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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
The U.S. national men's soccer team is coming to new Allianz Field in St. Paul to open CONCACAF Gold Cup play June 18.
It's the first time here since, well, Minnesota United Sporting Director Manny Lagos remembers when the Americans played a Russian club team in 1990 at the little National Sports Center stadium in Blaine.
"Things have changed massively since then," Lagos said. "The stadiums they play, the teams, the competition."
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is soccer's national-team championship for the North America, Central America and Caribbean regions. The confederation announced Tuesday that Allianz Field will be the site of two games on opening day of Group D play.
The soccer-specific, 19,400-capacity stadium is expected to hold its first MLS games in April, after the NCAA's Final Four has left town.
The Gold Cup's arrival will put Allianz Field on an international stage for a 16-team tournament that is growing by four more nations for the first time.
"It gives our club an opportunity to showcase a new stadium we're all going to be really proud of," Loons coach Adrian Heath said.
Complete groups and schedules will be announced early in 2019, after all nations have qualified. Those qualifying rounds will be played this month, in November and March 2019 as well.
Six national teams — the U.S., Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama as well as Trinidad and Tobago — have already automatically qualified.
Minnesota United defender Francisco Calvo is a candidate to play for his Costa Rica national team, as is midfielder Kevin Molino for his Trinidad and Tobago team.
Californian Miguel Ibarra and Wisconsin's Ethan Finley are among United's American players hopeful to catch the eye of a U.S. team coach who has not been hired yet.
Finley has played three times for the U.S. national team, including in a World Cup qualifier in Guatemala held in a stadium as intimate and loud as he expects Allianz Field will be.
"Playing for your national team, it's incredible, an absolute privilege," said Finley, who is hopeful he'll be recovered from an ACL injury and be back to training fully by January.
"I'm coming off an injury, but I still hope to put my name in the hat, especially when you have the opportunity to don the red, white and blue in your home stadium."
Gold Cup tickets for Allianz Field matches will go on sale in mid- to late-November. Season-ticket holders and subscribers to the United's newsletter — www.mnufc.com/newsletter — will receive early access.
The Americans will play their second match June 22 in Cleveland and close Group D play June 26 at Kansas City.
Both Lagos and Heath hope Allianz Field and the United franchise impress enough that the U.S. team returns.
It has played qualifying games late in the year in such northern places as Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia and Colorado, seeking an edge against opponents accustomed to warmer climes.
"We could be more of a home for the U.S. national team," Lagos said, "if we put on a really good event."
Heath said the attention both the state and stadium will receive is good for the game in Minnesota.
"We're all still pioneers here who keep growing this game," Heath said. "It has come on leaps and bounds these last 10 years, but we've still got a long way to go."
Allianz Field, under construction since May 2017, is expected to be completed by February.
It's currently more than 80 percent completed.
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