It all began one night a few weeks back when a friend called me up out of the blue and asked if I wouldn’t mind help him move. This wasn’t any ordinary move though – he was asking me to drive his Jeep Grand Cherokee from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Dayton Ohio, while he drove the moving truck. I had four days to do so.
A cross-country trip during the middle of a pandemic probably isn’t the most ideal timing, but it has been a life-long goal to travel across the US heartland. And my mate was paying. So, there was only one response: “Yep”!
Given the freedom to choose my own route (my friend wanted to visit family in Texas, and I didn’t), a plan started coming together. Should I go through New Mexico and Oklahoma or Colorado and Nebraska and press on East? Maybe up to Colorado, through Kansas, and a straight shot through?
Then it occurred to me that there were USL clubs I could visit along the route – that’s when the plan solidified. I decided to visit as many USL stadia as I could manage along the way. The route was settled. Phoenix to Colorado Springs day one; on to St Louis and Kansas City, through to Louisville, Cincinnati and finally Dayton as the destination. A potential of 6 USL clubs on a 2000+ mile Covid-19 Cross-country Challenge.
Day One: Phoenix
It’s probably best to start with Phoenix Rising’s Casino Arizona Field – a stadium this writer is very familiar with. Initially labelled a “temporary pop-up” stadium, it has become more permanent than most fans had hoped. With the temporary status comes a lack of plumbing and paving. Bountiful food trucks, a playing surface that is the envy of most and a game day experience makes up for it. The seated stands line the long sidelines, with the rowdy supporter’s section on the south end, facing the more sedate corporate boxes on the North end.
The action on the field means that the stadium is generally packed out on game day. Pre-Covid of course. The stadium has been given a “pass” by the Rising soccer community due to the “temporary” label, but one gets the feeling that patience will wear thin if upgrades to ingress/egress aren’t improved shortly. A great venue to watch football, nonetheless.
After a full day of driving (seriously – 12 hours) from Phoenix to Colorado Springs, it was too late to explore Weidner Field, so that waited until morning.
Day Two: Colorado Springs
With a slightly less-arduous 10-hour drive ahead of me, I afforded myself some time to explore the home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. A few years back, this stadium seemed to be perched on the edge of a wind-blown plain all by itself. And it was, but some planning wizard gazed into the crystal ball when constructing this sporting facility, because in the following years, a housing boom has meant that the Switchbacks are firmly embedded in Colorado Springs suburbs. It’s a modern facility even if it lacks a bit of character. The seating is situated along the two long sidelines, with no fan areas behind the goals. If you were wanting to intimidate a keeper, this is not the stadium to do it. In all fairness, it’s a community sporting facility that the Switchbacks happen to use on game day, rather than a bespoke fan-focused stadium. So yeah, it’s lacking on this list.
Sporting Kansas City II
Sporting Kansas City II, (formerly known as the far more imaginative Swope Park Rangers) was next on the list for the day and, well – finding where they play was an interesting exercise.
Apple Maps took me to their previous home, which was actually a school district sporting facility. It was tiny – a few bleachers, an announcer’s box and a couple of grass embankments. Believing it to be a mistake (or my memory was failing me), I consulted Google Maps. It directed me to another sporting facility 30 minutes north.
“Ah ha! Stupid Apple Maps,” I muttered to myself, before I took off. It was only as I approached the bespoke Children’s Mercy Park – AKA the home of Sporting Kansas City – did it dawn on me what happened…
Sporting Kansas City II had moved in with big bro.
I was deeply disappointed. Swope Park Rangers had an identity, rivals, and were embedded in an appreciative suburb. Sporting KC II is now playing at a very impressive modern stadium – albeit in a vast commercial park, miles from anywhere anyone lives. And it’s not theirs.
I don’t understand the decision to rebrand a well-known USL entity into an MLS “2” side and I certainly don’t get the reason to relocate them to the outer edge of the city, away from their community where no one will watch them. It’s a bizarre move as other “2” sides are seeking to gain relevancy by changing names – disguising themselves from the MLS side’s moniker. For mine, losing the “Swope” name is a backward step and a textbook way to kill a club. I feel for the people of the former Swope Park community.
Poor form Kansas City. Poor form Swope Park Rangers.
Day 3 And Day 4 Coming Tomorrow!