USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

Baseball diamonds as soccer pitches

Feature Photo courtesy United States Marine Corps San Diego Recruiting Depot

The United Soccer League is expanding its freshly-renamed USL Championship aggressively for 2019, and will add another baseball diamond to the stadiums used in Bethlehem Steel’s conference.

Seven new teams enter the league all together, with four of them east of the Mississippi. The east has three known departures, Toronto, Richmond, and Cincinnati, and none play home games on an infield with a pitcher’s mound. One fourth of the teams in the east used such as home fields this season.

Stadiums

The governing federation’s sanctioning criteria require Division Two teams to have stadia of 5,000 seats. Minor league baseball provides that.

New stadiums are slow and expensive to build, and that’s after real estate acquisition. USL’s announced Chicago franchise is building one and will enter the league in 2020. MLS’s most recent additions, Banc of California Stadium and Audi Field, further illustrate the time and money involved.

Owners moving more quickly and wanting revenues at speed must use stadia already built.

Baseball and professional soccer share the summer. So playing the beautiful game on active diamonds requires repeated, rapid conversions from skinned infields and mounds to flat pitches and back again.

Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke has already coached on the four 2018 examples below, and will do so on a fifth next season.

1. Penn FC’s FNB Field in Harrisburg, PA.
2. Louisville City FC’s Louisville Slugger Field.
3. Atlanta United 2’s The Proving Ground at Coolray Field in Gwinnett, GA.
4. Nashville SC’s First Tennessee Park.
5. Memphis 901 FC’s Auto Zone Park.

That would be 29% of his regular season away games next season, without allowing for the extra games needed to make a 34 game regular season work. Burke is on record that playing soccer on a baseball diamond “is not good for the game.”

Not good for the game: Water

Anyone who watched Nashville SC host Charleston Battery at First Tennessee Park in a downpour Saturday night September 22 agrees without reservation.

The temporary grass superimposed on the infield dirt drained more slowly than the permanent grass of the infield and the outfield.

The patches over the infield dirt, the pitcher’s mound, and the third-base line accumulated water. By the second half the water badly distorted passes along the ground. They threw rooster tails and sometimes slowed almost to a stop. And the water affected traction.

One goal mouth was two-thirds covered by the mess, as was much of the penalty area rectangle directly in front of goal and the irregular shape beyond to the outfield arc 30 and 40 yards away from the net. Every other converted diamond has one of its goal mouths affected in similar fashion.

The only thing missing In Nashville’s rain was churned, grassless, rutted mud and mirrors of standing water.

Eleven days earlier, F.C. Cincinnati fans were agreeing with Burke, too. At Louisville Slugger field in a comparable rainstorm, Corben Bone’s winning goal for the Blue and Orange was almost stopped short of the goal line by water saturating that temporary surface.

The puddle was just behind the keeper’s late dive and just in front of his goal. The initial rocket struck water, trickled softly to the post, and gently kissed across the line. Not good for the game indeed.

Not good for the game: Playing surface

When diamonds are dry or only moderately wet, Burke makes three criticisms.

1. Playing surfaces are not uniform by height. There are hazards at the lips of the infield dirt that bounce balls crossing them. And the different surface heights distort pass weighting.
2. The ball’s playing characteristics differ between varying types of surface, whether both are natural or one is artificial.
3. The traction provided by the two different surfaces is not equally secure.

Consider six-yard kicks. On such a field when taking one, the goal keeper always moves the ball to a place in the permanent grass. Uniformly, referees acknowledge the traction problem by allowing the adjustment they would otherwise always forbid had it been made on a uniform surface.

No minor-league club has the resources necessary to do what NYCFC does to make its temporary and permanent Yankee Stadium playing surfaces safely compatible.

But current conditions on eastern conference USL baseball diamonds seem hazardous, and are definitely game-altering.

Not good for the game: Pitch size

Coach Burke has not discussed the pitch-size limits imposed on play by a stadium built for a baseball club.

Peter Vermes’ feet have. Once on an early SKC visit to Yankee Stadium, pre-game television showed the Sporting KC head coach pacing off the touchline distance from midfield to the end line. Yankee Stadium is about 20 yards short and 10 yards narrow.

Temporary? Hopefully.

Other USL Championship owners may follow the example of Louisville City FC and take on the necessary time and expense to build soccer specific stadiums.

In the Nashville-Charleston downpour, the massive water-logged area in front of one goal was unfortunate.

Thank goodness that game’s injured were not harmed long-term.

5 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    There is an empty baseball stadium in Camden. A defunct minor league team. That stadium would be perfect to host a ‘minor’ league footy team. At least, it wouldn’t be a dual purpose stadium.
    .

  2. I have heard that the stadium will be removed from future dorms. Not that it will happen. And that place would be an awesome venue!

    • Atomic Spartan says:

      Atlantic City has an empty stadium as well, just waiting for a tenant that can draw more than the series of low level minor league baseball teams that have failed to draw there. And the old AC racetrack would provide enough room for a world class pitch. Not much farther than Chester with better parking. Just sayin.

      • Forgot about the Sandcastle. And the grass would grow really well on an old horse track. Pre fertilized!

  3. From your front page on this article-“Not so much, not even with the oil billions in the Bronx.”

    The Steinbrenners own the stadium, not City Football Group. Unless you were just being pithy and facts were secondary.

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