lost that one 6-1 to Atlanta United.

This time, there was much more to be satisfied with.

“It was special,” Finlay said. “I had hairs on the back of my neck standing up as we came out of that tunnel.”

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