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USL Stadiums Provide Unique Backdrops

By CHRIS HOCKMAN - chris.hockman@uslsoccer.com, 04/13/18, 9:00AM EDT

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Breathtaking views, bars, restaurants enhance live experience


Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

With the USL continuing its growth throughout the United States and Canada, the number of soccer-specific stadiums is also growing. Within these new venues there are different ways for fans to make their home stadium a true home. Here's a look at some of more interesting venues that can be found around the USL this season.

CHARLESTON BATTERY - MUSC HEALTH STADIUM


Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery

The first soccer-specific stadium built in the United States when it opened in April, 1999, MUSC Health Stadium and its capacity of 5,100 resembles a stadium in the lower leagues of English soccer, including having its very own pub, the Three Lions Club, a full bar and English restaurant.

One of the more recent activities in the life of the stadium included upgrades that made the venue more environment-friendly, moving to solar panels to power the stadium. That power is being used to bring life to the largest video board in the league, a massive 3,000 square foot jumbotron, the newest addition to the stadium that also hosts movie nights throughout the year that see fans enjoy entertainment from the venue's pitch.

CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE - SPORTSPLEX AT MATTHEWS


Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

Opened midway through the 2017 season, the pinnacle of the Sportsplex at Matthews is the main stadium that became the official home of the Charlotte Independence. The stadium is surrounded by 12 other full-size soccer fields.

For fans, there is space for food trucks, which are brought in every match. Surrounded by forests, the greater park includes two miles of paved trails for fans to get exercise in before matches.

Things will change for the Independence in 2021 as the team recently unveiled plans to move close to downtown Charlotte following an agreement that would see the club become one of the primary tenants at historic Memorial Stadium after a renovation of the stadium.

COLORADO SPRINGS SWITCHBACKS FC - WEIDNER FIELD


Photo courtesy Isaiah J Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

A 5,000 seat stadium that first opened in 1985, Weidner Field has undergone tremendous changes since those days. In 2014 a renovation of the site prepared for the arrival of Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC's debut in the USL, including improving lighting and widening the concourses, and adding modern amenities like public Wi-Fi so fans can easily tweet updates from the game.

The stadium was updated again in 2016 as a new LED screen was added, and more shade was added to the awnings to add to the comfort for fans.

NORTH CAROLINA FC - SAHLEN'S STADIUM AT WAKEMED SOCCER PARK

Another one of America’s long-serving soccer venues, and one of the newest in USL, Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park is the jewel of one of the country’s best soccer facilities. A 10,000 seat stadium surrounded by six training fields, two of which are lighted, creates an impressive venue for North Carolina FC.

More than just home to North Carolina FC, and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park has routinely been used for some big matches in U.S. Soccer, including the 2014 NCAA College Cup, and the United States Men’s National Team’s international exhibition against Paraguay this past March.

Sahlen’s Stadium will take center stage again this October when it plays host to the group stages of the 2019 Concacaf Women’s Championship, which also serves as the qualifying stage for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

OKC ENERGY FC - TAFT STADIUM


Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

Originally opened in 1934, Taft Stadium holds 7,500 fans after having its capacity reduced as part of a modernizing renovation in 2015 that saw OKC Energy FC become the feature attraction at a venue that has had all variety of sports and events held on its grounds during a fascinating history. Suites now sit behind the goal lines, with The Grid and La Furia Verde filling the supporters sections on gameday.

But through all of the stadium's renovation, the history has been retained, with the historic brick facade that was the hallmark of the venue remaining to keep the unique feel of the stadium alive.

ORANGE COUNTY SC - CHAMPIONS SOCCER STADIUM AT ORANGE COUNTY GREAT PARK


Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

One of the newest stadiums in the USL is Orange County SC’s Champions Soccer Stadium, which opened midway last season as part of a major sports venue overhaul of the Orange County Great Park. With seating for 5,000 including a fan-zone behind one goal and a party loft, Champions Soccer Stadium has made sure it has plenty of accommodations for fans of both Orange County, and other exhibition games that have been held at the venue since it opened.

Champions Soccer Stadium forms part of the Orange County Great Park with the iconic Great Park Balloon visible as a bright orange ball from the stadium. With six soccer fields next door, OCSC has a perfect home base for training and matches. OCSC will soon get more company with an ice arena opening on the grounds this summer, which may lead to some interesting training sessions for OCSC.

PHOENIX RISING FC - PHOENIX RISING SOCCER COMPLEX


Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

When Phoenix Rising FC's new ownership took over in late-2016, there was not only a new brand unveiled but also a new home base for a club that previously had not had that opportunity.

It took a race against time for the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex to be opened on time for the start of the 2017 USL season, but after a remarkable 53-day process that saw stands erected and a tremendous natural playing surface installed, Rising FC was ready to make its debut on March 25 against Toronto FC II.

The venue currently holds a capacity of 6,200 seats, with the potential to expand, and also features luxury boxes inches away from the pitch behind one of the goals. Funded entirely by the Rising FC ownership, the venue was recently the host of the 2018 USL Experience, providing a remarkable experience for the top Super Y League players in the country.

PITTSBURGH RIVERHOUNDS SC - HIGHMARK STADIUM


Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

One of the most beautiful stadium backdrops in American soccer, Highmark Stadium opened prior to the 2013 USL season in Station Square in Pittsburgh with the Monongahela River serving as the backdrop for the three-sided stadium. Named Station Square because of the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Complex being the original use of the area, the complex still sees trains using the rails, with engineers often coming behind the stadium and catching the action during games, and train horns a common background noise.

The picturesque backdrop is boosted with the Pittsburgh skyline visible from the main stand, which has a large balcony acting as a lookout to enjoy the view of the Steel City. The venue also is home to its own bar and restaurant where fans can enjoy road games and those from around the rest of the world. On the field, Highmark Stadium is one of only six fields in the United States to have a FIFA 2-star certified artificial turf pitch, giving players an ideal surface to compete on.

REAL MONARCHS SLC - ZIONS BANK STADIUM

The only stadium on this list yet to open, Zions Bank Stadium will become the new home of Real Monarchs SLC when the Monarchs host Las Vegas Lights FC on Monday, April 30. Located in Herriman, Utah the stadium will be next door to the massive Real Salt Lake training facilities, which houses all three of the organization's professional clubs and its renowned academy.

Located near the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, the new venue will feature breathtaking views of the surrounding vista that has made RSL's Rio Tinto Stadium one of the most recognizable in the country, and the new stadium been built with the environment in mind with a 166-kilowatt array of solar panels on the roof of the stadium. With Utah having some wild weather and cold winters the players will be able to train year round, with two full-size fields housed indoors leaving no excuse for the Monarchs to miss a training session.

Richmond Kickers - City Stadium


Photo courtesy Kenny Stockman / Richmond Kickers

Originally opened in 1929, City Stadium has undergone some major upgrades since the Richmond Kickers were granted a 40-year lease to the venue prior to the 2017 season that has begun the process of modernizing one of the USL's most historic venues to enhance the fan experience before, during and after the Kickers' games.

Richmond pledged to spend $20 million over the course of the lease, and the changes have made visible changes to the stadium over the past year. New for the 2018 season is a hospitality stand located at the southwest end of the stadium, while food trucks and local beer vendors from around the city are regulars for pregame buildup before the action kicks off on one of the best playing surfaces in the league.

 

RIO GRANDE VALLEY FC - H-E-B PARK

Opened prior to the start of the 2017 USL season, H-E-B Park is one of the newest soccer-specific stadiums in the country as it plays host to Rio Grande Valley FC. With a team store, full-service restaurant, sports bar, and pitch-side suites the stadium was built with fans in mind, including spaces for 7-a-side, and 5-a-side games around the exterior of the venue.

H-E-B Park is quickly establishing itself as the premier entertainment venue in the Rio Grande Valley and will be hosting the Concacaf Women’s Championship group stages this summer. H-E-B Park is also featured as part of the combined 2026 FIFA World Cup bid, with the facility proposed as a team base camp option should the combined bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico be awarded hosting duties for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC FC - PAPA MURPHY'S PARK


Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

Located on the Cal Expo grounds, an 11,569 capacity soccer stadium houses Sacramento Republic FC with a three-sided stadium open to the VIP section behind the southern goal. The northern stand, which was expanded after the club's inaugural season in 2014, houses the Tower Bridge Battalion, standing and cheering on their team.

Cal Expo hosts the California State Fair every year, and the stadium is next door to Raging Waters Sacramento, a water park, allowing for an exciting summer matchday for families. The sight of the illuminated Ferris Wheel has become a common one for fans during the summer, making it one of the more distinctive features of the park. The pitch at Papa Murphy’s Park is one of the largest in America with dimensions of 120 x 80 yards, giving Republic FC a significant home advantage.

SAINT LOUIS FC - TOYOTA STADIUM – SAINT LOUIS 


Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC

Part of the World Wide Technology Park, Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis is the center of the five-field complex and home to Saint Louis FC. With a full training complex next door, the intimate setting has provided an ideal home for the club since it joined the USL for the 2015 season.

Originally built in 1982, the venue played host to the U.S. Men's National Team in its early years. More recently the venue was upgraded in 2012, adding a new state of the art video board, and brand new sound system that has enhanced the fan experience at the venue, with the atmosphere at the 5,500-seat stadium being brought game-in and game-out by the St. Louligans supporters group in the southeast corner of the venue.

The complex includes a fan shop, and a banquet hall with a veranda the looks out over the pitch, a great place to watch the entertainment.

SAN ANTONIO FC - TOYOTA FIELD


Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

With a capacity of 8,296 and built with expansion in mind San Antonio FC’s Toyota Field has the option to expand to 18,000 in the future. The stadium features a terraced section behind one goal for supporters groups, and a beer garden behind the other, also housing a vocal supporters group.

For premium seating, the stadium features 16 suites above the stands, and a 100-fan capacity sky suite in one corner offering an impressive view of the matches. With the STAR Soccer Complex just across the parking lot, San Antonio FC has a true home base.

The venue has hosted two major events since opening, with the 2013 NCAA Division III Soccer Championships and a match in the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship pitting the United States against Uruguay, and was also home to the 2017 USL Experience.

TAMPA BAY ROWDIES - AL LANG STADIUM


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Once a baseball stadium that played host to Spring Training for teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets since it was opened in 1947, Al Lang Stadium went through an extensive renovation in 2015 which transformed the venue into a soccer-specific stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

The Rowdies have called Al Lang Stadium home since the club's second season in 2011, and following its renovation the venue has played host to numerous games in the Florida Cup, and international exhibitions. The venue itself possesses one of the most breathtaking views in American soccer, opening up to the St. Petersburg Harbor which allowed the stadium to incorporate its Florida home well, including palm trees on the side opened to the water. With the heat in Florida well known, the stadium also featured an impressive overhang shading much of the main stand, providing more cooling in addition to the sea breeze. 

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