MLS: Ranking the Best Stadiums for Soccer Fans
If you are a Major League Soccer fan, you must be proud of the evolution the league has experienced these last several years.
From expansion to soccer-hungry cities in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, to the construction of more soccer-specific stadiums, all this progress has helped MLS become a more desirable league both domestically and internationally.
Of course, no league would ever grow if not for the passionate fans who attend these matches week in and week out.
Therefore, I've created list to rank all 18 MLS stadiums based on the atmosphere that is created by fans. It is all about elements that make these stadiums an intimidating place to play for opponents, and exemplify the true definition of home-field advantage.
I'm certain there will be many disagreements on the order of this list. So don't just bash the list if you disagree, but use it as an opportunity to prove to MLS why your team stadium's atmosphere should be considered one of the best in the league.
*I am omitting the Houston Dynamo from this list, as its new stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, is set to open May 12, 2012.
18. Home Depot Center (Chivas USA)
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Chivas USA has been struggling to grasp ahold of the Los Angeles market since its inception in 2005.
Not having a stadium to call their own doesn't help the cause—the club shares the Home Depot Center with the LA Galaxy.
For the last two seasons, Chivas hasn't been able to break the 15,000 regular-season attendance per-game average.
Before the 2012 campaign, the club decided to close the Upper East Deck and North Stand to limit the capacity to just over 18,000 in hopes to increase demand and ticket sales.
The HDC has been far from a fortress for the Rojiblancos, as they haven't won a match at home in 2012.
17. FC Dallas Stadium (FC Dallas)
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Actually, I would put FC Dallas in a tie with Chivas USA, but FC Dallas gets the higher nod because they haven't decided to close off part of their stadium.
Formerly known as Pizza Hut Park, FC Dallas Stadium was opened in 2005 with the idea to help FC Dallas capture the heart of the city's fan base.
But the location of the stadium—in Frisco, Texas—is about 40 minutes away from the center of Dallas, which didn't help bring the support that the club had hoped it would.
More often than not, there are many seats visibly empty during television broadcasts, which brings to question whether the $80 million stadium is serving its purpose for the club or MLS.
In 2012, FC Dallas has averaged just shy of 15,000 fans per game. It might be higher than previous years, but that is far from the capacity crowd of 21,193.
16. Gillette Stadium (New England Revolution)
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Gillette Stadium was opened in 2002, but was built to mostly serve the New England Patriots of the NFL, even though the New England Revolution also call it home.
The club has done a good job building a fan-base. The supporters' section, nicknamed "The Fort", is comprised of New England's three supporter groups: Midnight Riders, The Rebellion and the Rev Army.
Even with the environment from the rabid fans, the sheer size and design of Gillette Stadium gives it a mostly empty feel. The club limits the 68,700-seat stadium to 22,000 seats, but hasn't surpassed the 15,000 average in three years.
The slight advantage New England has in Gillette Stadium over opponents is the artificial turf the Revolution play on. It's one of the few MLS teams left to play on artificial turf.
15. Crew Stadium (Columbus Crew)
It's the one that started it all—the pioneer. Crew Stadium was the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States and the home of the Columbus Crew.
The construction of Crew Stadium started the wave of soccer-specific stadiums across the country, and in 2010 it was considered one of the top 10 most influential stadiums in the world.
However the atmosphere has dropped significantly since the prime of Crew Stadium. Even though The Nordecke—the Crew's supporter group located in the north corner of the stadium—is always in full swing, the attendance for the stadium has been lacking.
The 2011 season saw the Crew average 12,000 fans per game in the 20,000-seat stadium. The 2012 campaign is seeing a bit higher numbers at 14,800, but there are still many empty seats.
14. Buck Shaw Stadium (San Jose Earthquakes)
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San Jose is a strong soccer town, the only thing hindering it from becoming one of the best is the team's stadium.
The San Jose Earthquakes play in Buck Shaw Stadium, a college stadium located in the campus of Santa Clara University, with a capacity of 10,500.
San Jose may be limited to its attendance, but the personal confines of Buck Shaw as well as its supporters' groups, like the 1906 Quakes, have made the stadium a formidable site for opponents.
The Earthquakes have announced the construction of a soccer-specific stadium which will be projected to be completed in 2013 and will hold about 20,000 permanent seats with the option of additional room for single games.
13. Toyota Park (Chicago Fire)
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The Chicago Fire's fans have been known to be an intense bunch since the team's first MLS season in 1998.
The most loyal and boisterous supporters gather behind the northern goal, a portion of the stadium known as "Section 8". They tend to add an electric atmosphere to Toyota Park via coordinated tifo; or a little fire of their own.
Even though the Chicago Fire average about 75 percent of capacity in their 20,000-seat stadium, the fans and raucous supporters tend to make it a safe-haven for the Fire.
12. Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids)
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The Colorado Rapids have had a rocky history with their supporters, but with Dick's Sporting Goods Park opening in 2007, it gave the organization an opportunity to embrace its most hardcore fans.
Colorado's stadium has a European-style terrace built specifically for the Bulldogs Supporters Group and the Pid Army—the two principal Rapids supporters groups.
The inclusion of these groups have helped the amplify atmosphere at the 18,086-seat stadium, and has kept the attendance in the 14,000s.
11. Red Bull Arena (New York Red Bulls)
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Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls, opened in 2010, and was considered the crown jewel of Major League Soccer, with a capacity crowd of 25,000.
The atmosphere is led by four different supporters groups, with the majority stationed at what is nicknamed the "South Ward".
Even though the stadium can be electrifying during important games—matches against the LA Galaxy or nearby rivals D.C.United and Philadelphia for example—for the most part the average attendance has been kept below 20,000 per game.
It fluctuates with the performance of the team, which hasn't been known to be up to par with expectations. Although the 2012 season has seen New York finding success, so far Red Bull Arena has averaged 17,000 fans.
10. Olympic Stadium (Montreal Impact)
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The expansion Montreal Impact have been playing their first MLS home games in Olympic Stadium, while Saputo Stadium—the team's usual grounds—is being expanded for additional seating.
Nevertheless, in Olympic Stadium the Impact have found a makeshift sanctuary. The team's home opener saw 58,912 spectators fill the stadium. The second home game—a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC—was attended by over 23,000 fans.
It's clear the fan base in Montreal doesn't need time to develop; the "Ultras Montreal" have been around since 2002, and "127 Montreal" was developed in 2011.
However, it won't be until the Impact move back to Saputo Stadium that the atmosphere will truly reflect the passion that exists in Montreal.
9. RFK Stadium (D.C. United)
D.C. United has played in RFK Stadium since the inception of the league in 2006. Even though the stadium has brought the team a lot of success—including winning the 1997 MLS Cup on home soil—there is a love-hate relationship between the club and fans, and the stadium.
RFK is old, looks like it's falling apart, and is too big for what D.C. United needs. Given those setbacks, for many years RFK has been a very intimidating place to play.
Supporters groups like La Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, and La Norte have been a menace to opposing teams.
Sitting mostly on the northern side of the stadium and in front of television cameras, you can see groups with their tifo, cheering, jumping, and literally causing RFK's stands to bounce. (skip to 1:45).
D.C. United has been going back and forth with nearby cities trying to build a new soccer-specific stadium. Until that gets approved, the team and fans will have to continue making RFK an uncomfortable place for visitors.
8. Rio Tinto Stadium (Real Salt Lake)
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Built in 2008 to host Real Salt Lake, the 20,000-seat Rio Tinto Stadium quickly became a fortress for RSL, and one of the hardest places to play in MLS.
With the increase of popularity after RSL captured the 2009 MLS Cup and the team's constant success thereafter, Rio Tino has consistently had a loud and rambunctious atmosphere.
Salt Lake has eight supporter groups that lead the crowd into making Rio Tinto a very hostile atmosphere for visiting teams.
7. BC Place (Vancouver Whitecaps)
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BC Place plays host to both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Although the stadium has the capacity for just north of 54,000, the Whitecaps limit its capacity to 21,000 for its soccer matches. The 2012 campaign is the first year that Vancouver plays in BC Place, as it's inaugural season was played at Empire Field.
Nevertheless, the move has been more than welcomed as more than 21,000 spectators have been recorded on average this season.
The Whitecaps' fans are known for their visual support for the squad, which is led by the "Vancouver Southsiders"—the largest supporters group of the team.
Alongside are "La Doce", a secondary supporters group comprised of Latin American and European immigrants who support the Whitecaps.
6. PPL Park (Philadelphia Union)
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Philadelphia Union's PPL Park has the ability to be a hostile and beautiful stadium at the same time.
With a view that is second to none in MLS, spectators can watch the Union while taking in the surrounding scenery of the Delaware River and Commodore Barry Bridge.
However, within the confines of the stadium, it's a little different. "The Sons of Ben", the Union's main and biggest supporter group, have been able to create an intimidating environment for any visiting team.
With attendances hovering around the capacity-crowd of 18,500—occasionally surpassing that—it's guaranteed PPL Park will be rocking and rolling for every game.
5. Livestrong Sporting Park (Sportig Kansas City)
Livestrong Sporting Park is the most technologically advanced soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer.
Opened in 2011, it coincided with the re-branding of Sporting Kansas City from its previous identity as the Kansas City Wizards.
Even though it's not a relatively large stadium, Kansas City's move from Community America Ballpark and the re-branding of the team has helped establish a great atmosphere and sense of unity at Livestrong Sporting Park.
With an attendance capacity of 18,467, Sporting KC had an average attendance of 17,500 with several games surpassing the maximum capacity—including the stadium opener which held 19,925.
Livestrong Sporting Park is also home of the "The Cauldron", which is the nickname of the north side of the park where numerous supporters groups gather, and add to the intense and loud atmosphere the stadium is known for.
4. Home Depot Center (Los Angeles Galaxy)
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The Home Depot Center was erected for the 2003 MLS season and is home to the Los Angeles Galaxy, and most recently Chivas USA.
It was considered a bunker for the Galaxy during the 2011 season, when the team went undefeated at home en route to the 2011 MLS Cup—also played at the Home Depot Center.
The 27,000-seat stadium can rival the atmosphere of any MLS stadium when filled to near capacity or beyond.
With the help of supporters groups like the "Angel City Brigade" and "Galaxians" on one end of the stadium, and the "LA Riot Squad" located in the opposite side, cross-stadium chants are common during each half.
The call-and-respond chants reverberate throughout the stadium, causing disruption to the opposition and show support to the home side.
3. BMO Field (Toronto FC)
The atmosphere at BMO Field raised the expectations of Major League Soccer supporters across the nation when Toronto FC entered the league in 2007.
And indication of the fanaticism that exists in Toronto is the memorable flying seat cushion celebration when Toronto scored its first goal in the league.
With a confirmed capacity of 21,140 and the ability of expansion, BMO Field has seen full capacity various times through Toronto's six seasons, despite the team under-performing for many years.
The fans at BMO Field are led by supporter groups "North End Elite", "Red Patch Boys", "Tribal Rhythm Nation", and the "U-Sector". These groups and season ticket holders make up for about 16,000 fans of the more than 20,000 that attend each game on average.
2. CenturyLink Field (Seattle Sounders)
The Seattle Sounders came into MLS in 2009 with great fanfare. Four seasons later, that fanfare has not subsided. On contrary, the Sounders consistently keep shattering average attendance records in MLS.
Unlike several MLS clubs sharing the stadium with a football team, the Sounders have been able to claim CenturyLink Field as their own equally as much as the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.
In its first season, Seattle capped off the stadium at 27,000 but quickly increased that amount to 32,400. Season after season the Sounders have been increasing their overall attendance capacity, eventually to 38,500 for the 2012 campaign.
CenturyLink Field also holds the largest MLS attended game in history, at 64,140, for its 2011 final regular-season match that doubled as a farewell to goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
The "Emerald City Supporters" and the "Sounders FC Alliance" are some of the biggest supporters groups in MLS, and their members comprise most of the 20,000-plus Seattle season ticket holders.
1. JELD-WEN Field (Portland Timbers)
I'll be honest, it was really tough to chose between JELD-WEN Field or CenturyLink Field as the best atmosphere in MLS.
However, there is no venue in America that can have the entire stadium sing the U.S. National Anthem like the crowd at JELD-WEN Field can; therefore the home of the Portland Timbers wins.
The stadium is not large by comparison to other stadiums, but it is the oldest stadium in MLS, which is probably why it's also the scariest looking. It went through a renovation for Portland's inaugural MLS season, which expanded the stadium's capacity to 22,000.
With high walls between the fans and the field, visiting players get a sunken feeling when playing at JELD-WEN, which also magnifies the crowd's presence and level of intimidation.