As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I currently live in Maryland, just a little outside Baltimore. And with Orlando City traveling up to my neck of the woods for a U.S. Open Cup match against D.C. United, I decided to go to the game.
Unfortunately, United’s Audi Field won’t be open until July 14, which is a shame. By all accounts, it will be quite a nice place to watch a game once it’s open for business. Instead, the game was played at the Maryland SoccerPlex, a site that has hosted an MLS game and an Open Cup match earlier this season and remains a place that I had heard some interesting things about. While the experience was one of the more unique sporting events I’ve been to, I do find myself with a new appreciation for Orlando’s shiny soccer-specific stadium.
As the name suggests, the Maryland SoccerPlex is not just a stadium but a complex that happens to include a soccer stadium. Also on the property are a large number of soccer fields, a tennis center, playgrounds, and a building housing various courts and fields. All told, it’s a pretty cool place with a lot of things to do. But as far as options go for hosting a professional soccer match, I think there are certainly better ones. Granted it was a cup match, and it isn’t unheard of for cup matches to be hosted at smaller venues. However, if I’m the Houston Dynamo, the team that drew D.C. 2-2 in an MLS match-up at the SoccerPlex back in March, then I’m less than thrilled about playing a top flight match at a stadium with facilities of a questionable standard.
Indeed, DaMarcus Beasley was less than impressed with his experience there, tweeting out the following after Houston’s game:
Just when I thought @MLS was getting better in every aspect, todays “conditions” were unacceptable!! From the locker room to the “training” room(which was jus an area blocked by curtains next to the vending machines) kids volleyball goin on, it was a circus. #unacceptable— DaMarcus Beasley (@DaMarcusBeasley) March 17, 2018
Suffice it to say, Beasley’s tweet brings up a number of concerns, ranging from maintaining medical privacy and confidentiality for the players to security concerns. Even MLS had concerns about allowing that particular game to be played at the venue, citing poor locker rooms for the referees and security concerns since there were multiple other events going on when the match against Houston was being played.
Regarding the match on Wednesday, the players also had to walk down a fairly steep grass hill from the locker rooms to get to the field, and while nobody slipped and fell, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if someone had, considering the amount of rain that was being chucked down.
While everything Wednesday night seemed to go off without a hitch, and there won’t be any more MLS games played at the venue, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a conversation worth talking about. U.S. Open Cup matches are a bit of a different beast since crowd control isn’t as much of a concern given the low attendance. even at a stadium with only a three-foot fence and about four security officers being the only thing stopping the fans standing behind one of the goals from entering the field. But again, as a player I don’t think I’d be happy about having a curtained-off area as a training room, or having a bunch of people I don’t know wandering around while I’m trying to prepare to play a game.
Now you might make the argument that the Washington Spirit of the NWSL have played home games at the SoccerPlex since the NWSL’s inaugural 2013 season, so the men should just suck it up. But I don’t think the Spirit should have to play there either. While the women’s game has yet to reach the heights of MLS in the United States, NWSL players are still professional athletes and shouldn’t have to play in sub-par conditions. I think it’s wonderful that the Orlando Pride are able to play their matches in Orlando City Stadium, and it’s a real shame that the Spirit aren’t able to do something similar.
I would like to mention that from a fan’s perspective, the game was probably one of the more unique sporting experiences I’ve ever been to. Watching a game in a stadium with a capacity of only 4,000 people made for a very intimate experience. The lightning delay and rain meant that a good number of people simply went home and the result was that you could hear every single thing the players said to each other on the field, and we were almost right on top of the action at some points.
That said, I don’t think there’s any beating the atmosphere of Orlando City Stadium when it’s packed to the gills and rocking. All in all, I think all Orlando City fans should be glad that the team has top notch facilities and a beautiful soccer-specific stadium to play in. Not everyone is so lucky.