clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Chester the best place for College Cup in 2017?

Talen Energy Stadium is slated to host the College Cup again in 2017, but low attendance for the event when it was here in 2013 and even lower attendance over the weekend is cause for concern.

Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

The College Cup is supposed to be the showcase event for college soccer, but can you really call it a showcase when fewer than 9,000 people show up for three games over a weekend in an empty MLS stadium?

When the discussion should have focused on Jordan Morris' next move, Brandon Vincent's potential in MLS, or Andrew Tarbell's wingspan, most of the chatter over the weekend online and in the booth was over how pitiful the attendance was at the stadium formerly known as Sporting Park (Children's Mercy Park) in Kansas City.

The hand-wringing reminded me of two years ago when the College Cup was at the stadium formerly known as PPL Park in Chester.

In a final four that featured Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico and Notre Dame, only 4,070 people joined me for the semifinals on Friday night and just 5,302 other people were there to see Notre Dame beat Maryland for its first national championship.

I thought that turnout was embarrassing before watching the matches over the weekend in an empty Sporting Park. In the semifinals Friday night in Kansas City, just 4,047 dotted the stands followed by a crowd of 4,081 for Sunday afternoon's final.

For a lighter-attended College Cup final, you have to go all the way back to 1989 when only 3,889 showed up to the old 31,219-seat Rutgers Stadium to see Steve Sampson's Santa Clara share the title with Bruce Arena's Virginia after a four overtime game ended 1-1.

College Cups have been staged at MLS venues five previous times - 2008 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, 2004 at StubHub Center in Carson and in 2001 and 2003 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus are the others. With the exception of the crowd in 2004 no doubt motivated by UC Santa Barbara's appearance, the numbers are underwhelming. Even a turnout of 13,601 makes StubHub Center look empty. A crowd of 7,690 for the final at Toyota Stadium or the 5,300 in Columbus in 2003 isn't exactly inspiring.

Contrast that with crowds that Maryland regularly draws to its campus venue Ludwig Field - a standing room only 8,000-plus for their home opener against UCLA this season - or even the 4,906 Wake Forest packed into Spry Stadium in their overtime loss to Stanford in the quarterfinal earlier this month.

College Cup attendance isn't always so terrible. Just last year, a respectable 8,015 turned out for a final at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, and 9,242 walked through the turnstiles at a baseball stadium in Hoover, Alabama, in 2012. Finals drew between 15,000 and 20,000 in the heydays of 1995-1999 at the stadium Richmond Kickers call home.

To me, the NCAA is kind of like the Internet Explorer of soccer. Just as IE basically hates the internet, the NCAA hates soccer and seems determined to will it out of existence by keeping the fall-only schedule that in turn requires liberal substitution rules and competition with football for a championship in the tricky weather month of December. Even a simple change of the clock to the system used everywhere else in the world seems an impossibility.

So why would selecting a venue be any different for an organization that stages their biggest championship - basketball - in massive venues never intended for the sport no other games during the season are held?

BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston is slated to host the College Cup in 2016, followed by a return to Talen Energy Stadium in Chester in 2017. The Union won't be anymore equipped to get a crowd to show up in two years than Sporting Kansas City was this year.

As much as I love college soccer and love being able to drive 20 minutes to see a final, for the good of the sport, campus venues are the better option. The Big East did that this year after seeing crowds number in the hundreds for their tournament in Chester the two previous years. Instead of an empty stadium, Georgetown won its first Big East Championship final in front of a packed home crowd of 1,541.