In MLS, Stadiums Are Homes

Current, future stadiums examples of how much the league has grown
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, March 19, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

Home is always where the heart is, and the stadiums that supporters flock to in Major League Soccer are just that.

With three new stadiums this season, the variety of facilities that MLS plays in increases a bit. From the brand-new Avaya Stadium in San Jose, to the remodeled Citrus Bowl in Orlando, to the new-ish Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, each brings something different to the league. The expansion of Toronto’s BMO Field will be done later in the spring, and it’ll look considerably different than the former set-up.

There’s more on the horizon, as well. Construction on Orlando City’s own stadium will be done in time for next season. Atlanta’s stadium will be done in time for their 2017 debut, while DC United hope to be opening their long-awaited new stadium in that year, as well.

We also learned this week that the Seattle Sounders will be staying at CenturyLink Field for a long time, as they extended their lease at the stadium through 2028. That’s not really a surprise, but Seattle has been the one place where a large football stadium has worked well for MLS.

Most future stadium plans also look, for the most part, well done. One of the reasons MLS will give Minnesota United a spot in the league is their planned stadium in downtown Minneapolis, near Target Field on the northwest side. One of Sacramento’s strong points for an expansion team is a stadium plan that’s ready to go as soon as they get a club. San Antonio’s MLS bid centers around Toyota Field, which can be expanded if the Scorpions move up.

That’s a long way from the early days of the league, when every team started out in large football stadiums where even good crowds could look small in. From the Rose Bowl to Ohio Stadium, from Arrowhead to Mile High, it was not always a good look for the league. When Columbus Crew Stadium (now Mapfre Stadium) opened in 1999, it was seen as the first of hopefully many soccer-specific stadiums that MLS would see, and at some point every team would hopefully have one.

But for most, the wait has been worth it. Of the 18 continuing clubs in MLS (those other than Orlando City and NYCFC), 15 are the primary tenants in their own stadiums. Most have been built in the past 10 years, with the notable exception of Portland’s Providence Park (originally built in 1926, remodeled many times since) and DC United’s RFK Stadium (opened in 1962).

The three clubs that are either secondary or co-primary tenants in their stadiums are all in different circumstances. Seattle plays in front of nearly 40,000 every match at CenturyLink Field, and draw much bigger when they fully open the upper decks of the stadium. Vancouver’s BC Place uses a special curtain that hides the upper deck, making the 21,000 in the lower level seem much more intimate (Atlanta will use a similar system in their new stadium, as they will be sharing with the NFL’s Falcons).

Then there’s the throwback in New England. While the Revolution keep looking for possible spots for a stadium of their own much closer to Boston, they are stuck for the foreseeable future in Gillette Stadium. And it feels like a throwback to MLS 1.0, as most crowds tend to get swallowed up by the massive stadium. But on those occasions when the Revs do draw crowds of 20,000 in Foxborough (the listed soccer capacity is 20,000, or less than a third of Gillette Stadium’s overall capacity), it can be quite noisy.

DC United could also be seen as a throwback to MLS’ early days, as they’ve played in RFK since Day 1. They’ve been the primary tenant in RFK since the Redskins left in 1996, outside of the three years that the Washington Nationals played there before Nationals Park was built in 2008. Some of the small crowds in recent years, when DCU was struggling, have looked quite sparse in RFK. But when the lower level is near its 20,000 capacity, and the supporters’ side is bouncing, it’s as noisy as anywhere in MLS. And unlike New England, United has a stadium about to be built. Things will get better in the District.

NYCFC would also like a stadium of their own, but have been stymied in both Queens and The Bronx. Yankee Stadium isn’t ideal, but will have to do until the stadium situation gets figured out. But it also will be able to hold the large crowds that likely will come this season, and for the big matches, it will hold the noise well.

The one thing that MLS was most criticized for when awarding Manchester City an MLS club was that they didn’t have the stadium requirement that other expansion clubs (including Orlando City) had to meet to get a team. It’s the lack of a stadium plan that is holding up David Beckham’s Miami project, as several locations have been turned down. The latest proposal has local officials looking at a location near Marlins Park, near the Little Havana neighborhood, but that’s not an area where Beckham has said he wants to build a stadium at (he prefers someplace in downtown Miami). If the stadium situation doesn’t get sorted out soon, and with Sacramento ready with a plan, time on Beckham’s hopes to get Miami back into MLS may run out.

Then there’s the second Los Angeles team, which is supposed to start play in 2017. While there aren’t shovels in the ground, indications are that the current location of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, next to the Coliseum and the University of Southern California campus, will be the location of the new LAFC stadium. USC controls the arena, and they already have announced that they wanted to tear it down for a new MLS stadium. It’s looking like that just might happen, and means that LAFC is now ahead of NYCFC, Miami and New England as far as stadium planning goes.

That’s good news for MLS. One of the driving forces of MLS 2.0 has been the smaller, soccer-specific stadiums. The atmosphere those stadiums have is a factor bringing fans and helping the league become more respected worldwide.

Those stadiums have, most of all, become a home for supporters. That is the biggest improvement, as home is where the heart is.

And it’s good to be home.  


Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.