This is an excerpt from August 2019 edition of Hounds Notebook. After visiting Hartford’s new, work-in-progress Dillon Stadium, I wrote this little review, then did a list of all of the USL venues I had been to since covering the Hounds regularly beginning in 2013. I thought it would be fun to repost in advance of the Hounds only road trip to Hartford this 2020 regular season.
Dillon Stadium: A work in progress
Typically I’ll get to a few Riverhounds road games each season, but this year, I really didn’t know where I would end up going. Without the annual Harrisburg trip, with Cincinnati now moving up to MLS, with Louisville’s new stadium being a year away, there really wasn’t a clear-cut nearby road match to cover. I had a conflict, so I couldn’t go to Columbus (Matt Gajtka was there for the Open Cup match). It appeared halfway through the Summer I was running out of options.
It worked out that I was offered an assignment to assist the broadcast team at the International Champions Cup match at Foxboro on Sunday. With the Hounds playing in Hartford on Saturday, I had a chance to finally catch a road game this season.
Dillon Stadium is still very much in the renovation phases but I found it to be a decent venue even if it’s still very much a work in progress. The match had to start at 5 p.m. as the lights have not been installed yet, and its pretty transparent when walking beneath the stands that work is still taking place.
They’re still missing a modern scoreboard, as this is what will do for now. I was going to ask someone if they could change the inning to half, but didn’t bother.
As for luxury suites, they’re going with the tents for now.
While the backdrop can’t compare to Highmark Stadium (in the background, Interstate 84 sits with cars buzzing by), this stadium provides a simple and straightforward intimate venue for soccer fans. The press box and locker room areas were among the first to be completed with the renovations. The press box provided a decent amount of space.
There’s a lot of potential, plenty of space and seating. The Athletic also has a supporters group that took up residence on the East end of the sideline on the far stand that elevated the atmosphere. In its third game in the renovated stadium, they announced a decent crowd of 4,606.
In some ways, seeing Hartford embrace pro soccer, provides a little bit of deja vu for one former Hound, Angulo, who scored the first goal in Highmark Stadium history.
Angulo also scored the first goal at Dillon Stadium for the Athletic a few weeks ago in a 2-1 win vs Indy Eleven.
“We get a lot of support here. It reminds me of Pittsburgh, in our first year at Highmark when we opened up the stadium — and I got the first one,” Angulo recalled with a smile. “There’s a lot of potential. A lot of support. It’s a new team. It takes time. We’re chipping away. We started eight games away. I’ve never seen that. We’re still recovering from that.
Ranking Hounds’ road venues
Driving from Hartford to Foxboro, talking with my 21-year old, provided for some time for us to pick-apart the match we just watched, but also to talk about some of the USL venues we’ve been to in the past decade.
I’ve now visited a number of road venues, and thought I would put together a quick list with some quick, immediate thoughts of venues I’ve been to where the Hounds have played road matches. In the coming weeks, we may get feedback from current and former Hounds on their favorites, and maybe a few experiences/stories to share.
- NY Red Bull Arena – major points will come off for playing USL matches in an empty stadium, but still, this is the ideal venue (once you’re inside) for a Major League soccer club and fan viewing experience. For a USL playoff match, it was really lacking in atmosphere, but made up for it with fantastic pitch, incredible outdoor viewing position for media (behind both benches, but elevated enough to see everything)
- Exploria Stadium (Orlando) – the Hounds played in Downtown Orlando in 2017, and I was there the same year, but for an MLS match. This venue checks all the boxes for the fan experience. Supporters group section includes handrails so fans can stand the entire time.
- Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati) – for three seasons, as a USL side, FC Cincinnati created one of the best soccer culture and stadium experiences that the second division in the United States will probably ever see using University of Cincinnati’s on-campus venue. Kind of reminds me of Pitt Stadium if they built around it and upgraded it instead of tearing it down. Now here’s an interesting thought, what if the Hounds could have played at Pitt Stadium during the pre-Highmark years? Just imagine that would have at least been somewhat fun to play in a historical venue like that.
- Dillon Stadium (Hartford) – potential to be a terrific second division venue once all renovations are completed. Food, rest rooms and sight lines are just fine.
- City Stadium (Richmond) – An old stadium in the old South. This venue that was built in the 1920s, and feels like it when you walk in and around it. They’ve done an admirable job in keeping up with the wide, grass playing surface. They’re in the process of renovations.
- Modern NFL Stadium venues: Nissan Stadium (Nashville); Heinz Field (Pittsburgh); Gillette Stadium (Foxboro) – the modern NFL stadiums are weird places for smaller division soccer matches, and even MLS contests sometimes. In my experience, with 20,000 fans filling up the lower bowl, bringing an electric atmosphere provides a positive experience, even if the upper bowls are mostly empty. Being in state-of-the-art press box is always a plus. The Hounds have never played at Foxboro or Heinz Field, but I just wanted to throw those in there because I’ve been soccer matches at both.
- MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus) – have not watched the Hounds play here, but have covered USMNT and Crew matches. It was one of the first MLS soccer only venues, but has been in need of upgrades in recent years. For USMNT games, they move the larger media contingent out behind the American Outlaws in temporary press box on the ‘stage’ end of the venue. Not ideal, but it was for a USMNT match, so I wasn’t complaining.
- Marina Auto Stadium (Rochester) – This was one of the saddest venues to me. It was enhanced and built in the mid-1990s to facilitate nearly 12,000 to 15,000 fans a match, with really nice facilities and sight lines — and a decent backdrop with the Rochester skyline (not quite Highmark Stadium, but there’s a view of the City). At one time, this venue was packed regularly and was the place to be. It was sad to me because when I finally made it there, it was an empty shell of itself, even during the season it was home to a USL Cup winning team (2015). By 2018, the Rochester Rhinos had shut down operations. in My only game there, as many in Steel Army may remember, was during a torrential downpour and the field was in terrible condition with major drainage issues.
- Skyline Soccer Complex (Harrisburg) – I will put this above the baseball venues. City Island can be a fun place to visit. This also had some charm to it, very intimate venue, with the entire ‘Island’ theme going, with a minor league party atmosphere that probably distracted fans from actually watching the game. The field conditions often included very high, thick grass and uneven playing surface. The trailer that made up the press box provided a very low-level minor league feel to the experience. I often sat on the steps at the midfield line between the two benches.
- Slugger Field (Louisville) – baseball fields/stadiums don’t mix well as soccer venues – period. This is a perfect example. Fantastic baseball park, great location, but just awkward sight lines being way up and terrible spot in a baseball press box. Can’t wait for Lou City’s new digs to open in Butchertown!
- FNB Field (Harrisburg) – See Louisville. The fact that I was locked into the stadium (long story) after a match, only adds to nightmare experience.
Honorable mention (Open Cup locations)
Gannon University McConnell Family Stadium (Erie) – a stand alone press box, that is very high up, on the other side of the stands. Credit to the local supporters for facilitating some fun soccer culture experience for people that attend matches. Still, this is Gannon’s football field, so the football lines make it a bit troublesome for the die-hard soccer fans.
Woehrle Athletic Complex (Jeffersonville, Indiana) – if you want an intimate soccer experience for a fourth division US club, this suburban Louisville complex works. Bottom line is having a decent press box (check), a few food trucks on hand (check), nice locker facilities for the teams (check) and a soccer-only field (check).
Dillon Stadium photo gallery