breaking new ground

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WSOTP - Blog - Louisville City Opener.fwGoing into the 2015 season, there was a lot of buzz about a new American soccer team being forced to play in a facility that didn’t exactly suit their needs.

Soccer — after a decade of preaching that soccer specific stadiums was the way forward for the professional game here — would be returning to the baseball diamond for competitive matches once again, and there have predictably been calls for concerns on both sides of the equation.

Baseball stadiums, of course, aren’t really built with soccer in mind. They’re rarely long enough for a standard sized pitch and are just as likely to offer insufficient width at the length they can offer. And while some fans are fairly close to the action, usually down one of the baselines, others — like much of the outfield and behind home plate — are really far away from much of the action. And that’s not even dealing with the need to develop a feasible method for dealing with the infield. Playing on the dirt isn’t an option, and the pitcher’s mound has to be moved in some fashion.

All of that is just from the soccer perspective. Think of what how baseball teams feel about sharing their field.

A player’s need for a clean, perfect playing surface is nearly equal between soccer and baseball, and for the seam reasons too. Imperfections in the surface can drastically affect the direction a ground ball or pass will take. And a season of soccer does arguably chew up the turf far more than your average season of baseball would, even though there are normally three to four times the number of home baseball dates per season than there are soccer ones. And speaking of scheduling games, finding a way to fit soccer into the already packed baseball season schedule can be an arduous task, too.

Now to be fair, those issues alone are more than enough motivation for a club to go looking for a more suitable home. And luckily, the baseball stadium solution has been deemed a temporary one.

If you’re nodding along thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard about all of this New York City FC playing at Yankee Stadium mumbo jumbo before”… hold your horses, just a minute. I’m not talking about NYCFC.

I’m talking about Louisville City FC.

You know: the other, other City team that’s new to American soccer this year.

It’s a little confusing, so hang with me here. Louisville City FC wear purple, white and gold just like the other new City, Orlando City SC. And technically, Louisville City took over Orlando City’s franchise rights in the third division USL when Orlando City moved up to MLS this season. Further muddying the waters is the fact that there are further ties between the clubs, including Orlando City using Louisville City as their MLS-mandated minor league affiliate in USL this season. 

So now that we’ve caught you up to speed, many were not aware that the maiden voyage for Louisville City FC is taking place in a baseball stadium much like New York City FC.

But unlike NYCFC — who are playing at arguably the most famous stadium in all of baseball —  the new USL club are setting up shop at Louisville Slugger Field. For those not familiar with it, it’s the home of the Louisville Bats, the AAA minor league affiliate for the Cincinnati Reds.

I’ve had the privilege of taking in a baseball game at Louisville Slugger Field before — I lived in Louisville for two years, which is also when I founded this site — and it’s a fabulous, intimate, little stadium. The 13,000-seater stadium is a far cry from the cavernous 49,642-seat stadium the new New York team calls home in the Bronx, but still features many of the modern comforts we’ve grown accustomed too without losing its cozy feel. It’s in a great spot in Louisville, with easy access to ample food and entertainment options. And it’s easily accessible… well, it will be once the famed “Spaghetti Junction” of I-71, I-64 and I-65 is finally no longer under construction.

When it was first announced that Louisville might get a team at Slugger Field, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad home ground. So long as it was only a temporary one, that is.

But just the same, the concerns voiced about NYCFC’s use of Yankee Stadium were concerns that I shared about this arrangement, too. And just like the Yankees stars that voiced their own apprehensions about a ground-share agreement, the Bats have voiced their worries, too.

However, none of those concerns proved strong enough to deter Louisville being selected as the landing spot for Orlando’s former USL franchise, and plans proceeded forward with Slugger Field being the eventual home of the club.

So how did the opening day go, at least for the soccer club that is?

Pondcast co-host Jeremy and I made the 125-mile trip down I-71 from Cincinnati to catch the game against fellow USL debutant Saint Louis FC, and I can say with 100% confidence that it went “pretty damn well”.

First off, full credit must be given to the supporters for making opening day for soccer in Louisville the success that it was. Announced attendance stood at an impressive 6067. Although an extremely beautiful looking game with clear, sunny skies, the temperatures hovered in the low 50’s in the sun and a chilling wind blew across the length of the pitch. So it’s possible the weather kept that number from climbing higher than it already was.

The Louisville Coopers — a supporters group that predated the decision to give Louisville the USL franchise — were out in full force, numbering in the hundreds. Sat behind the third baseline goal, they chanted loudly, waved flags and bellowed dark purple smoke. They were further aided by a 80-member-strong contingent from St. Louis, a similarly founded supporters group that goes by the name of St. Louligans. Together, they injected a special buzz and energy that could be felt throughout the crowd.

For the home side at least, that crowd energy filtered down onto the pitch. Though Saint Louis FC looked sharp in the opening half, they never really troubled the home side’s goal. And thanks to a pair of goals on either side of halftime, City sealed the victory in their first ever match with emphatic, backheel-assisted, curling winner from 20-year-old Brit, Charlie Adams.

Did any of my or anyone else’s fears about the surface and small size of pitch play a role at all?

The pitch was certainly small; my guess is it was no more than 105 yards long and 70 yards wide. However, play didn’t look overly rushed or too crowded. So the impact there was minimal, but no different from other small pitches around the country. The surface obstacles, however, seemed a bigger concern.

The largest of those was the pitcher’s mound, which was modified prior to the start of the season to be lowered into the ground and covered with a smooth surface. It falls just outside the third base line penalty area, and is slightly raised when compared against the grass around it. I watched it like a hawk throughout the match, and didn’t once notice it interfering with play. The rest of the infield was surprisingly covered with old-school, traditional Astroturf. It looked decent enough from a distance, and didn’t seem to affect play either. I even pressed man-of-the-match Charlie Adams and Louisville manager James O’Connor after the match to see if either thought the field surface or smaller pitch size was a factor in the game, and both believed it wasn’t.

With a clear win in the stands and a win on the pitch, it’s hard to declare the inaugural professional soccer match in Louisville anything other than a success.

So where exactly does that leave my thoughts on playing in a baseball park?

Much like what we saw with New York City’s debut at Yankee Stadium a few weeks before, it seems that the venue is what the fans and clubs make of it. If you can fill it with impassioned supporters and put a decent product on the field, the limitations of the facility will be minimized. Sure, neither wants (or can) live there forever. But it will do for now.

What’s more important, particularly in the case in Louisville, is that new ground is being broken. There’s never been professional soccer in Kentucky before. Ever.

And even though the home that professional soccer plays out in isn’t ideal, I’m pretty sure the fans in Kentucky will take less than ideal over nothing at all.

ten words or less #99

WSOTP - Blog - Winter Is Coming Scarf.fwThe weekend is upon us, and the football will be coming thick and fast. Tomorrow morning we kick things off with a little Liverpool v Chelsea treat and the weekend is capped off off with some MLS Playoff action. And somehow, someway, I have to manage a way to watch as much of it as possible and NOT have my wife divorce me. I just keep reminding her we’re only a few weeks away from the end of the MLS season, and that seems to be working… for now, at least.

Also, a huge FYI. That official WSOTP scarf pictured above that still remains on pre-order? Yeah, we’re dropping the price. They’re now just $18. That’s two whole dollars we’ve lumped off the cost to encourage you to buy one. (If you ordered one earlier, worry not, you’ll be getting some money back.) We’ve also added an options for picking up the scarf from me personally so you don’t have to pay for shipping. And for those who have been concerned that WSOTP is getting rich off of your purchases, all profits go right back into the site — hosting, domain registration, and podcasting equipment isn’t free and has come directly out of my pocket for the last 5 years. So your moneys will be utilized to continue bringing you the wonderful content you’ve come to know and love. Plus it’s getting cold out again, and we want you to stay warm. So click here to buy one, please! 

Once your done with that, feel free to check out some of my favorite links from around the interwebz from the last week and a half.

You should stop laughing at the San Marino national team. – vice.com

Puma had to choose a specific zipper just for Wenger. – youtube.com

So how did we end up with LAFC? – si.com

How did I not know this academy existed? – businessweek.com

Want proof that FIFA and Russia are in cahoots? – reuters.com

So African players are just a commodity? Got it. – soccergods.com

DC’s new stadium most expensive in MLS history? – wjla.com

Gary Neville and I agree: defending is dead. – telegraph.co.uk

A magnificent piece of writing on Manaus’ World Cup. – deadspin.com/howler.com

Now contemplating auctioning my daughter’s support to the highest bidder. – whoateallthepies.tv

ten words or less #96

Frank Lampard of Manchester City

just one of the cornucopia of stories that came out just this past weekend: frank lampard’s manchester city debut.

As Americans, we’ve reached a weird point in the soccer calendar. Just as we’re getting warmed up to and getting a feel for the European season, we’re getting to “squeaky bum time” in the MLS season with the playoffs just around the corner. And because of that, it sure seems like there’s more news pouring out of the sport than ever. But worry not, WSOTP has been scouring the web to bring you the picks of the litter. So dive into my favorite links from around the world of football from the last week or so, and stay tuned for even more content as the week progresses.

“Spurs are not for sale”, but a bid’s been received. – tottenhamhotspur.com

Joel Campbell has enough time to create a sports website. – sports.bycampbell.com

Robbing the rich and giving it to the… rich. – independent.co.uk

Gothamist get’s Don Garber to dish on all things MLS. – gothamist.com

Lighting up a pitch by capturing power from the players. – cbsnews.com

The 50 best players according to FIFA 15. – theguardian.com

Every USLPRO side pays for playoff travel expenses. – recklesschallenge.net

Don’t expect a soccer specific stadium in Boston anytime soon. – boston.com

Finally an alternative solution to watching Bundesliga in the US. – bundesligafanatic.com

So “Chivas TBD” might take a year or two off. – si.com

 

pic of the week 8/18-8/24

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Providence Stadium in Guyana

For many MLS sides, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League is one of the ultimate goals each season. The competition provides a chance to test themselves against the best sides in the region, play in some of the most storied venues in North and Central America and — if they can actually win the whole shebang, a feat no American club has yet managed — an opportunity to play in the yearly Club World Cup. But it’s important to remember that not every ground and opponent an MLS side might be drawn to face is exactly worth all of the hype.

Take for example Portland Timbers’ first round opponents in this season’s CCL: Guyana’s Alpha United FC. Already an oddity in CONCACAF due to the fact that the country is technically in South America, Guyana is also a country where cricket is the first love. And despite Alpha being the three-time reigning champion of the Guyana National Football League, they play their matches in the Bourda Cricket Ground.

However, the stadium itself didn’t meet CONCACAF standards, and thus they have to play their matches at the newer, larger and more modern Providence Stadium. Which is pretty ironic, considering Portland play their home matches Providence Park. Yet despite the upgrade, it still featured a humongous dirt patch — used as the cricket’s bowling and batting area — smack dab in the middle of the pitch. And as the picture tweeted out by Portland owner Merritt Paulson shows, it made for quite the rough playing surface. Luckily, the Timbers still managed to pull off a 4-1 victory in spite of the sub par surface they were forced to make their CCL debut upon.

ten words or less #89

DC United forward Chris Rolfe

friend of WSOTP, chris rolfe will find himself in new digs this weekend after being traded from chicago to DC.

It’s been ages since my last links round up piece — okay, so it’s just been over a month. But a month can seem like ages in a house with an infant. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I needed to get this latest Ten Words or Less published before some of the links below become no longer relevant. And with the collection of links below spanning nearly the entire spectrum of professional soccer — from World Cup stories to the Premier League, from the Major Indoor Soccer League to USLPRO to Major League soccer, and from footie gear to soccer broadcasting — this is a links round up not to miss.

To new beginnings. – mlssoccer.com

Ian Darke stars in probably the best ESPN commercial ever. – youtube.com/espn

I really wish Chelsea would stop making kits I like. – footballfashion.org

The MISL is dissolving and it’s getting really ugly. – thebluestatement.com

BeIN Sport have made a vuvezela that changes the channel. – therichest.com

I am 100% behind making this the next MLS rebrand. – thegoatparade.com

Please don’t tell me this is a permanent home. – daytondutchlionsfc.com

Some people prefer Spanish commentary… I’m not one of them. – npr.org

I’m a non believer, but these football Tarot Cards rock. – designfootball.com

Some day… Nike will send me these, too. Some day. – theoriginalwinger.com

pic of the week 3/17-3/24

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david beckham's miami stadium plans

Even though actual teams are playing actual matches in Major League Soccer, anytime David Beckham’s still-imaginary team in Miami makes any waves, it instantly becomes the front page news around the league. And things were no different when the Daily Mail published what are supposedly the initial renderings of Team Beckham’s stadium at the highly desired but likely difficult-to-acquire Port of Miami site. And to be fair, if they are able to pull it off, this stadium will easily be one of the best in MLS.

The 25,000 all-seated stadium offers views of the city skyline and port — designed by Miami’s Arquitectonica and 360 Architecture of Kansas City — also features an adjacent plaza that will house restaurants, retail space, and predictably a night club for Becks to fraternize with fellow celebrity friends. But as mentioned before, whether or not Beckham and the league will be able to secure the space in the port remains to be seen. Opposition ranging from Royal Caribbean cruise line and city officials, not to mention a hefty price tag, currently stand in the way of the deal being done.

But I’m hoping they’re able to pull it off, if for no other reason than it give me an excuse to check it out for my MLS Stadium Guide project!

ten words or less #82

it’s fair to say that mexico are feeling very thankful this morning.

So, about last night? Pardon my french, but last night was fucking crazy. While World Cup qualifying drama reared its head in both Europe and South America, the real drama was saved for those of us here in CONCACAF. In a space of just two minutes, Mexico — who lost 2-to Costa Rica — went from not qualifying for their first World Cup in 24 years to being back in thanks to an injury time equalizer by none other than their hated rivals to the north. The unexpected swing in fortunes induced the now-famous maniacal response from Mexican commentator Christian Martinoli, which just so happens to be the first link below. And it felt eerily similar to Manchester City’s last-gasp title-winning goal in the Premier League two seasons ago.

Anyway, the magic of yesterday’s moments serves as yet another excellent reason for why this is such an amazing sport. If you couldn’t get into that madness, then you likely lack a pulse.

“We love you forever and ever! God Bless America!” – businessinsider.com

De nada, México. De nada. – bumpypitch.com

Will the US bid for 2026? If rules are redefined. – si.com

Why Januzaj likely isn’t United’s next Pogba or Morrision. – strettynews.com

8bit Football drops a killer historical USMNT effort. – 8bit-football.com

Chivas USA are actually looking for their own home. – mlssoccer.com

Qatar just sounds delightful, doesn’t it? – spiegel.de

Spain’s national team more like the USMNT than you’d think. – soccernet.com

Did Arsenal’s 2014/2015 Puma kits just leak out? – footballshirtculture.com

Organizing and finding pickup games is about to get easier. – kckrs.com

WSOTP stadium guide: houston’s BBVA compass stadium

Houston Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium
Welcome to the WSOTP Stadium Guide, the latest major undertaking on here on Wrong Side of the Pond.
With traveling supporters steadily becoming a fixture at MLS matches, there aren’t a lot of great resources for visiting fans to research ahead of their travels. Over the next few seasons, I aim to visit and provide an up close and personal look at each of the 19 (soon to be 20) MLS stadiums to help fill that void. I’ll also take opinion from the locals, as the Supporters who call each stadium home know it far better than I ever will. To see the full list of stadium reviews, click here.

BBVA COMPASS STADIUM QUICK GUIDE
Address 2200 Texas St. Houston, TX
Home Club Houston Dynamo
Soccer Capacity 22,000
Opened May 12, 2012
Soccer Specfic Stadium Yes
GETTING TO THE STADIUM
From Out of Town?
Driving In
Public Transport
MATCH DAY EXPERIENCE
Parking / Tailgating
Prematch Pubs
Tickets / Where to Sit
Supporters Sections
Suites & Special Seating
Food & Beer
Fan Activities
BEHIND THE SCENES
Player Facilities
The Field of Play / WSOTP Pitch Pass
Meeting the Players
Hidden Gem

The second stadium I visited in a whirlwind tour of Texas with my dad in early September, Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium is an absolute gem. While we’ll get into the reasons for my opinion in detail below, I can easily summarize my admiration for the Dynamo’s digs in three words: location, seating and appearance.

Aesthetically, BBVA is absolutely stunning. Well, at least if you have taste for modern design. The entire stadium is wrapped in an aluminum and polycarbonate skin with a unique 3-dimensional pattern. This pattern is utilized throughout the stadium, and is often softened with accents of dark grain wood. And the omnipresent use of the clubs colors also further serves to underline the club motto of “Forever Orange”.

The one downside to this stadium visit? It was actually the first time on this stadium tour that where the home team lost, falling 1-4 to Eastern Conference pacesetters Red Bull New York. Sorry Dynamo fans. I promise I didn’t put a hex on the BBVA during my tour of stadium the morning before the match. Maybe I’m just not the good luck charm I thought I was. #SadFace

Before we get started with things, I did want to send out a very special thanks to my gracious host, the Dyanamo’s Digital Communications Coordinator, Ben Crook, for getting everything lined up during our time in Houston. UPDATE: I did get some feedback from the Texian Army, and will be adding in their perspectives in the coming days.

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WSOTP stadium guide: dallas’ toyota stadium

FC Dallas Stadium
Welcome to the WSOTP Stadium Guide, the latest major undertaking on here on Wrong Side of the Pond.
With traveling supporters steadily becoming a fixture at MLS matches, there aren’t a lot of great resources for visiting fans to research ahead of their travels. Over the next few seasons, I aim to visit and provide an up close and personal look at each of the 19 (soon to be 20) MLS stadiums to help fill that void. I’ll also take opinion from the locals, as the Supporters who call each stadium home know it far better than I ever will. To see the full list of stadium reviews, click here.

TOYOTA STADIUM QUICK GUIDE
Address 9200 World Cup Way Frisco, TX
Home Club FC Dallas
Soccer Capacity 21,193
Opened August 6, 2005
Soccer Specific Stadium Yes
GETTING TO THE STADIUM
From Out of Town?
Driving In
Public Transport
MATCH DAY EXPERIENCE
Parking / Tailgating
Prematch Pubs
Tickets / Where to Sit
Supporters Sections
Suites & Special Seating
Food & Beer
Fan Activities
BEHIND THE SCENES
Player Facilities
The Field of Play / WSOTP Pitch Pass
Meeting the Players
Hidden Gem

Stop #3 on the WSOTP Stadium Guide Tour brings me to the “Big D” — well, north of Dallas to be exact — to visit FC Dallas and their newly renamed Toyota Stadium. Not to be confused with Chicago’s Toyota Park, which I’ve already visited.

My visit to Dallas was actually the first of two stops I made in Texas during the first weekend of September — the second being Houston a day later — and I was joined for both by my dad. It was the first trip I’ve made just with him since my last club soccer tournament back in high school, so it was great to spend some QT with my namesake. This was also the first of the stadiums I’ve visited on this tour that I’ve not actually been to before, which made things a little bit more exciting.

That said, I was greeted by Dallas’ infamous summer heat, with temperatures in excess of 100º. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how people can live there, let alone play soccer in that type of weather. Luckily, the match we were treated to in Frisco — a come-from-behind FC Dallas 3-1 win over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps — didn’t kick off until the cooler evening hours, so I was actually rather comfortable despite the earlier day’s searing temperatures.

Before I get started with the guide, I wanted to give a special thanks to my gracious hosts — FCD’s Director of Public Relations, Leigh Anne Gullet, and Dallas Football Elite president Sean Dorwaldt —  for showing me around their respective digs and for helping me to put thins whole thing together.

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WSOTP stadium guide: columbus’ crew stadium

columbus Crew stadium

Welcome to the WSOTP Stadium Guide, the latest major undertaking here on Wrong Side of the Pond. With traveling supporters steadily becoming a fixture at MLS matches, there aren’t a lot of great resources for visiting fans to research ahead of their travels. Over the next few seasons, I aim to visit and provide an up close and personal look at each of the 19 (soon to be 20) MLS stadiums to help fill that void. I’ll also take opinion from the locals, as the Supporters who call each stadium home know it far better than I ever will. To see the full list of stadium reviews, click here.

CREW STADIUM QUICK GUIDE
Address 1 Black & Gold Blvd
Columbus, OH
Home Club Columbus Crew
Soccer Capacity 22,555 / 23,881
Opened May 15, 1999
Soccer Specific Stadium Yes
GETTING TO THE STADIUM
From Out of Town?
Driving In
Public Transport
MATCH DAY EXPERIENCE
Parking / Tailgating
Prematch / Postmatch Pubs
Tickets / Where to Sit
Supporters Sections
Suites & Special Seating
Food & Beer
Fan Activities
BEHIND THE SCENES
Player Facilities
The Field of Play / WSOTP Pitch Pass
Meeting the Players
Hidden Gem

My second stop for this project is actually the stadium closest to me, and home of the MLS team I support: the Columbus Crew.

Just over an hour’s drive up I-71 from my Northern Cincinnati abode, I’ve been regularly attending Crew games since the inaugural MLS season in 1996 when they were playing in the cavernous Ohio Stadium. And though many feel it’s started to feel a bit antiquated, the primarily cinder block and aluminum Crew Stadium — the league’s very first Soccer Specific Stadium — remains a welcome improvement over the previous digs. In fact, of all the various stadiums I’ve watched soccer over the years on both sides of the pond, the best fan experience I’ve ever had was still at the meager home of the Crew during last year’s US World Cup qualifier against Jamaica (which I wrote about here).

So while 14 years of heading to Crew Stadium might have me feeling like I already know the place like the back side of my hand, I still wanted to make sure I got input from the folks who show up week in and week out. So many thanks to my hosts — Crew Communications Manager Tim Miller, Stadium General Manager Ryan Smith and the Crew Supporters Union — for showing me around on my latest trip to Columbus as the Crew shocked Eastern Conference pace-setters Impact Montreal with a surprise win.

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