Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC
A league-wide goal within the USL has been to increase the number of soccer-specific stadiums that make up the league’s venues, and with four new additions throughout 2017, the progression toward that goal continued in excellent fashion.
Leading the way was the completion of Rio Grande Valley FC’s H-E-B Park, which welcomed a sellout crowd to its opening game against Liga MX’s C.F. Monterrey in preseason, as the 10,000-season stadium became one of the standout venues in the league. Crowds averaging more than 7,100 supported the Toros throughout their second season in the USL, as the major investment by RGVFC Owner Alonzo Cantu brought a world-class facility to South Texas.
Soon to follow was the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex – remarkably constructed in 53 days – as Phoenix Rising FC’s first full season under the leadership of Berke Bakay’s ownership team made a major impact in the Valley of the Sun. Fans flocked to see Didier Drogba, Shaun Wright-Phillips and the rest of the club’s standout squad, as Rising FC earned the first postseason berth in club history, a portent for what could be to come on the field under the guidance of Head Coach Patrice Carteron.
Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC
Adding to the league’s growth in midseason was the opening of the Charlotte Independence’s Sportsplex at Matthews, with the beautiful new facility playing home to some outstanding individual performances by the likes of 2017 USL Most Valuable Player finalist Enzo Martinez and veteran forward Jorge Herrera. There was also the opening of the Champions Soccer Stadium at Orange County Great Park, with the world-class new facility a testament to the new direction the club has taken since James Keston’s purchase of the organization in 2016.
Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
With the league also welcoming other standout venues, including the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Al Lang Stadium, Ottawa Fury FC’s TD Place and San Antonio FC’s Toyota Field to go with historic stadiums such as the Charleston Battery’s MUSC Health Stadium, more than half of the USL’s clubs now play in soccer-specific stadia.
That number is set to rise soon, too. 2017 USL Regular Season Champions Real Monarchs SLC will move into a new soccer-specific venue for the 2018 season, bringing an intimate atmosphere to the growing support the club has received in its first three seasons. Further down the line, 2017 USL Cup champion Louisville City FC’s plan for a state-of-the-art venue in the Butchertown neighborhood was recently approved, while a new venue slated for the Lincoln Park district in Chicago for a new USL club in 2020 stands to add to the USL’s standout venues in the years to come.
With the league’s rise in prominence placing it on the precipice of even greater progress, the USL’s clubs have done their part to ensure the league’s long-term success.