Soccer, in general, has been steadily growing in popularity in the United States for a while now. For a long time the MLS (Major League Soccer) – the United States’ professional soccer league – was completely incomparable to Europe’s best soccer leagues, such as the EPL or La Liga. That all began to change on January 11, 2007, when David Beckham announced he would be leaving Real Madrid to join the LA Galaxy in six months (Halpin, MLSSoccer.com). Since then, a host of the world’s greatest players have signed with various MLS teams, including Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Thierry Henry, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and many more (Boehm, MLSSoccer.com). As professional soccer in the United States boomed in popularity, NCAA soccer has similarly seen a significant increase.
With that being said, the NCAA very recently – in June 2018 – conducted a poll where they went directly to college soccer fans to find out which college soccer fields had the best atmosphere (Maiman, ESPN). ESPN’s article used fan polling to list the top nine college soccer atmospheres, in no particular order. Using information from that ESPN poll, as well as other information sources like “The 18”, we wanted to go a step further and rank the top five college soccer stadiums. Our list is based on a combination of the fan experience, overall program prestige, unique attributes, stadium capacity, and more.
#5: Alex G. Spanos Stadium – California Polytechnic State University (11,075 Capacity)
Starting off the Top 5 list is Alex G. Spanos Stadium (formerly called Mustang Stadium), home of the California Polytechnic State University men’s and women’s soccer teams. The stadium was renamed in 2006 to honor Alex Spanos, a Cal Poly alumnus and owner of the Los Angeles Chargers (Nomburg, CalPolyNews). The name change was made in recognition of Mr. Spanos’ $4,000,000 donation towards renovations and upgrades to Mustang Stadium; the largest single donation in Cal Poly’s history at the time (Bravo, mustangnews.net).
While Alex G. Spanos Stadium didn’t make ESPN’s most recent list, it came in at #2 on The 18’s top college soccer stadiums list (Van Lieshout, The 18). Ironically, in 2011 ESPN named Alex G. Spanos Stadium the #1 stadium in all of NCAA men’s soccer, citing the gameday atmosphere and stadium design as the main reasons (Unnamed Writer, ESPN). The stadium’s capacity of 11,075 (considered large for a college soccer stadium) is also its record attendance and it’s typically expected to be largely filled on game nights. Other notable draws to the stadium include the well-groomed natural grass surface, skybox executive suites, and a unique state-of-the-art scoreboard (mustangnews.net). Lastly, the Cal Poly Mustangs men’s soccer program has significant current and historic prestige. In 2011, collegesoccernews.com ranked the Cal Poly Vs. USBC Men’s Soccer programs as the #1 rivalry in men’s college soccer. Furthermore, 14 men’s soccer players from Cal Poly went on to play in professional soccer leagues, with a few even representing their country in international competitions (Unnamed Writer, Go Poly). As of 2013, proposals to increase Alex G. Spanos Stadium capacity to 22,000 are still being actively considered (Masuda, KSBY).
#4: Morrison Stadium – Creighton University (6,000 Capacity)
Morrison Stadium, home of the Creighton Bluejays men’s and women’s soccer teams. Both the NCAA and Top 18 article agree on this selection and they both agree on the reason; the Bluejays men’s soccer program has a tremendous home field advantage. Their beautiful arena grass field, coupled with their ability to attract large and rowdy crowds reaching the 6,000 person capacity on a consistent basis, has propelled the Bluejays men’s soccer team to an 89-17-13 record in their first 11 seasons on their new home turf in Morrison Stadium, with an 11-2 NCAA Tournament record in games played at Morrison Stadium (Van Lieshout, The 18). During that same time period, the Bluejays women’s soccer team also compiled a very impressive record of 60-24-14 (Van Lieshout, The 18). Perhaps not to the same magnitude as other soccer fields further down on the Top 5 list, Morrison Stadium is also well known for the gorgeous scenic view of the Omaha skyline.
Though the stadium opened in 2003, Creighton University continued to upgrade their facilities throughout the 2003 soccer season (Unnamed Writer, GoCreighton.com). The upgrades were fully completed in 2004; they included a new grandstand, an upgraded reserved seating section, additional upper-level seats, a press box, and redesigned video board (Unnamed Writer, GoCreighton.com). The Creighton Bluejays men’s soccer program isn’t only recognized for their impressive team record; they’ve seen many players go on to play in professional leagues, almost exclusively in the MLS. Creighton’s soccer program’s history doesn’t date back as far as others on this list, but nonetheless 26 Bluejays have gone on to play professional soccer (Plummer, GoCreighton.com).
#3: Spry Stadium – Wake Forest University (3,000 Capacity)
W. Dennis Spry Soccer Stadium, most commonly called Spry Stadium, is LRT’s #3 college soccer stadium in the country. Home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s and women’s soccer team, the 3,000 capacity stadium is widely regarded as one of the top facilities in college soccer. The entire Spry Stadium Complex is comprised of one full-sized and fully lit natural grass playing field, as well as two lit natural grass practice fields (Unnamed Writer, WakeForestSports.com). Opened in 1996, this stadium is amongst the most highly touted of the nine featured in ESPN fan poll of top college soccer stadiums. The stadium’s leading positive features include a state-of-the-art scoreboard and sound system, separate deluxe locker rooms for both men’s and women’s teams, a press box with a rooftop observation deck, popular concession stands, and more (Unnamed Writer, WakeForestSports.com).
While the stadium has a small capacity, Demon Deacons soccer fans are known as some of the most passionate in the country, filling the stadium’s capacity for the majority of men’s and women’s soccer home games (Jonathan, CampusDish). It’s with good reason. The men’s Demon Deacons soccer team has 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, 7 Conference Regular Season championships, 5 NCAA Tournament College Cup titles, and 3 Conference Tournament championships (NCAA.com). More impressively, Wake Forest men’s soccer team finished as the runner up in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, having previously won the school’s lone men’s soccer NCAA Tournament championship in 2007 (NCAA.com). The longstanding, consistent success of the Demon Deacons’ soccer program is surely one of the leading reasons behind their fan’s passion and electric gameday atmosphere.
#2 Harder Stadium – University of California, Santa Barbara (Capacity 17,000)
Harder Stadium, home of the UCSB men’s and women’s soccer teams. Although it somehow missed ESPN’s fan polled list, it ranked as the #1 college stadium to play at in the country by The 18 (Van Lieshout, The 18). Many describe the atmosphere as a “madhouse on game days”; there’s no question it’s served as a tremendous benefit to the UCSB Gauchos in home games (Zant, Santa Barbara Independent). Recent renovations, completed in 2010, have modernized the stadium’s reserved seating and benches, replaced the field’s existing surface with new natural grass, and upgraded various amenities; most notably player facilities (Unnamed Writer, UCSB.edu). The unique aspect to this stadium is the reason it became dubbed “Soccer Heaven”; it’s placed in the perfect location overlooking the beautiful Santa Barbara skyline (Van Lieshout, The 18).
A standard pattern for soccer programs in the Top 5 list, the Gauchos men’s soccer program is historically one of the best in the country. USCB men’s soccer achieved 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 seven times, the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals twice, and finishing the runner-up of the NCAA Tournament once, in 2004 (NCAA.com). Furthermore, the Gauchos won the NCAA Tournament College Cup in 2004 and 2006 (NCAA.com). While undoubtedly impressive, the Gauchos men’s soccer team’s most significant accomplishment undoubtedly came in 2006, when they won the NCAA Tournament for the only time in their program’s history (Eskilson, topdrawersoccer.com). The team’s superb performance is matched with the success of their individual players post-graduation. UCSB’s men’s soccer program has seen an astonishing 53 players go on to play in various professional leagues, in various professional leagues around the world (Vom Steeg, UCSB Gauchos Men’s Soccer Press Release). The combination of Harder Stadium’s top of the line facilities, one-of-a-kind scenic location, highly energized gameday atmospheres, and the success of their soccer program (both on the team and individual level), clearly explains why it’s been dubbed “Soccer Heaven.”
#1: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field – University of Akron (Capacity 5,800)
College Soccer Field in the country goes to Cub Cadet Field, home of the Akron Zips men’s and women’s soccer programs. This field happens to be the only one on the NCAA’s list of top college soccer stadiums in the country, as well as the Top 18’s Top 5 list. In the last decade, Cud Cadet Field has undergone several sizeable renovation projects, as well as one considerable expansion in 2010 (Unnamed Writer, Akron Beacon Journal). Some of the amenities created by these renovation projects include: a brand new and entirely modernized scoreboard, upgraded bleacher seats, a new grandstand, new dugouts for both the Zips and their opponents, concession stands, an event plaza, new lights and fencing around the facility, and a brand new grass field surface with an accompanying upgraded irrigation system (Bach, University of Akron Newsroom).
Most college soccer fans would likely concede the Akron Zips men’s soccer program is the most decorated in the country. The Zips have amassed 19 Conference Regular Season championships, 14 Conference Tournament championships, and 5 NCAA Tournament College Cup championships (NCAA.com). Akron’s historical performance in the NCAA Tournament speaks for itself; the Zips accumulated 23 NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching 12 NCAA Tournament Round of 16 matches, 8 NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals, and 2 NCAA Tournament runner-up finishes (that came in 1986 and 2009) before finally winning their first NCAA Tournament championship, in 2010, the year after they finished runner-up to the Virginia Cavaliers (National Collegiate Athletic Association). The Zips have also earned a national No. 1 ranking in four different years; 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2016 (National Collegiate Athletic Association). Both the NCAA and Top 18 article are in agreement on the most striking aspect to Cub Cadet Field; the Zips fan base is second to none in college soccer. They’re also in agreement on the unmatched ability the Akron Zips have in attracting the best talent in the country. Akron’s men’s soccer program has seen 33 Zips move onto professional soccer careers, with exactly two-thirds of them (22) still actively playing in professional soccer leagues across the world (Wheeler, The Buchtelite). Easily the most acclaimed player to put on the Zips’ blue and gold jersey is Joao Moutinho, the Portuguese superstar who was taken with the 1st overall draft pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. While another University of Akron athletic programs has received little to no recognition, their soccer program stands out in a league of its own.
Posted on August 20, 2018 in Life of a College Athlete
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