An ongoing list of my travels, interesting things I've seen along the way, and commentary
The fight was uneventful, except that just after I got off the plane in Chicago, a couple approached me and asked me if I was Allison Andrews. Somewhat sheepishly I said I was. They said they had seen me at some Timbers games and had recognized me on the plane, and had also known I was making the trip back east. It was very nice to hear from them as they had very nice things to say about the work I've done, but also a bit scary that 4 hours into my trip, I had already been recognized. Weird…
I landed in Baltimore and rented a car, and drove down to Richmond and checked into the hotel there. Shortly afterwards, I started the trip down to Virginia Beach, thinking I was going to get there really early. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of the traffic nightmares that happen around the Hampton Roads area, and ended losing about 90 minutes stuck in traffic waiting to go through the bridge-tunnel. The high-90's heat was also having an effect on the cars on the road, as they were overheating left and right. So far my Mitsubishi Galant seems to be able to handle AC in the heat with no overheating.
Finding the Sportsplex was not easy. I had directions courtesy of the Mariners website, but it was easy to get lost, and even though I knew generally where it was located, I made several wrong turns attempting to follow the signage, and eventually just drove towards the lights I assume were at the Sportsplex. They were.
The stadium has a huge dirt/gravel lot in front of it, and there was no charge to park. This was very nice to see, as ample free parking at the stadium is always a plus. I saw some of the Richmond fans I had met at the Championship game in Milwaukee the previous year gathering getting ready to head in, so I said hi to all of them and followed them to the gate. It took awhile to track down my press pass, but eventually I had it, and had a chance to explore the stadium before the game.
The stadium is basically one set of stands, which are separated by a concourse about halfway back, and underneath the upper deck. It's an open concourse while allows you to still see the game while standing in line for concessions, a definite plus. The press box is enclosed and there are sky boxes along either side on the upper level. It's a very new facility, and has all the amenities of a modern stadium. It also has a color scoreboard, though it does not appear to have diamond-vision capabilities. I was very impressed at the facility. The only things that would bother me if I supported a team that played in a facility like this are that because of the nature of only having stands on one side, it's like watching a presentation on a stage rather than in a stadium. Most avid soccer supporters I know also prefer sitting in the corner or behind the net, something that's not possible at this facility.
Not much to say that hasn't been put in the report, or on the USLdiscussions.com board. The game was on Fox Sports World so everybody who saw it knows it wasn't the best-played game, but the end-to-end action was pretty entertaining. I thought the fact that the FSW announcers were standing on the hill on the far side using a card table and wearing their shirts and ties in the stifling heat was a very memorable sight. The noise from the crowd seemed to be all or nothing, and at times it seemed very silent, but I can't say that the configuration of the stadium didn't contribute to that. Everything is above ground at the Sportsplex, so it's possible that sound just won't reverberate around the stadium.
No travel today. I returned to Richmond after the game on Friday night and stayed for two nights in Glen Allen, on the west side of the city.
I used maps to get to the general area of the stadium, and signage along the freeway got me the rest of the way very easily. The University of Richmond stadium is on the edge of a residential neighborhood, but there is a decent-sized dirt and gravel parking lot on-site, and just like in Virginia Beach, there was no charge for parking.
From the outside, the stadium looked smaller than I had thought, but looks can be deceiving. The west grandstand is below the level of the upper parking lot, and once you're in the stadium, it seems much larger. The unique layout seems awkward at first, but the semi-circular west grandstand circles the field nicely, and makes the setting more intimate than just about any other A-League facility I have visited. When sitting in the corner with the Corner Kicks, you're literally on top of a player as they make a corner kick. You can blow an airhorn inches from their ear as they take the kick if you choose to (and the Corner Kicks did!)
The press box is a free-standing structure that sits on the top of the hill behind the west grandstand. It's a small box, but enclosed, and on the ground floor level are the concession stands. It's clearly an older facility, but it has everything you need, and I thought it worked well for the A-League.
Not as wide open a game as Friday night, but an entertaining game nonetheless. The environment at the Kickers games is a little more kid-friendly than I'm used to, but many A-League cities do this, and it's part of the reality of trying to get fans into the stands. But I didn't notice that there was too much in the way of anniouncements or jock-rock, so I guess the level is acceptable, even for someone like me who prefers to pay attention to the game.
The Corner Kicks supporters are an enthusiastic bunch, and though I had seen most of them in action at the A-League Championship in Milwaukee the year before, they were clearly more comfortable in their own stadium, and they were very active in supporting the Kickers and antagonizing the Mariners (see airhorn reference above). The Kickers have a very loyal support group here (and over a dozen made the trip to Virginia Beach the night before), and the team does seem to realize this. It should also be noted that many Mariners fans made the trip to Richmond as well, but they were not as well organized, so it was difficult to tell how many made the trip.
This was probably my longest travel day for the entire trip. It's approximately 9 ˝ hours from Richmond to Cincinnati, so I got out of Richmond at about 6:20am, knowing that the game started at 5:00pm. In central Virginia, for a time I had radio stations phasing in and out on the same frequency as I went in and out of their signal, and ended up with the interesting phenomena of going from an 80's rock station, to a sports station, to a Sunday morning religious broadcast, to an oldies station. It kept me entertained for many miles: "What Tiger Woods will need to do is.. make sure you bring your family to Church on this day..So don't turn around, uh-oh, Der Kommissar's in town..will you still love me, tomorrow?..". Ah, to have an incredible natural mix like that, courtesy of the obstruction of the signals by nearby ridges. :) The trip was long but uneventful, and I arrived in Cincinnati at about 3:45pm.
Finding the stadium was very easy. I knew which exit to take, and the directions from the Riverhawks website took me right into the parking lot, and the stadium is literally adjacent to the freeway, so it's about as easy a stadium to find as you can get.
Parking was $3 for a very small lot behind one of the goals. Now, I must admit, I had heard that the stadium was very small. And even going in with the impression that it was a small facility, I was shocked at exactly how small it was. The stands consist of four rows of metal bleachers that stretch down most of the two endlines, and the sideline opposite the benches. I would guess when full, they would seat about 600 fans. There is a very small press box, and one concession stand, serving standard concession fare.
On this day, even those bleachers would be scarcely full. During the national anthem, I manually counted 100 in the stands, though a few more may have arrived afterwards, and there were a few seats on a ledge above the bleachers. Before the game, there were several conversations going on among the people standing behind the bleachers, and the bits of conversations that I heard consisted of a lot of the same themes that have been going around on the USL message boards: worries about team finances, players getting paid, and a lack of fans in the stands. A few fans also commented that Nick Ranieri was looking more somber than usual. Having never seen him before, I was in no position to judge, but he did not appear to talk to anyone (that I saw) during the entire match except his players. I had also happened to notice that I had accidentally worn my a-league.com shirt that day, and I quickly covered it up by hanging my Timbers scarf over my shoulder. I didn't want to cause any problems while there. I was simply there to observe and report.
But, as I saw it, the facility and crowd were incredibly small, and would be small even for the PDL. I had seen a larger facility, and a larger crowd at a PDL game in Woodburn, Oregon two weeks earlier. Also, there was the fact that the Riverhawks did not seem to have three regulation A-League balls for the game. I could only ever see two, and both appeared to be very scuffed up, one quite badly.
After having seen A-League games in front of 12,000 in Portland, 25,000 in Seattle, and the stadiums and crowds I have seen in other A-League cities, this was heartbreaking to see. I do have to say that the Riverhawks players never showed any sign of giving less than 100%. Yes, they were outmatched by Pittsburgh, but they were not outclassed. But I do not see how a franchise can survive in these conditions.
This was a travel-only day, from Cincinnati to Knoxville, Tennessee. Nothing very exciting to report, but some interesting pictures that I got along the way:
I take no responsibility for this picture. It's a real place. Okay, I'll admit it, a Richmond fan asked me to take it. :) (South of Cincinnati)
I guess First National or Second National were too high for this bank.. and in the end, they couldn't decide anyway... (Williamstown, Kentucky)
Do I really need to comment on this one? (Corbin, Kentucky)
They say the original KFC is around here somewhere, just give me a sign!! (Corbin, Kentucky)
That'll do (Corbin, Kentucky)
"So kids, who knows a good place to go have a picnic?" "Ooooh, oooh, I do, I do..." (Somewhere in Tennessee)
Ah, my quest is at an end.. the famous "Wigsphere" (Knoxville, Tennesee - the Sunsphere)
Another travel-only day, this time from Knoxville to Charleston, South Carolina. Near Asheville, North Carolina, I got caught in a backup behind an accident on I-40 that must have gone back for 10 miles, and it took me 90 minutes to cover that distance. In what I thought was a brilliant move at the time, I used the Asheville map I had access to in order to plot a path around the accident and onto I-40 on the other side. 10 miles later, I realized that I had jumped off the interstate ONE exit short of the one I needed to take, I-26 to Charleston, and had to double-back. So I ended up making a 45 minute roundabout trip that wasn't necessary. But once I was on I-26, I got to see a lot of interesting old cars who were apparently taking part in the "Great Race" (www.greatrace.com). I saw the a long line of these cars getting off at the US-74 exit, but then five miles later I saw a single car, on the opposite side, going in the opposite direction. I could take some comfort in the appearance that I wasn't the only one who had a bad day, direction-wise. J
Made the trip to Fort Sumter today:
This was at about noon. An hour later, the roads were dry
No travel today, other than checking out of one hotel and moving to the Hampton Inn, which is right next door to Blackbaud Stadium.
I had a great deal of anticipation about seeing Blackbaud Stadium. I had seen pictures of course, an had heard everyone's glowing reviews of the stadium, but of course one never knows until they see something in person. When I arrived, it took a few minutes for them to sort out my tickets and press pass (it was simply a matter of the person at the booth not realizing there were two different envelopes for me). Andrew Bell came into the booth to sort it out, and he welcomed me into the stadium. As I was waiting to enter the stadium, Buck (I will be referring to several people by their USLdiscussions.com nicknames), who had left me the tickets for the skybox and Three Lions Pub, walked up at that point, and at first I guess he didn't notice my a-league.com shirt, which I thought would be a dead giveaway. But Andrew introduced me, and for much of the rest of the night, it would be Buck who would be showing me around.
He first took me to see the Three Lions Pub, which is one floor up from ground level, in the building structure behind the main grandstand that also houses the press box and skyboxes. I was immediately blown away by the place. I had been told all about it, but nobody had adequately prepared me for the sheer size of the place, and the amazing amount of soccer memorabilia that covers just about every square inch of the place. Pictures, jerseys, soccer balls, and pennants are packed into what must be one of the largest collections of soccer collectables that you will find anywhere. I also ran into BribeTaker, who welcomed me with a bag full of Battery goodies, including a scarf, Regiment shirt, and pin. I also ran into Bill Fetty and his wife during the pre-game buffet. It was nice to finally meet Bill in person, as we have been working together on a-league.com for several years now. It was all happening so fast! The game was a half hour away, so I decided to go down into the stadium to document it with as many pictures as I could. I walked around the stadium and took as much of it in as I could, then after another quick stop at Buck's box, where I presented both Buck and Bill with Timbers Army scarves, I went down to field level and took first half pictures.
Andrew Bell had told me to meet him in the press box at halftime, and I had no idea what he had planned. Much to my surprise, he presented me a 2002 Battery jersey, signed by the wearer, Kyle Swords. That I certainly did not expect, and I think I barely stumbled out a thank you. I felt undeserving, but very happy that everyone thought so much of me to make me so welcome.
After the match and the fireworks, many of us went down to the Three Lions again, where I met Groomie and her husband sniperx3. I also got to meet several of the Battery players as they went around the tables, and Rick Titus was even aware of my Timbers website!
At around midnight I finally stumbled back over to the Hampton Inn, not stumbling because of any beverages (I don't drink), but with the overwhelming experience of the stadium, and the incredible people that I had finally gotten to meet in person. Before I left, Buck told me "You know you're going to have to make this a regular visit now". I'm sure he's quite right about that.
I have to make a special entry about Charleston. I have to admit, though I've traveled much of the US (except Alaska, Hawaii, the Southwest, and New England) and a little of Canada, I have to admit that not many US cities impress me very much. Of all of the cities I've visited, the ones that stand out in my mind as places that I like to visit and would live in (or have already lived in) include my current home Portland, Oregon; Madison, Wisconsin; Missoula, Montana; and Vancouver, British Columbia; I have to admit that I would now put Charleston, South Carolina on the list. It was my first visit to Charleston, but the city really impressed me, though I'm not sure I can put my finger on why. The fact that the downtown area isn't built high into the sky was very interesting(very few building are more than 3 or 4 stories, and none more than maybe 5 or 6), but instead much of the downtown area still has the homes that have existed there for hundreds of years. The city is very integrated with the water that surrounds the city, and most of all, the city has personality, and it is also a city that respects and recognizes it's history. I just thought I'd mention this because the city did have an effect on me, in addition to the whole experience at Blackbaud.
It was supposed to be about a five hour drive from Charleston to Atlanta, but I was delayed by a very violent thunderstorm that I ran into northeast of Augusta, Georgia. I can honestly say this is the most violent storm I have ever experienced. It happened very suddenly and immediately, almost all of the cars on the freeway pulled off, and those that stayed on the freeway, put their blinkers on, which was new to me. Visibility was almost zero, and the wind was blowing the car from side to side. I was almost out of gas as well so I pulled into a BP station in the middle of the storm, trying to get out of the storm a bit in addition to filling up.
The canopy offered almost no relief from the storm as the wind drove the rain right through it. A few other people tried to fill their cars at the same time but it was obviously going to be impossible in the driving storm. We ducked into the store, shielding our faces from the rain which was driven hard enough to sting like needles on your face. Inside, one person who had also sought shelter in there estimated the wind at about 60 MPH, and the clerk said she had not seen a storm like this since the last time a hurricane came ashore.
Other cars were trying to get into the station so eventually I went back into the storm and with considerable attention to the road, got my car onto the freeway, and a few miles later, as quickly as it had started, the storm was past. In fact, the road a few miles down the road wasn't even wet. It was a very surreal experience I won't soon forget.
As I have documented on the USLdiscussions.com board, my visit to the game in Atlanta did not go well. I made the rather significant hike from the lower parking lot, up the long flight of stairs, down the hill around the stadium then back up to the other side, to find no press pass waiting for me. Two requests had gone out for my pass, one three weeks previously, then a follow up about a week before once I realized I had not received a response from Atlanta. But there was still nothing waiting for me, and after a few calls on the radio and a visit from a woman from the Atlanta front office, they said they would not be able to provide me a press pass, but that they'd give me a gratis pass into the stadium, and that my name on the list to have access to the field, so it would be alright.
After a short visit to the press box (which is an almost vertical climb into a dramatically exposed box at the top of the stands), I went down into the stands where I met a few more people from the USL boards (Dummer and Blaise). A few minutes into the game, I decided it was time to go down onto the field. But it wasn't going to be that easy.
The guard did not have my name on the list, and he showed me the entry at the bottom of his sheet which indicated that no press person was to gain access to the field without a valid 2003 Silverbacks media pass, the very pass the Silverbacks were unable to supply to me. I do have a USL All Stadia pass, however, issued by the league office, and I thought this would get me access to the field. It did not. The guard was strictly following the instructions he was given, and he started to mention another Silverbacks staff person that I should track down to resolve the issue. I could have pursued this further I suppose, and possibly even gained access to the field for picture taking if I had jumped through more hoops for them, but I had already gone way beyond what should be reasonably be expected, so I told him to forget it, and I settled into the stands to take my pictures from there.
As it happened, after the game I was finally able to find someone who could escort me down onto the track to try to track down former Timber Erik Ozimek, whom I wanted to present with a scarf. At that point, I was told by another Silverbacks staff member that they would resolve the press pass issue for the next game, and I had to inform her that I was visiting from Portland, Oregon and that this was a one-time deal, and there would be no next time. I was probably very terse about it, thinking back now, but I think I had a right to be. I had been kept off the field for the first time in several years, and though in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't mean much: I was able to get pictures from the stands, and of course I can write my match report from anywhere, the fact is I considered it an insult.
It comes down to this: one of the reasons I am making this trip is to try to give coverage and exposure to as many teams as I can, and to provide detailed match reports and photos to some cities that rarely get that level of coverage. Atlanta would definitely fall in that category, and when I showed up at the front door, after having notified them twice that I was coming, they kept me in the stands because they couldn't get their paperwork in order. While I have to give a special thanks to Amy, who was the only Silverbacks employee (or volunteer) who was able to help me out, and ultimately got me onto the track after the game, the fact remains that the way the situation was handled made me feel unwelcome. I'm not going to bring the subject up again as I prefer to just let it drop now, but I had to get this out of my system.
When I first set my schedule for this trip, I must admit that the travel day from Atlanta to Columbus was something I really didn't want to think about. I knew it would be a long day, but I also knew that unlike my 9-hour trip to Cincinnati, I wouldn't have to get in early. But that ended up being little comfort, as this turned out to be a very tedious travel day, during which I passed the hotel I stayed in on Day 4 (Knoxville) two hours into the trip, and then passed the hotel I stayed in on Day 3 (Cincinnati) two hours from the end of the trip. For some reason, that made the day seem all the longer. Somewhat bleary-eyed and travel-worn, I rolled into Columbus at 5:15pm, and was at the stadium by 6.
This was my first visit to Crew Stadium, and I had just visited Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston for the first time two days previously, so I knew I was going to go into Columbus comparing the two stadiums. But in a way that's difficult to do, because the stadiums are very different. $7 to park there, by the way.
While Blackbaud's charm lies in it's small, intimate setting, and the skyboxes and especially the Three Lions Pub, Crew Stadium's strength is in it's functionality. For one thing, it LOOKS like a soccer stadium. The stands are well laid out, and close to the pitch, and you can tell this place is made for footy.
But I do have to admit there few a few things about Crew Stadium that disappointed me. Mind you, these are things that COULD be fixed, and maybe will be someday. For one thing, the concessions seemed completely inadequate for a stadium it's size. At halftime of the Crew-Burn game, the lines were so long that it was pointless to try to get in line if you wanted to get back for the second half. And this was with only 14,000 fans. Secondly, the stadium just doesn't feel finished once you are under the stadium or in the walkways. The stadium is almost entirely open to the elements, and there are very few "indoor" parts of the stadium, including almost nothing in the way of skyboxes, and a relatively small press box.
I did like Crew Stadium, don't get me wrong. I would make it my 2nd favorite soccer facility in the US that I have visited (just behind Blackbaud), but I just left with the impression that they haven't finished it yet.
I got to meet Lee Smith from MatchNight.com, along with his son, before the game and sat with them during the second half. I've known Lee for awhile and it was great to meet another of the people I've gotten to know online. I presented him with a Timbers Army scarf as well.
Back to Crew Stadium again. $8 to park this time. Met with Lee again before the game, but had left my cellphone number at the press gate so Rob Wilson, another a-league.com reporter, from Pittsburgh, could get in touch with me so we could get together. I heard from him a few minutes into the first half, so I made my way over to where he was sitting, on the "auxiliary press row".
I had not met Rob before either, so it was nice to finally put a face to the name. I had intended to give Rob a scarf in Pittsburgh, but since he was going to miss that game (on the 12th), I presented him the scarf today instead. He was even nice enough to pose for a picture with it.
I went down to the field and took pictures for the remainder of the first half, then we both went into the press box at halftime (to cool off a bit from the heat, and also look for some more bottles of water, which we didn't find). But in the booth, I ran into Scott Yoshonis, one of the hosts of the Soccer Fanatics Internet Radio Show (a show that I do the website for). I had met Josh Hakala before, but had not yet met Scott. I knew he was going to be at the game, so I was very glad that he spotted my a-league.com shirt, because I hadn't spotted him (too focused on the water) J. After the game, I also got the chance to meet Brendan McCreary (known on the USL boards as "the Mutts"), along with his siblings and his father. I also knew he would be there, so I considered my visit to Columbus to be a perfect 4-for4 as far as meeting the people I was looking for!
After the game, I drove another five hours to Buffalo, NY.
Seven hours from Buffalo, NY to Waltham, MA. This was my first time ever in Massachusetts, bringing the number of states I have visited to 40. About ninety minutes later, I turned south from Springfield for about ten miles and crossed the border into Connecticut (up to 41!). I took the first exit, stopped in the parking lot of a Friendly's restaurant, got out long enough to put my feet in the ground, then it was back into the car, and back into Massachusetts. Total time in Connecticut, about four minutes.
This was my 37th birthday, and to celebrate, I decided to make the drive up from Waltham, MA (where my hotel was for 2 nights) to Portland, Maine. As most of you know, I have called Portland, Oregon home since 1997, and I only thought it fitting to visit the city that gave my home city it's name. I made the two hour drive up I-95 to Portland, and though what I saw was a very interesting port city, unfortunately heavy fog along the coast obscured much of the view. I then drove a short distance to the Portland Head Lighthouse, hoping that the sun that was peeking through overhead would burn off the coastal fog. On the way, I felt it appropriate to play the Schooner Fare song "Portland Town" on the CD player in my rental car:
I see the light across the bay,
I see the light not far away,
And I hear music all around,
I'm gettin' close to Portland Town,
So, Mother, won't you make my bed,
I see the light of Portland Head,
I see the light, I'm comin' 'round,
I'm comin' home to Portland Town.
Sometimes moments can be made absolutely magical if you just have the right soundtrack to go with them, and this was one of them.
I stayed at the Portland Head Lighthouse for awhile, absorbing the deep heavy drone of the foghorn that was blasting out from the lighthouse base into the mist. It was a surreal experience.
I got into the car and decided to drive south along the coast for awhile, hoping the fog would burn off. Eventually, I made my way back to the Interstate as it was obvious the fog wasn't burning off. But when I entered New Hampshire, the fog was burning off somewhat, so I took the road back out to the shore. New Hampshire's short shoreline is quite rocky (in a similar way to Oregon's coast), but has some large sections of sand that were drawing tourists, who had apparently taken a very long July 4th weekend. One thing I did notice is that New Hampshire has the image of "The Old Man of the Mountain" on their state route markers. This rock structure recently collapsed and the Old Man is no more. I couldn't help wondering what New Hampshire residents thought, seeing a reminder all over their road system that their state symbol no longer existed. It would be like Mount Hood collapsing in Oregon, or Old Faithful suddenly plugging up. I would guess that the Old Man will eventually disappear from the state's road markers.
The fog never did burn off completely, but it did lift a bit to give me a better view, so I did get a few good pictures. But eventually I made my way back over to I-95 and headed south again.
Rocky coast just north of Portland Head Lighthouse
The Portland Head Lighthouse itself, shrouded in coastal fog
New Hampshire's state road marker with "The Old Man of the Mountain"
Off the New Hampshire coast
Off the New Hampshire coast
I decided to make a drive that I knew would probably put me into a traffic jam, into downtown Boston. I never intended to get out of the car, but I wanted to see what it looked like at least. I did make the drive, and did indeed get caught in a traffic jam that seemed to be related to the infamous "Big Dig" going on in downtown Boston. Eventually, I made my way through and decided to head down into Providence, Rhode Island, as it was another state I had not yet visited. I didn't stay for long, and quite frankly I didn't see much as I got caught in traffic there as well. But it's another state I can cross off my list (up to 44 by this point). I treated myself to a birthday dinner at Ground Round, then back to the hotel for the evening.
Syracuse was my destination on this day, about a five hour drive from Boston. But I also had the problem of the one New England state I had not yet visited, Vermont, and I studied the map at a rest stop to see if I'd be able to do anything about it. By the time I reached western Massachusetts, I knew I was making good time on this day, so decided to detour from the Interstate to make a trek north into Vermont.
Somewhere near the Vermont/New York border
Click here to see a much larger version of this panorama
I headed north along US20 and US7 through Pittsfield, Mass and eventually north into Vermont to the city of Bennington. It was a rainy afternoon as I drove through the Berkshires, with the gentle green mountains and valleys reminding me very much of the area of western Maryland where I grew up. Finally I did cross the border into Vermont and into Bennington before driving west to Albany to pick up the Interstate again and continue on to Albany, having increased my state count from 39 to 45 over the previous two days.
P&C Stadium is located close to downtown Syracuse, and it ended up being an easy drive from my hotel, with a few very entertaining roundabouts on the way, which were amazingly large, certainly much bigger than any I have seen previously. The stadium has a large parking lot on-site, and parking was $3.
Getting my press pass was very easy as they had it waiting for me at the press table, and Kristen Banach, who had been the person who had e-mailed me weeks ago about my pass, was at the table and escorted me to the press box.
The press box is located behind "home plate" at the stadium, along with the skyboxes. The facility is clearly fairly new, and the press box and skyboxes are major-league level in their size and facilities. In the press box I was introduced to Syracuse GM Tim Kuhl, who welcomed me to Syracuse, and after talking to a few more people who were in the box, I went down to the concourse to take pictures. The stadium has one large concourse between the upper and lower deck, in a similar configuration as the Virginia Beach Sportsplex in that you can see the field from the concourse, clearly a very modern and efficient design. But as I walked around the stadium, I started to take a look at the configuration of the field, which was very unusual.
At P&C Stadium, the soccer field is aligned from 1st base into left field over the baseball field, though unlike what PGE Park in Portland does, no attempt is made to remove or cover up the baseball field, other than the pitching mound being leveled off and a turf plug put there. The field is a somewhat hard, very fast Astroturf that is identical to the turf at Skydome, which makes some sense since Syracuse's baseball team is the AAA affiliate of the Blue Jays. The dirt base areas are left as-is for the soccer games, and the 1st base area actually takes up much of the six yard box in front of the south goal. The warning track that goes around the field along the stands (but not along the outfield wall) is actually a brown, rounded stone gravel, and I was surprised to notice that the corner flag at the northwest corner, as well as a few yards of the pitch, are actually on the gravel area. As I went down to examine it, it's not particularly rough, but it's a very unusual surface to see on a soccer field.
A rather unique corner at P&C Stadium
Syracuse head coach Laurie Calloway
View from the upper deck
View from the upper deck
The Syracuse players ran though an inflated tunnel and through a long tunnel of fans as they were introduced, and it was with some amusement than I heard the announcer refer to Syracuse at "Soccer City USA", commandeering a nickname that Portland, Oregon has used for about 25 years. I considered going to Tim and pointing out the fact, plus noting that I was the once who actually ran the soccercityusa.com website, but I figured it was a moot point. The intent here was to instill some excitement and passion into the crowd, and I wasn't going to raise the issue with anyone.
It was clear in Syracuse that trying to pump up the crowd was a main driving force behind the way the Syracuse games are staged, because there were very few moments in the entire game when there wasn't "jock rock" booming out of the very loud speaker system located in center field, or was filled by the PA announcer. The intent seems to not let the game "soundtrack" settle into silence at any point, and in the way, they accomplished their task very well. The music and PA announcements filled almost the entire first half as the game went on, and the crowd seemed to love it. I had been at some stadiums over the past two weeks that had a lot of "jock rock" (Richmond for example), or a really loud PA announcer (Atlanta), but Syracuse took both to a new level.
This was clearly not an atmosphere suited for "soccer purists", between the field being laid on the baseball diamond with yellow chalk marking the soccer lines, or the music and PA announcer, but it was a good-sized crowd at the game, and with the Salty Dogs on their way to being somewhere between #2 and #4 in the league for attendance in their first season, it clearly seems to be working. I will have more to say about the "soccer purists" comment shortly.
I had spotted a-league.com Syracuse reporter Tom Wanamaker earlier (I saw his a-league.com shirt), and caught him in the press box at halftime, and decided to sit with him in the stands for the second half. As it happened, we ended up sitting behind Rochester coach Pat Ercoli, who was naturally scouting the Mariners, who would be in Rochester on Friday night.
I decided to shoot movies in the second half, and was fortunate to get both Syracuse goals on video. As it happened, former Portland Timber Noah Delgado had his first assist for Syracuse on the first Salty Dogs goal, and when the game was over, Tom and I went down the field, and eventually I did say hi to Noah, who did recognize me, and congratulated him on his goal.
Later, I went back up into the press box, and once again saw GM Tim Kuhl, and one of the things he asked me about was what I thought of the crowd, the atmosphere, and the presentation. I congratulated him for getting a good crowd, and having a pretty electric atmosphere, but I had to admit that the presentation with all of the loud music and announcer constantly trying to pump up the crowd was definitely not my thing. And while to an extent I'm able to block it out, in my opinion, it degrades the integrity of the game. I also told him that I also understood that this is the reality of the game right now, something I completely understand. He also told me that the idea is to get people hooked, then be able to back it off slightly as time goes by. One of the last things he told me was that I was a "soccer purist", with a slight smile and laugh. Maybe not yet, but it's a goal of mine..
A very short drive on this day, from Syracuse to Rochester (75 miles). Halfway to Rochester, I decided to take a short detour south to Geneva, New York to see one of the Finger Lakes, another first for me. I then made my west and turned north towards Rochester at Canadaigua, and a few miles north of that town, I ran into several stoplights that were out. There was apparently a power outage in the area as several businesses seemed to be dark as well, and on the 3rd or 4th intersection I crossed that was not functioning, I came across a bad accident scene, apparently caused by a car not stopping at the interesection, something that most people seemed to have been doing. Someone was being extricated from the car had had been struck on the driver door in the intersection, but the car integrity seems to have been maintained, so hopefully the person was not seriously injured. I have not seen anything on any local website about the crash, but it's my nature to keep a lookout for things like that, so I will be looking tomorrow.
Seneca Lake from Geneva, New York
I pulled into Rochester at about 3:30 and after a short nap made my way up to the shores of Lake Ontario, just to have a look at it. It was raining a light, Northwest-type rain when I crawled down a dirt path to the shore. I had been asked before I left whether it was possible to see the lights of Toronto across the lake. While I rather doubt it, I don't know the answer to the question, and this night would probably not be a good night to check. But it is an interesting question, something I'm sure I will find out an answer to one way or another over the next 24 hours.
I must admit that I have a bit of trepidation about the game in Rochester tomorrow. Over the past several years, I have earned a reputation for not being particularly "Rochester-friendly". Several times I have had major points of contention with the way Rochester has been able to get what I thought were very favorable schedules in the league, and I had earned the label "Rochester-hater", which may be a bit exaggerated, but a reputation I probably earned from what I've said in the past, most of which were from 1999 to 2001.
Well, I have heard from several fans from Rochester as I prepare for my visit, as well as from team president Frank DuRoss. While it appears my reputation is well known among the Rochester faithful, it also appears that most of the fans are going to be very welcoming and cordial for my visit.
It will be interesting to see how this day in Rochester plays out..
This was one of the rare days on this trip when I could actually sleep in, and I took advantage of the chance, especially now that I was starting to feel the physical effect of the two weeks on the road. Mentally and emotionally, this has truly been a vacation I badly needed, and spending two weeks going to soccer matches up and down the east coast is still the best way I can think of to accomplish that. But physically, the schedule was more grueling than I had anticipated, and I was happy that the last few days of the trip would have relatively short diving days.
On a whim I decided to get my hair cut and styled. I was on vacation, I'm allowed!
I had considered sightseeing in Rochester, though I had to admit I didn't even know what I would want to visit. In the end I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to go back up to Lake Ontario, to find a beach or shoreline, relax a bit, and maybe take some pictures. After driving a few miles up and down the coast of Lake Ontario, which was looking much bluer than it had the night before, I found Ontario Beach, which was nearly deserted on this Friday afternoon. It was a surprisingly wide and sandy beach, and if the waves on Lake Ontario had been a little higher, this could have been any Atlantic beach. The waves were a bit choppy on the lake though, because even though it was a very warm and sunny day, there was a strong wind blowing out of the southwest that was occasionally sandblasting the legs of the few dozen people who were on the beach today. I sat at a picnic table and just watched for awhile, then wandered down to the waterline to take some pictures, then after spending perhaps 90 minutes there, I started to find my way towards downtown.
Frontier Field was quite easy to find as it's right on the interstate, and the signs led me right to it. I parked in the Kodak lot across the street from the stadium, $5 for stadium parking which had just opened up (this is also the Kodak employee lot), and by just after 5pm I was wandering around the outside of the stadium, just to get a look at it, then eventually going in search of my press pass. A quick enquiry at the only open ticket window directed me to the Rhinos office, which was a building that stood on it's own at the north side of the stadium. The stone building very much resembled a fire station to me, and for all I know, it once was. I went into the office looking for my pass, and after a few minutes a gentleman asked me if I was Allison Andrews. I told him I was. It was Rhinos president Frank DuRoss.
Frank had e-mailed me several times in anticipation of my visit, and had promised to give me a tour of the facility. For the next half hour, he did just that, as he walked me around the concourse, into the press box, and even showed me one of the skyboxes. We talked about the team, the fans, the city, and about the new PaeTec park, which is to be located just a few blocks away from Frontier Field, and for which construction is supposed to begin in August. He talked about how nice it would be to finally control the facility and the advertising, as many of the banners that were on the outfield wall were sponsorship that was sold by the Red Wings baseball team, which meant these sponsors (some of the largest in the area) were sponsors the Rhinos would not be able to sell advertising too.
And for the sponsors that the Rhinos had sold advertising too, there was a problem. The wind that had been blowing all day was still strong, and it was being funneled down the two large tunnels at the southwest side of the stadium, and when walking into the tunnel, it was like a wind tunnel, with hats being blown off, and even some trash cans being tumbled over. But the wind was channeling directly down onto the field, and as a result, the advertising banners which were normally along the far sideline, would not stay put. So as a result, they would have to be taken down for the match. Frank commented that this was the first time he can remember that happening.
After talking with Frank, I walked around Frontier Field for awhile, and one interesting thing I noticed is that it shares one thing in common with theother two soccer/baseball facilities in the A-League (PGE Park in Portland, P&C Stadium in Syracuse), and that's the fact that there are trains that pass beyond the outfield wall rather frequently. At P&C Stadium (left field) and in Rochester (right field), there are train tacks no more than a hundred or so feet behind the wall, and at PGE Park (left field), there is a light rail train that goes by frequently just behind the iron fence that encloses the stadium. So seeing a moving train at all of these stadiums is rather common.
I also noted that the field at Frontier Field wasn't as bad as I had assumed, from what I'd heard. Yes, the dirt infield is not ideal, and like in Syracuse, it can lead to unpredictable hops and having two different surfaces is definitely not ideal for soccer. But from what Frank said, and from what I could see, the dirt infield is actually preferable to laying down sod, which caused all kinds of problems, especially during the 2001 Championship Game, when it came loose and didn't provide a stable footing. But the field wasn't as narrow as I had feared, and judging by the position of the 10-yard mark on the endline relative to the 18-yard box, it was only about 2 yards narrower than Syracuse, and perhaps 4 yards narrower than PGE Park (which is 70 yards wide).
In the Caribbean somewhere? Nope. Just north of Rochester on Lake Ontario
Main concourse at Frontier Field
Before the game, the young Rhinos fans line up for the player introductions
The Stampede celebrate the first Rhinos goal
Section 404 supporters as the Rhinos look for the tying goal in the 2nd half
When the match was ready to begin, I wandered down to field level, and was walking along the sideline in front of the metal bleachers which enclose that side of the field. I saw the 404 supporters sitting near midfield and as I approached, a voice called "Allison!" from the stands.. I wandered up, and "Tree" (from the Rhinos board) introduced himself, as did "SoccerSlick", and they welcomed the "Rochester-hater" into their group, and Tree even handed me a Rhinos scarf, which I was more than happy to exchange with a Timbers scarf I had with me for this purpose.
I spent part of the first half sitting with the "404" supporters section, and also visited the Stampede supporters who stand in the raised bullpen behind the north goal. "RhinosBoy21" introduced himself, and after the Rhinos scored the tying goal at the north goal, many of the toilet paper streamers that were thrown towards the field ended up being blown right onto me by the still-strong wind. I spent much of the second half back in section 404 shooting movies, and must admit I was very impressed by the organization, and the amazing support they get from the city, the media, and from the large fan base. The Rhinos still may be the 800-pound gorilla that dominates the league in many categories, but they have good reason to be.
After an exciting match, the fireworks went off (4th time I'd seen fireworks on my trip) and the fans were in a frenzy after a big win. I had filmed videos of the tying and winning goals with my camera so I showed them to a few Rhinos fans before making my way out as they closed up the stadium.
I had never been a big fan of the Rhinos, or what I had heard about their stadium. Appearances can be very deceiving because when I finally left that night, I was very impressed by the franchise, top to bottom. I plan on writing another feature about my Rochester experience in the future.
It was a five hour drive down to Pittsburgh, but the really interesting part was trying to find Bethel Park High School. I had instructions off the team website, but it required a great deal of concentration, several turns onto roads that are anything but perpendicular to one another, and two wrong turns, before I finally found my way to the stadium in Pittsburgh's southern suburbs. Parking was $3 and Sharon Talarico, the Pittsburgh Director of Media Relations who I had met in Charleston, was at the media table, and my pass was ready and waiting.
Bethel Park High School is a fairly modern high school stadium, with a main grandstand on a hill on the north side, along with a press box and concessions at the top of the grandstand, and smaller metal bleachers on the far side. There is also a track surrounding the field.
One thing that interested me was hearing stories about the crown of the field in Pittsburgh, which is supposed to be quite pronounced. It is. The corners of the field are also quite interesting, as three of the corners are falling away from the crown, but another is actually on the uphill as the field sinks and then rises again to the corner. When sitting on the track in one of the corners, players on the far side of the pitch can be hidden up to their waist by the crown of the field. While rather typical of a high school football field, the field itself seemed in very good shape, with no visible cleat marks or signs of damage to the middle of the field by football.
I went to the far side bleachers as the game started, and was recognized (by my Timbers shirt, no doubt), by "batteryhound", from the USLdiscussions board, and we both moved over into "The Mutts" supporters section. I had met Brendon "The Mutts" himself in Columbus, and at this point I made good on a promise I had made in Columbus, that if I had an extra Timbers Army scarf I would give it to him, which I did.
There is a slight dip here in front of the corner flag
And a slight crown on the field itself
A nice Pennsylvania sunset
About halfway through the first half I moved around to the other side of the pitch, and sat with the Richmond "Corner Kicks" supporters group, whom I have met several times before.
After the match, I was able to catch up with former Timber Matt Chulis, who has played for the Riverhounds for the last two years and who I had never really introduced myself to while he was in Portland, but he remembered who I was, and was interested in how the Timbers were doing, and told me to thank the Timbers supporters for the scarf and for their support.
I knew I had a long drive (another 3 hours) after the game so I said my goodbyes at about 10pm. The drive to Frederick, Maryland ended up taking four hours due to heavy fog so I rolled into Frederick at 2am.
My flight was due to leave at 11am, so I was at the airport and was checked in by 9:45, which I thought would be ample time. Was I ever wrong!
The line to get past security had to be seen to be believed. Forty-seven gates at Baltimore-Washington International Airport are served by four checkpoints, and the line to get through security was down several hallways, then back into the terminal itself, and it took a good five minutes just to walk from the front of the line to the back. They were pulling out people whose flights left at certain times, which I was sure I would have to do as there was no way I could catch my 11:05 flight if I had to go through this line.
The line moved a bit faster than I expected, and about half an hour later I had moved about halfway up in the line, where at this point a security person gave us the speech about how they strongly encouraged that we removed our shoes before going through security, though they couldn't legally force us to. He also advised us that he couldn't tell us why they wanted us to remove our shoes "for reasons of national security." I guess he didn't think any of us noticed when someone attempted to blow up a plane a few years ago with explosives in his shoes.
I caused a bit of laughter around me in line when I suggested (possibly threatening national security in the process) that we were all lucky nobody had tried to blow up a plane with something hidden in their pants.
I reached security about 15 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart, and made it my plane with about five minutes to spare. My flights to Denver and then to Portland were uneventful.
After being gone for nearly seventeen days I was back in Portland. I was at baggage claim at 4:15 knowing the Timbers would be playing Wave United at 5pm. I made it to the stadium with about fifteen minutes to spare.
I was back in the familiar confines of PGE Park, and I checked in at the press box, finding out that a few people there had actually followed along with my trip back east. I then wandered down into the Woodshed, which is the support section behind the north goal, and was warmly welcomed back by the Timbers Army just as the game began. I had seen many of the nicest stadiums and most loyal supporters in the Eastern Conference on my trip, but I had to admit that I had still not seen the sheer numbers and enthusiasm that the Timbers Army had for their team. Even though this game would have a smaller-than-average attendance of about 4,000, the Timbers Army still had 50 to 75 supporters in the section by the end of the first half, most of them clad in green and white. As I made my way down to the field early in the first half, the Timbers Army gave me an "Allison An-drews.. clap clap, clap clap clap, Allison An-drews.." cheer, something I had only ever heard once before, at a US vs. Venezuela game up in Seattle that a large number of Timbers Army supporters had attended as well.
I had traveled 5,345 miles, plus the long flight back east, and had seen some of the best and the worst that the A-League to offer, with a touch of MLS and the Nats thrown in for good measure. I had seen some beautiful stadiums, met many, many fantastic people, and had seen many beautiful and interesting parts of the country that I had not visited before.
But it was good to be home.