Friday, July 9, 2010

A Home of Our Own

Earlier today, season ticket holders received the following letter by electronic mail from Crystal Palace Baltimore's President Pete Medd:

Dear Season Ticket Holder,

First and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support of our club. Our season ticket holders have, and continue to be the backbone of our organization.

As many of you already know, our relationship with UMBC has ended and we will no longer be playing our home fixtures on their campus. We had hoped that our relationship with the university would continue for this season and indeed for the next, but many factors dictated our need to move into a new home.

With this in mind, we are pleased to announce that we have a new home for the remainder of the 2010 season. We will be playing our home fixtures at the Paul Angelo Russo Stadium on the Calvert Hall campus. Moving into Towson is great for the organization and the convenient location of a fairly new stadium will make the viewing experience for our fans that much better.

Unfortunately, as the turf has to be replaced before we can move into our new digs, we will be playing our next four games at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. It is an incredible soccer-specific facility that plays host to the WPS Washington Freedom and DC United’s US Open Cup games. If we are to have a temporary home, we might as well make it a comfortable one.

We look forward to having you aboard with us at Crystal Palace Baltimore as we move forward in this new chapter in our history.


Pete Medd
President, Crystal Palace Baltimore

Once the club moves to Towson, it will probably mark the end of our attendance of CP Baltimore games, but we might be able to swing going to the SoccerPlex for the next four matches, so it temporarily works out.

But the e-mail from the team drives home something that should be extremely disconcerting to any soccer fan in the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area. We have three professional clubs in the region and the team with arguably the best stadium situation is the third division team, Real Maryland, which plays on a high school football field. The club plays at a stadium sized for its crowd and near mass transportation. Richard Montgomery High School, for all of its flaws, has become a venue that we look forward to taking our daughter to for a game. UMBC, in contrast, was generally miserable -- an experience underscored by a game last season played while fans were attacked by angry hornets. Our allegiances, accordingly, shifted and we are now three times more likely to attend a Real Maryland game than a CP Baltimore fixture.

Things with DC United are better, insofar as RFK is located on the blue/orange line and I've never been attacked by stinging/biting insects at the stadium. But the field situation is clearly not sustainable. The upper bowl is rarely populated and when we've gone to Open Cup matches there, the 2,000 attendees posed in relief against 50,000 empty seats detracts substantially from the game.

It simply cannot be that difficult to build a soccer-specific stadium in a region that is crazy about the sport. I've been by the new Red Bulls stadium in Harrison a couple of times in the past year and I am unabashedly jealous of what their supporters have been given. Yesterday, I insisted on taking a detour from sightseeing to go to the Stade Saputo in Montreal and came away even more embarrassed by what we lack. The soccer specific stadium is magnificent:

The Montreal Impact also have a practice field next door (we saw players running in and out of the administrative offices when we visited):

When I told one of the staff members how we didn't have anything like this in Baltimore, she responded that "Oui, we are very proud of the stadium" and described with reverence the July 2009 visit of the Girondins to the stadium. Nearly 12,000 showed up for that match at the Stade Saputo (which, a week later, was followed up with a visit from River Plate). Nothing similar would appear to even be possible for CP Baltimore and I would imagine that even when DC United is able to entice AC Milan (or, for that matter, Pompey) to RFK, there is some embarrassment about the grounds.

Nevertheless, there seems to be little hope in the near term for a stadium anywhere in the region. There is no good reason for the lack of will to make a stadium a reality and at this point, if DC United is forced to move to Baltimore just to be able to have a home of their own, I would not object.

And just one minor note: if you are running for county council in Prince George's and want my support, with support meaning not only my vote, but an eager volunteer and campaign contributor, tell me that you will go to war for a stadium in our jurisdiction. Tell me, and my neighbors, that you recognize how important a soccer stadium would be for the diverse citizenry of your county and how such a stadium would have social relevance well beyond anything that FedEx Field could possibly offer or what U.S. Airways Arena could ever have hoped to achieve. In other words, Al Whiting, tell me that you are not Eric Olson.

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