MLS / Union

No rules on soccer-specific stadiums

If you build it ...

When it comes to Major League Soccer stadiums, the rules have changed.

No longer must you bring a soccer-specific stadium to the party to get a team. You don’t need grass. You needn’t even control multipurpose revenues from non-soccer events, which was once a precursor to gaining an expansion team in MLS.

Basically, most of those supposed stadium prerequisites for the Philadelphia area to get a team are gone.

Last week, we had a run of stadium news around the league. The expansion Portland Timbers will likely play on artificial turf because their stadium will host, among other things, high school football games. Kansas City, which nearly (and probably should have) moved to the Delaware Valley, says they’re going to build a stadium in that soccer hotbed of Kansas. The Houston Dynamo moved from San Jose because they couldn’t get a stadium, and now they play in a sandbox with football lines on it as they wait (and wait and wait) for a new field. Meanwhile, Seattle plays in a publicly owned stadium, and Vancouver will too.

On the flip side, St. Louis has an ownership group, an approved stadium plan, and the historic cradle of American soccer, but they can’t get an MLS team because some think their pockets aren’t deep enough.

When did the rules change?

Or was the stadium prerequisite just propaganda to get Pennsylvania and Delaware County to pony up $77 million to build a stadium?

A few years ago, when I was reporting on the Philadelphia-area expansion, my newspaper sent me to Chicago to see what the fuss was with these so-called soccer-specific stadiums. After all, MLS leaders had basically said to the Philly area, “No soccer-specific stadium, no team,” because what was important was the ability to control revenues for soccer but also other events such as concerts.

Toyota Park, the Chicago Fire’s home field, offered an energy and proximity to the playing field that just blew me away. I returned home thinking the match I saw there was one of the best sporting events I’d ever experienced.

Union Field at Chester will probably have that atmosphere, but it’ll be largely because MLS had a good poker face when it came to lobbying for the stadium.

St. Louis – otherwise known as that place the Kansas City Wizards should move to – played by the same rules, and it has nothing to show for it. That could inform the stadium situations in San Jose and Houston, where the local governments are dragging their feet on proposed publicly funded new soccer stadiums.

MLS leaders want stable teams with wealthy owners and stable stadium situations for which taxpayers pick up the tab. If you have a successful USL market – Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal – that seems to weigh in your favor come expansion time.

Maybe a poor economy has changed expectations and the rules.

Or, more likely, there simply are no rules.

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