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When the news broke yesterday about plans in Milwaukee to host an MLS team at Milwaukee Mile, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world (according to Wikipedia), the soccer blogosphere and Bigsoccer posters all had a moment of rare unity: utter madness, they cried! Bad enough we’ve had to watch soccer games at football stadiums or where running tracks ring the pitch, but inside a NASCAR track? Everyone will laugh at MLS again!
But what if it’s actually not a bad idea? Call me crazy, but read on for new details on the proposal, as they haven’t been correctly understood so far.
At first, my reaction was negative too. The original story is not very clear on the details about how it would actually work, and with the speed blogs move, any ambiguity can quickly build on itself. So I can’t blame the bloggers for jumping on it. But then I remembered who one of the key figures behind the Milwaukee MLS expansion drive is: Peter Wilt, former Fire GM and all-around fan favourite here in Chicago to this day, still often seen in Section 8 during games two years on from his unjustified firing by AEG.
It seemed highly unlikely to me that Peter would be behind something so fan unfriendly as placing supporters a full racing track’s distance away from the field.
And he’s not. I mean, he’s behind the plan, but somewhere between the original news article’s lack of clarity and the blogosphere’s negative reactions to the supposed idea, the true plans have been misconstrued and spread like wildfire. Peter has squashed the belief that the pitch would be ringed by a racetrack, as he posted the following comment on the Offside Rules blog himself:
The stadium/field would NOT be in the middle of the infield (except on race days). On game days, the field would be flush against the main grandstand with 10k additional seats surrounding the field, which would move in and out to allow racing similar to the AZ Cardinals U. of Phoenix Stadium. It would be upgraded to include a canopy roof over most of the main grandstand, 20+ luxury suites, a stadium club overlooking the field, permanent concession, merchandise and restroom facilities. It would be a more intimate and permanent feeling stadium than BMO Field in TO.
I’ve since seen a preliminary design for the stadium by a Milwaukee architecture firm. It actually looks pretty cool: three of the sides — including the main grandstand — are mere yards from the pitch, and the fourth not much further. Most of the stadium is covered in some way, and this would give it a cosy feel. And it’s certainly not a dull cookie-cutter-stadium.
It’s also not perfect: it’s slightly odd how the main grandstand extends way beyond the soccer field on one side, for sure. Yet neither of the past two new MLS stadiums that I’ve been too have struck me as being flawless either. Toronto’s BMO Field is certainly a nice stadium in itself and the fans have created a good atmosphere, but even they have admitted it’s not perfect, due to the lack of covering and artificial turf, for example.
Nor is the Fire’s Toyota Park, the house that Peter helped build himself, ideal either: I don’t much like the “stage end” (though obviously AEG do, for entertainment purposes) but it’s still a very good ground, and much more suitable than playing at Soldier Field. BMO Field has a better location than Toyota Park, but Toyota Park’s better constructed; Milwaukee’s stadium (actually, it would be in West Allis, WI, a few miles from downtown Milwaukee) would likely be in the same class as those recently built soccer specific stadia, with some things better and some things worse.
It would not be a disgrace to MLS by any means. It is far from being a step back to the days of gridiron lines and cavernous empty stands. The pitch would be mainly used for soccer, I presume, and there would not be any large gaps between supporters and the game taking place. And remember, San Jose have just been awarded expansion without a soccer-specific-stadium definitely lined up and with a rather confusing plan to play around the Bay Area in the meantime, meaning that’s apparently not a deal-breaker for MLS right now.
So what’s the problem now all that’s clarified? If there is one, could it be the association with NASCAR by using the same venue for racing and soccer? Some American cultural niceties still escape me, so I’ll leave that for you readers to comment on. What other concerns remain
I do suggest people keep an open mind for now, until all the details come out, and it’s perfectly proper that MLS are allowing further exploration of the idea. Remember, Milwaukee still needs a lead investor, but this plan would be a far, far cheaper option than building a new stadium downtown, hence making MLS expansion there more likely than before in terms of finding the money needed to make it happen (though it’s still a long shot).
And as a Fire fan myself, I love the idea of a local rivalry and away days in Milwaukee. Hell, I’d even sit through a NASCAR race first if that were the price.