Five things we learned from MLS Week 13 (cont.)
Major League Soccer's facility situation, economically unsustainable and generally pretty dreary just 10 years ago, keeps marching in the right direction. It certainly did when Livestrong Sporting Park opened last week in Kansas City. So all variables considered (facility itself, surface, economics, location, transportation, etc.) here is where everyone ranks:
1. Red Bull Arena, New York: A beautiful ground that could only improve if it was actually inside the city, rather than just across the river in an area still being developed. But rail transport, a bigger capacity than most other MLS-built grounds and the fact that it resides in the nation's largest markets mitigates the minuses (including an atmosphere that's still not consistently what it needs to be.)
2. JELD-WEN Field, Portland: The Timbers' just-renovated grounds would probably top the chart but for the artificial turf. It may be a necessary evil due to the wet climate, but that doesn't make it right for soccer. Everything else is pretty much perfect, a downtown facility packed to the rafters with fans who are bonkers for their side.
3. BMO Field, Toronto FC: Unremarkable architecturally and very "first generation" when it comes to bells and whistles, but still an urban ground that's usually full and brimming with city life nearby. The lakefront location inside Exhibition Place is a plus, and they removed the last obstacle preventing BMO from being a great situation by yanking the artificial turf.
4. Home Depot Center, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA: One of the earlier stadiums built for MLS, it has held up well. The HDC has the biggest capacity of MLS-built grounds. The location isn't great, but it's not bad either. The playing surface suffers frequently due to usage beyond soccer, which is a real shame.
5. Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake: The mountain backdrop, artistic design and light rail options all serve to make the stadium in suburban Sandy, Utah, a great place. The crowds don't rise to Seattle and Portland levels, but RSL is generally well supported.
6. Livestrong Sporting Park, Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City ownership didn't miss a trick at the gleaming, high tech new park. It's a bit far outside the urban core, but that looks like the only black mark for now.
7. Qwest Field, Seattle: Soccer-football hybrids are never going to be perfect, although this one comes close. The legions of Sounders fans get a little sensitive when you talk about their artificial turf and the fact that it's too big. But the fact is, it's got artificial turf and it's too big. The brilliant atmosphere and location push it this high in the rankings.
8. PPL Park, Philadelphia: A beautiful stadium, barely a year old, that suffers some due to the sketchy neighborhood, way beyond downtown Philly in suburban Chester. Situated majestically on the Commodore Barry Bridge, some of the camera shots are truly stunning.
9. Toyota Park, Chicago: It's the consummately middle class of MLS grounds. It's a swell stadium, even if unadorned by as many niceties as some others. It's not particularly beautiful from the outside, but it's a nice looking place. The atmosphere is good, even if not as good as in Portland, Seattle, etc. There's public transportation, but it's outside the city and takes some effort to get there.
10. Empire Field, Vancouver: The expansion club is in temporary digs pending renovation of BC Place Stadium, which should be complete later this year (with MLS' first retractable roof). As a one-year solution, Empire isn't bad at all. (Check back next year to see how far up they move on this list.)
11. Pizza Hut Park, FC Dallas: Recent retail and restaurant development around the facility that sit 23 miles north of downtown Dallas make it a slightly better place. Basically, it's a nice stadium that suffers from poor attendance. The abundance of adjacent practice fields is a big plus.
11. DSG Park, Colorado: See Pizza Hut Park above. This one is a pretty place, particularly the well-designed (partial) roof. But it suffers from atmosphere and location outside of town, with very little to do around the grounds.
12. Crew Stadium, Columbus: It will always have a special place in history as the first major U.S. stadium built just for soccer. Trouble is, the facility is like a stadium starter kit, as bare bones as they come, and not in a particularly attractive part of town. They've left millions on the table in 13 years without naming rights revenue.
14. Robertson Stadium, Houston: Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus was a good stopgap, where a lack of amenities and cramped field were mitigated by good atmosphere. Houston moves into its new downtown park next year. So, another one set to shoot up the list.
15. RFK Stadium, D.C. United: Not so long ago it was one of the premier MLS parks, even if it was too big. But the MLS field has pretty much lapped battered old RFK, which is now really just a decrepit financial sinkhole -- albeit one that still has a good feel on match day.
16. Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose: The tiny, Spartan grounds on the University of Santa Clara campus is just a stopgap. But with no solid plan in place, it looks like the Earthquakes are stuck inside the league's smallest park for the foreseeable future. And they sure can't make any money in that place.
17. Gillette Stadium, New England: What is there to say? It's too big, too far out and burdened by artificial turf. And lately, attendance is no better than in other long-suffering markets.
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