Watching LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and DC United matches this year might be a little more, well, xtreme. That’s because these three storied MLS clubs will be sharing their stadiums with the LA Wildcats, DC Defenders, and Seattle Dragons of Vince McMahon’s reborn XFL. While most MLS clubs are now meticulous about pitch maintenance, sharing stadiums with football teams brings back bad memories of the league’s early days when clubs like the MetroStars at Giants Stadium played on confusing fields featuring painted lines for both football and soccer.
The LA Galaxy just finished hosting the NFL’s Chargers so its stadium grounds crew is adept at quickly converting the natural grass field from soccer to football. Zlatan’s field was usually in good shape because most Galaxy matches were on Saturdays – a week after Sunday Charger games. It was the Chargers’ field that often had more white lines on it than Tony Montana’s vanity mirror.
This spring the Galaxy will play four times, two of them during their preseason, on the day before an LA Wildcat game. There will be six days for the paint to set in and fade the gridiron lines in between Wildcat games on Sundays and Galaxy matches on Saturdays.
Sounders supporters are already used to sharing their stadium with the Seahawks in the fall. Now they’ll be sharing with the Dragons in the spring. Seattle’s stadium is better equipped than LA or DC’s to handle hosting an XFL team. Its plastic turf is good at withstanding 300-pound linemen digging in their cleats for drive after drive. And while Seattle’s grounds crew used to lazily leave the painted Seahawk lines on the field for Sounder matches, they are now far more meticulous about scrubbing the lines off.
There could have been even more XFL teams sharing stadiums with MLS clubs this spring. The Houston Roughnecks narrowly chose the University of Houston’s stadium over the Dynamo’s digs. And the New York Guardians picked New Jersey’s massive Meadowlands stadium, home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets, over nearby Red Bull Arena.
MLS has come a long way since World Soccer Talk first wrote about poor looking shared pitches in 2013. But fans of clubs in shared stadiums still have a right to worry about visible gridiron lines and beefy football players clomping on turf.
Minnesota United’s first ever playoff game, a loss to the LA Galaxy last year, was played on a chewed-up field still bearing gridiron lines from the prior day’s college football game between St. Thomas and St. John’s.
New England’s plastic turf field in Foxborough, shared by the Revolution and the Patriots, has long been an embarrassment. Michael Bradley once complained, “it’s ridiculous — the field, the (football) lines, the whole thing is a joke…when you talk about trying to grow the league and make every part of it better, games on terrible turf with football lines don’t do a lot to help.” But the Athletic’s Sam Stejskal reported late last season that new coach Bruce Arena has pressured stadium staff to keep the Revs’ field clear of Patriot lines.
Michael Bradley’s own club, Toronto FC, has struggled to maintain a healthy pitch since taking in the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. Their stadium sits on Lake Ontario’s frosty shore, so the grounds crew uses heat lamps to help the pitch strong hold up during brutal Canadian winters. And the pitch is a hybrid one where plastic fibers are interwoven with natural grass.
NYCFC has one of the worst stadium situations in MLS. NYCFC continues to play on a cozy pitch because the haughty Yankees, the club’s part owners, won’t let the pitcher’s mound or outfield walls be adjusted in the slightest.
Arthur Blank, who owns both the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, has held true to his vow that fans would never see gridiron lines on a soccer pitch. The grounds crew is fastidious about erasing old lines and painting new ones. But the plastic turf quality is poor, and playing in a dome makes the pitch look dull and dreary.
When MLS began, it was in the same boat the XFL is in now – begging for a field to borrow. In 1996, Colorado, DC United, Kansas City, New England, the MetroStars, and Tampa Bay were tenants in massive NFL stadiums while the LA Galaxy, Columbus, Dallas, and San Jose were the little men on campus in cavernous college football stadiums.
Now the cleat is on the other foot. With nineteen soccer specific stadiums now standing across the US and Canada, startups like the XFL now look to MLS clubs for a field from which to launch their dreams.
The irony is that MLS clubs and their supporters fought for so long to escape shared situations and move into stadiums of their own. But, as Steven Goff put it in the Washington Post, “[i]t is naive to think that stadiums, particularly new ones, will serve one team and one sport only. Financial reality obliterates that fantasy.”
That’s why MLS clubs are hosting all kinds of events aside from just concerts, women’s domestic soccer, USL soccer and international soccer. The Philadelphia Union is the home of the NCAA’s rugby championship and pro lacrosse. The Galaxy’s stadium, in addition to hosting the LA Wildcats, also features an international rugby sevens tournament. Orlando City’s stadium hosts a college football bowl game. And FC Dallas hosts the NCAA FCS college football championship.
Of course, awkward stadium shares aren’t limited to America. We’ve seen Wembley’s pitch absolutely savaged by NFL games. American football even has a toehold in Mexico, leaving pitches for clubs like Pumas in disarray. In England, Manchester United and Hull City matches have been marred by leftover rugby lines.
The XFL is off to a strong start. But whether Vince McMahon’s dream survives or not, MLS clubs with soccer specific stadiums will continue to rent them out to any other sport that can pay the rent. Putting aside clubs that are forced by circumstance to play in football or baseball stadiums, the fact that the vast majority of MLS clubs are now landlords rather than tenants symbolizes just how far the league has come in 25 years.