Stadiums and Soul

Sunday, August 08, 2010 | View Comments

As an admittedly huge soccer geek, it will surely surprise nobody that I'm a bit of a stadium aficionado, too. Over the past two years or so, I've been to, by my count, eight different professional grounds. They all have their attributes and their flaws, but there's something the older grounds, like RFK and Crew Stadium have, that set them apart.

Borrowed NFL stadiums don't feel right. I've seen games at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly and LP Field in Nashville, and didn't feel quite at home in either. It's like wearing a borrowed shirt that's three sizes too big. Even if it's the coolest looking, most comfortable shirt ever, it's somebody else's sweat that's been in the pits and the sleeves cover your hands. Any soul and history that an NFL stadium has isn't really yours if your club side doesn't play its home games there.

Lower league stadiums have their drawbacks, too. I've been to Skyline Sports Complex in Harrisburg and Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, and there's a lighter atmosphere than I like at my soccer games. Not to take anything away from a family atmosphere - the more kids getting involved with the sport, the better - but it's not my cup of tea. Sometimes it feels like you could put the same people at a minor league baseball game or a 4th of July picnic and they'd be none the wiser.

Newer MLS grounds like my beloved PPL Park or the excellent, if bedpan-shaped Red Bull Arena come close, but they're not there yet. The soul of a stadium comes from years of use, from hundreds of games of thousands of people trudging up and down its steps, from standing and singing and watching triumph and heartbreak, from games long forgotten and games that will be remembered forever. RFK has that. Crew Stadium has that. There's a feeling of soul, and of identity in those places that the new parks won't have for at least another decade.

That soul, that romance, is one of the greatest strengths a sport like baseball has, and one of the things we're playing catch-up in. Will Crew Stadium ever hold the same cachet as Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, or Fenway Park? Probably not. But will it be special when a father tells his son or daughter about watching Brian McBride play there? Or about when he stood in the freezing cold to have a beer dumped on him when Josh Wolff scored against Mexico in La Guerra Fria? You bet your scarf-wearing ass it will.

That, more than the cold calculations of "Revenue Controlled Facilities," is what excites me most about the wave of soccer-specific stadiums that has swept the country in recent years. It's cherished memories and that priceless mythology, not 15 dollar parking and eight dollar beers, that will propel the game to new heights in this country.
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