Commentary

Ranking the MLS stadiums: Part 2

Photo: Peter Andrews

The build up to the 2022 MLS season is well underway. Preseason games are being played, the Concacaf Champions League has kicked off, and kit release week is upon us. While it’ll still be a few days before fans can compare, contrast, and inevitably rank the new crop of shirts, PSP’s MLS Stadium rankings are ready to plow on. 

As a reminder, Stadiums are ranked from worst to first, with my own personal opinion being the only guiding factor and I’ve indicated what stadiums I’ve been to by italicizing those names in the list. PSP managing editor Peter Andrews — who’s been to quite a few of these over the years — has hopped in to give his thoughts on the grounds he’s been to, including insight into the professional side of some of these parks. 

If you haven’t read Part 1, I recommend you do that first.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it.

9. Nashville SC: Nashville SC Stadium

30,000

Nashville SC will be opening the country’s largest soccer specific stadium in 2022. The ground looks to share many similarities with the other modern soccer constructions of the 2020’s, and because of that, it finds a home high on the list despite never hosting a match. Nashville has enjoyed solid support through their first few seasons, and an energized fanbase is sure to make their new digs one of the loudest in the league. In a few years this ground could soon become one of the best in the league. I actually visited the construction site last year, and the stadium towers over the existing construction and infrastructure.

8. FC Cincinnati: TQL Stadium

26,000

TQL Stadium is, objectively, one of the nicest buildings in the league. It’s chalked full of modern amenities, it’s central to downtown, and it looks stunning, at least from what I’ve seen. The only thing holding TQL back from being a top five ground in the league is the history and performance of the club. At the moment, it’s just a bit too new to have really developed a reputation, and without any on field success, that lack of identity hurts the club and stadium just a bit. That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the stadium, and Cincinnati fans should take pride in having some of the best digs in the league, even if that’s about all they can be proud of at the moment. 

7. Columbus Crew: Lower.com Field

20,011

The old Crew Stadium will always have a place in the heart of those that visited, and called it home, but let’s be real, it was time for an upgrade. Lower.com field is a perfect modern MLS venue. Solid sightlines for all, modern amenities like luxury boxes and bars, and a standing room only supporters section that looms over one end of the field. The unique, boxy shape of the ground helps it to stand out in a world of sleek structures, and the asymmetrical deck that hangs over the supporters end provides another bit of visual intrigue. This is high on my “must visit” list.

6. Toronto FC: BMO Field

26,351

Toronto’s BMO field is one of the staples of MLS. It’s large capacity, and ravenous supporters make it daunting for any away side, and that’s before you take into consideration colder temps. The amenities are solid, and the square design of the stands means fans will always have a good view of the action. The canopies give the stadium a bit of a unique look, serving to help shield a majority of the audience from the elements. The one issue I have with the ground is that the northern end of the ground is a bit underdeveloped, though this is largely due to it’s tight proximity to an existing building behind the stadium. 

5. Sporting KC: Children’s Mercy Park

18,467

SKC’s Children’s Mercy Park’s worst feature may be its name (even if it is for a good cause). The ground offers great sightlines, modern amenities, and a fantastic supporters section. When SKC is playing big games, the place comes alive, and the Cauldron (SKC’s supporters end) routinely delivers some of the best tifo in MLS. The canopy that encircles the entire seating bowl was one of the first in MLS, and offers protection from the elements, and keeps noise in. It’s a simple element, but it really helps take the ground from good to great. 

Peter: It’s way outside downtown KC proper, which isn’t ideal. But the quality of the stadium more than makes up for it. Like Thomas says, the canopy encircling the ground really amplifies the noise — more stadiums should have that design.

4. Atlanta United: Mercedes Benz Stadium

71,000

I honestly wish I could rank this one lower. I don’t like Atlanta United, and I don’t like the idea of an MLS team playing in a football stadium. Biases aside, it’s hard to deny that the “Benz” as it’s called, is a fantastic stadium. Plentiful concessions, loud support, and a giant halo of a scoreboard make it easy to ignore the less than desirable sitelines in the upper decks. The occasional crowds of over 71,000 don’t hurt either. Sure a lot of the benefits Atlanta United reap are because of the Falcons, but that doesn’t change how nice the stadium is. 

3. Minnesota United: Allianz Field 

19,400

To me, Allianz Field is the most underrated building in Major League Soccer. Lost in the shuffle of the modern MLS stadium boom, Allianz Field opened in 2019, and quietly became one of the best stadiums in the league. There’s not a bad seat in the building, and the sleek looking shell that surrounds the building serves to both keep the cold midwestern winds out, and the raucous songs of the aptly named Wonderwall in. Opposite the Wonderwall is the Brew Hall, a large outdoor bar that overlooks the northern stand, and offers the opportunity to drink, and watch the game. Functionality aside, the stadium is gorgeous. If you’re the type of fan that wants to drink, focus on the game, and be surrounded by a beautiful, comfortable building while you do it, there’s hardly a ground in MLS. 

Peter: I might nitpick some of these rankings a bit, but the top three is exactly right. I loved Allianz Field — it’s exactly the right size, there are some inspired design elements, and it’s clean and modern without feeling overdesigned. If you go, I recommend a pregame beer or two at Surly Brewing Co. before hopping in a rideshare to the game.

2. LAFC: Banc of California Stadium

22,000

Opened in 2018, Banc of California Stadium is, in my opinion, the perfect moden MLS stadium. It’s open and comfortable in the concourses, yet intimate and intimidating within the seating bowl. The supporters section of 3,252 standing room only slots towers over the field on one end, and creates a raucous environment felt through the entire ground. The hyper luxurious mid-field clubs on one side of the stadium allow for those more interested in the experience than the match, the perfect place to socialize without taking away from the environment. The stadium is perfectly balanced, and offers something for everyone. The only downside of the ground in my opinion is that it can be difficult to get to from some parts of the city, but it’s a minor complaint for what otherwise is a perfect venue. 

Peter: Banc of California Stadium is everything a venue in LA should be: glamorous, shiny, and maybe a touch over-the-top. Get there early — the concourses fill up quick — and make sure you walk around the stadium a couple times to soak in the view from every angle.

1. Portland Timbers: Providence Park 

25,218

Portland’s Providence Park is a shining gem of the North American soccer landscape. Originally built in 1893, the Timbers ground is the oldest in the league, and as such, has developed an intangible air of reverence often reserved for the most hallowed grounds around the world. Renovations completed in 2011 made the stadium soccer specific, and continued work has kept the ground comfortable and brought modern amenities to the stadium. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, the stadium is an accessible, and an ingrained part of the community. 

Infrastructure and history aside, Providence Park houses the Timbers Army, one of the most boisterous supports in the league. The TA’s perch behind the northern goal offers one of the best views amongst supporters in the league, and the general admission policy of the section promises that the most passionate fans will be front and center. Other stadiums may be larger, more modern, or in a better climate, but Providence Park still stands as the crown jewel of MLS stadiums.

Peter: No place I’ve been in the U.S. or Canada comes close to Providence Park. The stadium fuses old and new with ease; the way it blends into the neighborhood reminds me of old baseball stadiums like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. And it’s an easy walk from downtown Portland, so you can head right over once you’ve had a few brews from Deschutes and spent an hour getting lost in Powell’s Bookstore.

4 Comments

  1. The sine qua non of any soccer venue, stadium or otherwise, is the quality of the playing surface. The opinions of those who play on the pitches have decisive value as far as I am concerned.
    .
    Providence Park is not grass. I lived through a winter on the Oregon coast in 1960, so I have a strong idea why some variety of turf exists there. But before I accept a judgment that it is the best stadium, I need to hear from those teams that visit how much they have to adapt their technique to the surface.

  2. Not playing on grass should be an automatic -10 spots no matter how good everything else is. (Unless that drops them below that stadium in the bronx.)

  3. Grass purism aside, Atlanta United’s Mercedes Benz Stadium is gorgeous. i went shortly after it opened for the mid-week Union match and it was awesome. “Only” 43,006 in attendance.
    Similarly, like Peter suggests for the Banc, “get there early — the concourses fill up quick — and make sure you walk around the stadium a couple times to soak in the view from every angle. if you’re a sports fan — it’s a house of college and pro football AND a soccer stadium. it truly feels balanced.

  4. I hasten to note that you are missing Q2 Stadium of Austin FC which by the way, was designed by the same architect that did Banc of California Stadium. I should know, because yours truly was the Design Manager and Architect of Record for the both (along with another of your favorites BMO Field).

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