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The Next Gem In MLS Stadiums, PPL Park

CHESTER, PA - JUNE 27: A general view of the PPL Park before the Philadelphia Union face the Seattle Sounders FC at the PPL Park stadium opener on June 27, 2010 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Earlier this season it was Red Bull Arena that opened up to praise and relief as one of the biggest sporting markets in the United States finally had their own soccer specific stadium with a European feel towards it. I still have to say that I am very lucky to walk inside of it every time I attend a Red Bulls match. But while construction was behind over at Chester, Pennsylvania and the opener was pushed back to Sunday, June 27th. You talk to Philadelphia Union supporters and they will say it was worth the wait.

Ladies and Gentleman the newest jewel of Stadiums in Major League Soccer is just along the Delaware River and next to the Commodore John Barry Bridge is PPL Park. An 18,500 seat stadium with a east end that is separate to the rest of the stadium that is for the top supporters group in the Sons of Ben and any other groups that have signed on.

The natural grass looks beautiful, the people of Philadelphia, southern New Jersey and Delaware have come to see and support a side of their own as all the seats have been sold along with 12,000 season ticket holders. Watching the opener I was so happy to see a sold out crowd supporting their new expansion club going from Lincoln Financial Field in their first two home matches to their brand new home in Chester.

But unfortunately it would be the Sounders who would record the first goal at PPL Park as Pat Noonan converts in the 45th minute. Steve Zakuani would cross the ball from the far side and getting a touch on it was Fredy Montero, but it took a deflection towards Noonan who somehow stayed onsides and slotted the ball past Union keeper Chris Seitz.

Once again this is a positive advancement in the game for the United States. It’s not just player development or referee development within US Soccer, but it’s also the creation and building of stadiums in Major League Soccer that will help our clubs continue to grow financially. This has always been the next positive step to make our league grow, to stop paying rent to facilities that they have no control over.

At the same time who would have thought in our life time that you would see two stadiums for MLS open inside the same year. March 20th it was Red Bull Arena, June 27th is now PPL Park. While we celebrate these two stadiums in 2010, don’t forget that the Wizards have started construction of their own stadium and both the Dynamo & Earthquakes just got approval to build their own stadiums.

At the moment there are eleven stadiums within MLS built for twelve clubs (Home Depot Center has Chivas-USA & LA Galaxy). But very soon that total will go up to fourteen once those three clubs will start playing in their new homes in future seasons. While Red Bull Arena is an awesome place to watch a match, I still have to say that no matter how small or how big these new stadiums are it’s important for the game in the United States and Canada to continue to play in stadiums that they can control the revenue and the schedule.

Congratulations to all of the Philadelphia area and let’s hope there will be a US National Team match coming soon either in a friendly or a World Cup Qualifier.

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  4. RCTID!

    April 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    It’s early in the season, Union at the top of the league, beautiful new park, a good size at 18,500….hard to believe how many empty seats…

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  6. Abram

    June 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    @ MarylandBill, I was originally going to say 18,000-25,000 but thought that some NBA/NHL stadiums were way bigger so thank you. Also (as I reread my statement) I actually tend to agree with what you said. I probably should have said “‘for the immediate future’ I am willing to sacrifice the MLS for the USMNT.” Obviously I want the league to thrive, I just think that for that to happen the USMNT needs to be successful first.

    As an aside which doesn’t have a whole lot to do with this thread, I would really like to see more MLS teams have agreements like Real Salt Lake has with Real Madrid. I thought that DC United had some link with Manchester United until I found otherwise a few weeks ago.

    • MarylandBill

      June 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm

      I think its a chicken and egg thing. I don’t think we can really have a successful USMNT without a successful MLS and vice-versa. The MLS provides an incubator both for players who have not yet attracted the attention of foreign clubs and for the core fans of US Soccer (I imagine the vast majority of MLS fans are also USMNT fans).

  7. Abram

    June 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I wish the MLS would put a timetable on requiring all teams to have soccer specific stadiums. I’ve been watching Rev games since ’00 and going to the games is no better than watching them on TV b/c of where they play (Gillette Stadium) has no atmosphere. I know the Krafts had masquerading talks about putting a stadium in Somerville, but since they own the Patriots, Patriots Place, and Gillette I don’t think it makes sense for them to build a SSS in Somerville/Boston/Cambridge/Everett.

    MLS should have a timetable that says “we expect all teams to be playing in soccer specific stadiums by 20xx.”

    And sergio lima, I’m okay being a feeder league. It is the best league the US has ever had (I know that is a backhanded compliment) and I’m okay sending our really good (Dempsey, Howard, Altidore, etc) away. I also agree that the salary cap needs to be raised to attract more kids to the game, but the existence of stadiums that are controlled by the teams owners will help with that. The season here is short, and runs in strange months, so having concerts or the like may be able to generate money for the team owners, who in turn will not be paying rent at NFL stadiums and then maybe we could have the salary cap raised.

    • sergio lima

      June 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      Do you really believe they will make more money on the stadium and then invest in salaries? I don’t think they will. An investor, eventually will want to see the return on its investments. The stadiums may be their only chance. And if you are Ok sending your good players to play abroad, then you want something different from your country’s soccer. And without due respect, and I know a lot of people will be mad at me, but that is one of the main problems with the American soccer, the fans. Everything is ok with the soccer fans. They just want to have fun. It is all about the experience, right? From the place I came from and from many soccer power house nations it is all about winning and winning big. In your face kind of fan. People pay and the players better play their asses off or they will have problems going home. Soccer in most places is only about passion. The players are considered privileged or choose ones to wear those sacred team jerseys. They better live their blood inside the field. It is almost a mad relationship but build great teams every year. Soccer fans are like the old steelers fans. So, I always ask you to forgive me for my passion when talking about the game I love. I live in US for the last ten years and I am not even close to be proud of seeing the American team loosing on the round of 16. Well, Brazil won today and 50% of the nation is really mad at the coach. They want the national team to win and to give a show. Got it? Thanks.

      • Charles

        June 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm

        I agree with you it is the soccer fans in the US that are to blame.
        My guess, you have NOT been to an MLS game and therefore you and people like you are 100% to blame.

        Correct ?
        If not I apologize.

        ps. I agree with you about fans WANTING to send players overseas. Please see the Landon discussion in Feb for 1 million people that disagree with us.

      • Abram

        June 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm

        Honestly, no I don’t believe the money would be fully invested into salaries. I know that the owners want a return on investment with the most likely way being the stadiums, but if the investment of the stadium may someday lead to a salary increase. Keep in mind NBA and NHL stadiums typically run 25,000-40,000 seats, which is about what the MLS wants. No one would want to see and NHL or NBA game in a half sold 100,000 stadium, so why should I watch my MLS there?

        If I want the team to feel that they even have fans that have anger, joy, or any other feeling we need to be able to be close to the pitch so they can hear us cheer or boo. At home, I can yell at my TV or stand up and cheer and know the players and coaches can’t hear me. Well it is the same in those huge stadiums where I actually feel further away from the action. That is the experience I want is feeling like I’m part of the game. The product of the MLS will not improve until the players feel that the fans care.

        I want Major League Soccer to do well, but I would much rather see the National Team do well. I am not happy with the current performance, I don’t think one win (against a team they were superior to), two ties, and one less is anything to be proud of. However it is because of this I want our best players playing against the best in the world. Most players on the Brazilian National Team are not playing in Brazilian football leagues. So I am willing to sacrifice the MLS for the USMNT.

        So yes, I do want my MLS experience to be an experience. I am selfish and want to feel like I’m part of the game. Going to a cavernous 100,000 seats that are only 1/4 of the way full makes me feel like I’m watching a high school league, not the highest level in the US.

        • MarylandBill

          June 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm

          First a minor correction. The NHL and the NBA do not play in facilities that seat 25-40,000; the largest facility used regularly for either team is 22,075 (For the Detroit Pistons).

          Now, personally, I am not willing to sacrifice the MLS for the USMNT; that is like killing the child to save the man. Ultimately it won’t work. Yes, for now and for the foreseeable future, most of the best American Players are going to go to England, Italy, Spain and Germany to play… but some will spend at least part of their careers here. Having at least a decent professional league in this country is essential if we want to develop players good enough to go to Europe to get better. It also will give kids local teams teams to be interested in which I believe will help keep them interested in soccer as they get older. Maybe he wants to play for Manchester United, but playing for a few seasons at DC United might get him the attention he needs to get to Manchester.

          Now, I think soccer stadiums are crucial to maintaining the MLS. In the best case scenario, teams will get the bulk of revenues which will help them be profitable enough to field decent teams (while EPL might be generally out of our reach, is it too much to hope for a league as good as the English Football League Championship?), also, as you pointed out, a game is much more exciting to watch in a packed stadium of 20,000 over a half-full 60,000 seat stadium.

          The MLS was wise to schedule their season in the Summer, they have only one professional sport to compete against (as opposed to the Fall through Spring period when they have to compete against the NFL, NBA (And their college equivalents) and the NHL. But ultimately, they can’t grow on the boredom of sports fans who don’t want to be limited to just baseball until the NFL gets started again.

  8. Dave

    June 28, 2010 at 11:04 am

    NEWS FLASH: USMNT played in Philly on their WC send off tour.

    • Daniel Feuerstein

      June 28, 2010 at 11:24 am

      NEWS FLASH FOR DAVE! It was at Lincoln Financial Field where the NFL Philadelphia Eagles play not at PPL Park.

      If you want to make a snarky comment, do it right and get your facts straight. Once again Chester is south of Philly.

      • Dave

        June 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm

        Philly got their USMNT match. Chester? Same diff. 50K at LFF > 18k at PPL.

  9. sergio lima

    June 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

    It is all backwards here. The American soccer community should be heavily investing in nationwide infrastructure for continuous professional soccer camps for youth development. We need to create a fever among children and not among 18000 adult soccer fans. Americans should first have good and strong teams and them build new houses for them. But yeah, great little stadium for little not so great teams. Go figure…

    • MarylandBill

      June 28, 2010 at 11:41 am

      Where do you think that fever in children is created? Thousands upon thousands of kids play soccer growing up in the United States, and their are plenty of youth travel leagues and other outlets to get them plenty of time to play (maybe too many…). But its hard to convince a talented athlete to commit to soccer when he sees all the attention that Baseball, Basketball and American Football gets (And if they are in the right areas, Hockey).

      To put it in simple terms, part of what fires the imagination of kids, is the dream of being a professional. Kind of hard to do it in old worn down stadiums that have to be shared with college teams, etc.

      • sergio lima

        June 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm

        Kids love winners. And the MLS the way is built is to survive can’t produce any. And I completely understand the vision of the people running those organizations. But the show is C quality. When a kid who likes soccer watches the English league, The German league, the Spanish league, The Italian league and if they can the Brazilian league, they know. People are not stupid. They can see the difference and they won’t follow the MLS teams just because you want or their parents want. The MLS won’t produce a Michael Jordan or Alex Rodriguez kind of player or any kind of international super star. The salaries and the way they built this league won’t allowed yet. They don’t have money. So, kids play soccer because they play everything, but when it comes to the time when they need to make a decision in terms of being a real athlete, they won’t even consider soccer unless they have a ticket to play in England. They want to make money and be the next big thing, the MLS can’t make that connection yet and I don’t think it will so soon. But, go ahead, keep building nice stadiums. If you think kids will be more impressive with the Union than with the Link, go ahead. Kids don’t get impressive with buildings, they want to see players, stars, because they want to look at them and think, i could be that guy.

        • Pakapala

          June 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

          So Sergio what exactly is your point? There should be no professional league in the US just because it is not to the level of EPL or La Liga? Why don’t you go tell your south american neighbors they should not have professional leagues just because their league is not to the level of the Brazilian or Argentine leagues?

        • Pakapala

          June 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

          “When a kid who likes soccer watches the English league, The German league, the Spanish league, The Italian league and if they can the Brazilian league, they know. People are not stupid. They can see the difference and they won’t follow the MLS teams just because you want or their parents want.”
          by Sergio Lima

          Sure, Mr Lima, you are right: kids in Brazil will not follow Brasileirão teams right because they know it’s not to the level of the EPL, Serie A or La Liga.

  10. Charles

    June 27, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    DC has effective complete control over RFK ?
    That is rediculous they are trying to get another stadium. As a SuperSonics fan, there is no way I can support them moving to another city over a stadium fight.

    On a positive note, that stadium had a very nice look to it.

    • MarylandBill

      June 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm

      If by DC, you mean the United, no, they don’t have complete control. They are however, the only major sports tenants now that the Nationals have moved to their new Ball Park.

    • SSReporters

      June 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      Hey Charles why aren’t you commenting at Sounder at Heart anymore?

      • Charles

        June 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm

        Two reasons.
        One, Mr Sounder at Heart didn’t seem to want me there. My guess is that some of his friends didn’t care for my very American soccer views….Which is fine, it IS his site. For anyone else reading this, Dave Clark ( Sounder at Heart guy) always seemed to be very fair and unbiased and does run a good site.

        Two, I got a job where I have to work now. No more getting paid to post on soccer blogs for my career, so the timing worked out fine.

        Thanks for asking, miss some great banter/discussion over there. Someone please find a way to win a game for the Sounders. Please.

    • CoconutMonkey

      June 28, 2010 at 12:31 am

      To be fair, the Sonics were bought by a super villain who always intended on moving the team to OKC. DC has been trying to get this stadium situation sorted out of ages.

      If another city, which isn’t THAT far away (ask any Dallas fan), is willing and able to help build one, it’s hard to blame the ownership for looking to greener pastur… uh, stadiums.

      • MarylandBill

        June 28, 2010 at 1:21 am

        Personally, I think that other than perhaps infrastructure improvements, cities and states should not be building or leasing stadiums. That being said, with the situation in this country, its hard for any team to be competitive if they have to foot the whole bill for their stadium. If DC wants to keep the team in DC, they better get their tail in gear… or the United moving to Baltimore might become a best case scenario.

        • Cavan

          June 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

          You were making good points until you called the team “the United.” 😉

          • MarylandBill

            June 29, 2010 at 1:24 am

            Sorry… force of habit when thinking about Sports teams.

  11. MarylandBill

    June 27, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I agree these stadiums are a great idea.. even when a team has exclusive use over an older Stadium (Like the D.C. United effectively has in RFK). Selling out an 18 thousand seat stadium will create more energy than selling 22 thousand in a 50 thousand seat stadium.

    I looking forward to the day when the MLS basically expects to play in Soccer Dedicated Stadiums. I only wish the market could support 35 thousand seat stadiums 🙂

  12. skippy

    June 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Child please. The San Jose Earthquakes stadium is NEVER going to happen.

  13. Bobby

    June 27, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    The view of the bridge from the stadium is fantastic, you could see it on ESPN a few times. The full house was nice too, and the atmosphere was great. You could really hear the SoBs.

    The bad news is that while trying to explain the city’s issues and hope that the stadium will spur development the ESPN commentator successfully made Chester sound like Mogadishu.

  14. CelticWizard

    June 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Being from Kansas City, I am completely stoked for the new stadium to be finished. I you haven’t seen the model check it out here. The steel is up and they are pouring concrete. It will be glorious.

  15. AdamEdg

    June 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    It looked gorgeous on TV. The angles showing the field, bridge and river were absolutely amazing. A very exceptional stadium indeed.
    Too bad Chester has been overshadowed with the recent streak of violence lately. A stadium that beautiful should not be marred by the chaos of its surroundings.

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