Carson’s Home Depot Center paved way for Red Bull Arena

i-ac4cdf894da4a960a9ddc6205373d962-redbullarenaopens.jpgMajor League Soccer’s newest stadium opened Saturday when the New York Red Bulls beat Brazil’s Santos. Amazingly, the Red Bulls won (AP Photos).

By all accounts, Red Bull Arena surpasses Home Depot Center as the finest soccer-specific facility in the United States, although considering it cost twice as much as the Carson stadium that’s to be expected.

But as writer Michael Lewis points out (in this piece written before the canceled March 13 international youth game that was to act as a “soft” stadium opening) the venue owes a a massive debt to the Anschutz Entertainment Group-built (and paid for) edifice.

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Here’s more on Saturday’s opening:

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — On a picture-perfect night many fans longed for, the New York metropolitan area finally got its own soccer stadium Saturday.

The long-suffering Red Bulls even got a win, and Major League Soccer ensured five years of labor peace by signing a new collective bargaining agreement before the match.

The sky was cloudless blue, and the first evening of spring felt more like early summer. A sellout crowd of 25,000, many in shirt sleeves on a 73-degree night, filled long-discussed and much-delayed Red Bull Arena and watched the Red Bulls roll over Brazil’s Santos — Pele’s old team — 3-1 in a chippy exhibition.

Joel Lindpere scored off the rebound of his own free kick in the 11th minute, Mike Petke added a goal in the 43rd and Dane Richards made it 3-0 two minutes later. Germano headed in Santos’ goal in the 90th, just before the lights were cut and a fireworks display was shot off from the center circle.

Fans filled the $200 million, two-deck oval, and league officials immediately proclaimed the nation’s eighth soccer specific stadium its finest. The arena had been planned for a decade, but construction repeatedly was pushed back.

“It was six weeks away, six weeks away,” said Petke, the Red Bulls’ captain. “These last 10 years have been the longest six weeks of my life.”

Franz Beckenbauer, a World Cup champion for Germany as a player and coach, was on hand to mark the moment along with Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn. When Der Kaiser played for the Cosmos from 1977-80, they filled up Giants Stadium in nearby East Rutherford with crowds of nearly 80,000. But with MLS mostly lacking the biggest stars, the Red Bulls averaged just 12,491 fans for league home games last year, 12th among 15 teams.

And they were forced to play on artificial turf that was slightly too narrow. Now they’re in a gleaming stadium that looks as if it could have been transplanted from a wealthy regional club in central Europe, with a translucent glass roof over the seats to protect fans from rain.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, almost no one in the country played the game, and it takes time,” Beckenbauer said. “Also, it’s a question of tradition. So it takes time to get used to, to compete with the best teams in world, which you are doing now.”

In a league that will miss its biggest draw, Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham, for most if not all of this season because of his torn Achilles’ tendon, the Red Bulls hope to add a star later this year. Barcelona’s Thierry Henry and Real Madrid’s Raul Gonzalez often are mentioned as possibilities.

“It should be the beginning of a new era in New York soccer,” said Dietmar Beiersdorfer,
sporting director of parent Red Bull. “For sure we are also working on one other player maybe to strengthen our team.”

The biggest stars were missing from this match because of injury — Santos’ Robinho and New York’s Juan Pablo Angel. Beiersdorfer knows what sells, especially in the Big Apple.

Neymar, the biggest star on the field for Santos, gave his jersey to Red Bulls defender Jeremy Hall at the half. Many fans wore yellow Brazilian national team jerseys, and Santos coach Dorival Junior called it “a party atmosphere” even though he was disappointed with the result.”

“We could feel the love from the crowd,” Neymar said through a translator.

The field needs a little work — sand kept kicking up.

“We’ve always talked about getting away from the turf at Giants Stadium and how bad it was,” Petke said. “What I played in tonight, you could put concrete down, to be honest with you and I would have been, you know, thrilled.”

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While PATH commuter trains go directly to the stadium, allowing fans to travel in the same manner as most European supporters do, those who took shuttle buses from Newark’s Penn Station were caught in a 45-minute bottleneck to the nearby stadium, which looks like a silver spaceship on the shore of the Passaic River.

“We would have been better off walking,” said Suzanne Becker of Bethlehem, Pa.

Now that there won’t be a strike, up ahead is the first official match, New York’s MLS opener against Chicago next Saturday. The Red Bulls were 5-19-6 in the league last year and 6-21-7 overall.

“Even friendly games are important games,” new coach Hans Backe said.

Now that they have a top ground, they need to build an equal team.

“There really is no excuses,” Petke said.

It was almost exactly 10 years ago – and I know because I wrote the story – that the Daily Breeze became the first newspaper to break the news AEG were looking to the South Bay to build a new stadium for the Galaxy.

Just for fun, here’s that story as it ran on Feb. 28, 2000:

The campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills, has emerged as one of “three leading contenders” the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer is considering as the site for a new 30,000- to 35,000-seat soccer stadium, the Daily Breeze has learned.

“They actually brought an architect out here last week, so I know we are one of the three,” said George Pardon, the university’s vice president for business and administration. “They’re going to do some renderings and sketches to know whether we have enough buildable room.”

The other two sites being looked at are a vacant parcel in Carson near the Kmart store off Torrance Boulevard between Figueroa and Main streets and an unidentified tract in Los Angeles, said Sergio del Prado, the Galaxy’s general manager.

But the campus near Carson may be the preferred site for what del Prado describes as a $50 million to $70 million soccer complex that would include a stadium, soccer academy and practice fields suitable for the Galaxy and U.S. national teams.

“That’s the one that gives us the easiest ability to do all those things,” he said Friday of the Cal State Dominguez Hills site. “We’d like the one that gives us the most opportunity to really succeed.”

In other signs the campus may have the inside track, del Prado said architects are looking at the design of the 70-acre tract at the university before other potential stadium sites. And the weekly magazine Soccer America reported last month that billionaire Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz particularly liked the campus parcel after taking a Jan. 14 helicopter tour of possible locations.

The Galaxy plays at the 92,000-capacity Rose Bowl in Pasadena but is seeking to construct a smaller venue more suitable for the average crowd of 18,000 it attracts to its 16 home dates annually.

At Cal State Dominguez Hills, the soccer facilities would be built at the site of the cycling velodrome constructed for the 1984 Olympics. The cycling facility, although considered a world-class venue, has little connection to the university and in the past has been a money-losing endeavor.

On the other hand, a soccer stadium would be an ideal fit, Pardon said.

The university needs a stadium large enough to accommodate the 16,000 people who attend graduation ceremonies; last year the university spent $70,000 to rent chairs and erect temporary bleachers for commencement, he said.

The Galaxy would lease rather than buy the land needed for the stadium so the university would retain control in what Pardon called a good example of a public-private partnership.

Moreover, becoming a major center for soccer with its widespread and growing appeal, rather than a niche sport like cycling, is attractive to an institution redoubling efforts to reach out to the community.

“One of the main thrusts of our new president is for this campus to be more widely known as a `communiversity,’ ” Pardon said. “We have a really strong soccer program and it really fit with what we are doing educationally.”

Area has broad appeal

For the Galaxy, the South Bay and the campus have several appealing characteristics, said del Prado, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner in Hawthorne who lives in El Segundo.

For one thing, Cal State Dominguez Hills is accessible for spectators with its proximity to the Harbor (110), San Diego (405) and 91 freeways, he said. And the area has the right demographic mix, ranging from the Latino communities in cities like Carson and Hawthorne that the Galaxy has traditionally relied upon for the bulk of its support to the middle-class soccer hotbeds of the South Bay and Orange County.

“We’re looking for a site that attracts both the youth soccer suburban crowd as well as our Hispanic hard-core soccer fans,” del Prado said. “Sometimes that’s a challenge, but I think to maximize the potential for the MLS in Los Angeles you need to appeal to both fan segments.”

Cal State Dominguez Hills has become a serious contender for the stadium with surprising speed.

The Galaxy has long sought a soccer-specific stadium of its own — the Rose Bowl doesn’t even have adequate practice fields.

But the project has received renewed attention following the completion of the Staples Center that Anschutz’s corporation owns in addition to such properties as two other MLS teams, the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey league and the Forum in Inglewood.

In recent weeks more than a dozen potential sites in the Los Angeles area have been winnowed to three.

It was the university that extended feelers to the Galaxy initially, Pardon said, adding that the school was not interested in being a site for an NFL stadium and the hassle of having 100,000 people flood the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. But officials did make preliminary overtures about locating a possible training facility for the franchise on campus, he said.

Soccer a better fit

When the idea collapsed along with the NFL proposal, it was resurrected when officials heard the Galaxy was searching for a new home.

The idea quickly evolved into a serious proposal after Anschutz’s January helicopter tour when several high-ranking executives with the corporation visited the site and asked for a copy of the university’s master plan, its blueprint for growth, Pardon said.

On Friday del Prado called the campus location one of the three leading candidates. The team needs to move quickly because the team’s lease at the Rose Bowl expires at the end of this season. Ideally, the team wants a new home by the start of the 2002 season, del Prado said.

“Mr. Anschutz is committed to doing whatever he can to make soccer work here in Southern California,” del Prado said, adding that no commitments have been made. “Hopefully within the next two to three months we’ll find out one way or another.”

A soccer stadium that would provide an appropriately exciting atmosphere — something often lost in huge stadiums designed for football — is seen by most observers as essential if the game is to progress.

Galaxy officials consider it no coincidence that the team finished second in league attendance last season to the Columbus Crew, which opened the nation’s first large stadium — capacity 22,500 — designed specifically for soccer.

Positive influence

Carson officials have responded positively so far, noting as they did with the NFL proposal that the soccer stadium would help put the city on the map.

“I don’t know of any problems associated with the site itself,” said City Manager Jerry Groomes. “The concern would be to try to minimize traffic impacts on the surrounding residential area.”

University officials believe that can be done, since the proposed site in the center of campus would help shield surrounding neighborhoods that contain some of the city’s most expensive homes from what would be relatively modest crowds compared to the NFL.

But an environmental report that would include a traffic analysis would have to be performed, Pardon said. And adverse community reaction would quickly kill the idea.

“If the city doesn’t want it here we’re not going to push it,” Pardon said. “That would run right in the face of our whole communiversity objectives.”

But for now, officials with the Galaxy, city and university believe the idea of a professional soccer team in Carson is worth investigating further.

“It’s an opportunity for (Carson) to get a lot of recognition not only in the city, but around the country and even internationally if we do build a new stadium and it does become the West Coast home of U.S. soccer,” del Prado said.

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Exclusive: Beckham Academy Closure Derails Canadian Soccer Team’s Dreams

In a follow-up to Sunday’s story about the unheralded closure of the David Beckam Academy in Carson comes word the shuttering was so quiet they weren’t even telling those who had registered for camp that it had closed.

Turns out they didn’t tell local hotels either: I received an e-mail from Natasha Hamilton, wife of the Lloyd Hamilton in the story Wednesday night, observing the Doubletree Hotel in Carson where they had booked rooms, was similarly unaware of the closure.

Yet, PR debacle aside, the termination of the David Beckham Academy is a loss to the South Bay (and wider) community as the following e-mail I received vividly illustrates:

To Nick:

Thank you for finally mentioning that the DBA had officially closed. I knew about this closure back in November. When I heard this news I was very devastated. One of the reasons is that the DBA had a School Outreach Program that provided, free of charge, soccer skills to public schools.

My school, Panorama City Elementary in Panorama City, was fortunate enough to be able to participate in it last year. We started to do it again this year. One group was able to experience it. But, the 2nd group wasn’t able to because the DBA closed a week prior to them coming out to our school again. The students at my school were extremely saddened by this news. They were looking forward in experiencing soccer with the DBA Coaches. The DBA coaches were excellent!

Last year, I even made a presentation board so that people in our district would see the great things that our students were doing in relation to sports. A lot of those people were very impressed. Our students learned a lot from the DBA coached about soccer and fitness/health in general. Too bad they won’t get to experience that again.

Well, at least some of our students had the chance last year, and this year. But, they will surely be missed. I hope that AEG has plans to still use the field as some type of academy. Perhaps they might be able to continue the School Outreach Program that was in place at the DBA.

Always in soccer,

Carlisa Perdomo

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Mia Hamm & Nomar Garciaparra to Sign Autographs, Give Tickets Away Sunday in Torrance

i-2a93ae4e5c1c835f99cf0bc27e96ece5-hdcmianomar.pngU.S. soccer icon Mia Hamm and her husband, former Red Sox and Dodger great Nomar Garciaparra, host a charity soccer game Jan. 16 at Carson’s Home Depot Center.

The ticket giveaway is from 1-2 p.m. at Sport Chalet, 21305 Hawthorne Blvd., at Del Amo Village (that’s at the intersection of Torrance & Hawthorne boulevards).

The free tickets are for the third Annual Mia Hamm & Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge set for 3 p.m. Jan. 16 at Home Depot Center on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills. One ticket will be given to each of the first 100 people in line. The store will sell tickets to the event priced at $20 all weekend between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are also available via TicketMaster.

The charity soccer match benefits Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Mia Hamm Foundation. The nonprofit foundation raises funds and awareness for bone marrow transplant patients and their families. Mia’s late brother, Garrett, died in 1997 from a bone marrow disease. More than $250,000 has been raised since the event began.

Confirmed challenge participants include U.S. Women’s National Team greats Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, Galaxy icon Cobi Jones, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar, Olympic volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh and Chivas USA’s Gerson Mayen. Other Galaxy and Chivas USA players have yet to be confirmed.

From the event press release:

At halftime, patients who were suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases will be introduced in person for the very first time to their bone marrow donors. The donor and recipient meetings will recognize all those who have given hope to patients in need of a life-saving transplant by joining the National Marrow Donor Program Registry. Fans in attendance will be given the opportunity to register and become donors themselves at the City of Hope Bone Marrow Registry on the concourse.

Said Hamm:

“This event is a great atmosphere for fans of soccer, sports, celebrities, and music. It is more important than ever to bring our diverse community together to ensure people in need are given the best chance at a donor match. We hope to increase the number of registrants this year and find another successful match.”

For more check out the the foundation’s Facebook page.

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Guest Blogger: One Galaxy Fan’s Rant at Home Depot Center Management

Douglas Morino is a reporter at the Daily Breeze in Torrance who attended last weekend’s Galaxy-AC Milan game in Carson as part of the capacity crowd.

I asked him to write about his experience as a fan; he does not paint a pretty picture.

What my friend and I, along with hundreds of other soccer fans, experienced Sunday night at Home Depot Center was nothing short of outrageous.

I expected the bad traffic.

What I didn’t expect was it to take us two hours to drive from the Avalon Boulevard off-ramp to the Home Depot Center parking lot. It was clear from the beginning the powers that be were unprepared for the influx of soccer fans descending upon the HDC.

I can deal with long lines for overpriced beer.

But outside the ticket gates closest to the tennis stadium, there were hundreds of people – literally, hundreds – lined up waiting to enter. The line was a dozen people thick and
stretched to the parking lot. The scene was unsettling. At that point, the match was already underway.

Frustrated, we went to the opposite end of the stadium, where the line to get in was shorter. We walked into the stadium 10 minutes after kickoff.

We had tickets in the general admission area – first come, first served – and by the time we reached the section it was clear there were no open seats. We stood for a while, along with dozens of other fans who were venting their frustrations at security guards and ushers. Who could blame them? It was hot, crowded and there was no where to sit.

I looked to the press box with envy as I envisioned a colleague sitting comfortably, maybe enjoying a cold drink and air conditioning, as he observed the match from the 50-yard line and typed away on his laptop.

Around the 25th minute we sat in fold-out chairs behind the general admission section along with about a dozen other people. We were immediately told to leave, and the argument with stadium officials would last until the final whistle blew.

After halftime, people continued to scramble to find a place to sit, or even stand. Some seats lining the section remained empty the entire match, and security guards and ushers would not allow them to be filled. The growing crowd continued to protest.

Security, not surprisingly, was having no part of it. They told us to leave the section, they told us to take it up with customer service, then they threatened to kick us out. By this time, the crowd behind the section had grown substantially – and so had their anger. Security called at least one sheriff’s deputy to the scene. It was obvious they had oversold that section and the entire stadium. I wondered were the Fire Marshall was to enforce any fire code.

Finally, in the 70th minute, a sympathetic security guard intervened, and using verbal force, cleared some space and found us a few seats in the general admission section. Unfortunately, many who paid to get into the section were left standing, far removed from the action on the field and in the stands.

Trying to get in the stadium was one thing. Trying to get out was something completely different.

After the final whistle blew, an elderly man took a break from the massive herd trying to leave the section and sat down in an empty seat. A young female security guard promptly told him to stand up. People passing by spoke up in defense of the old man.

“I don’t have to take any of your (expletive),” she shouted.

We finally made it outside and literally ran to our car to avoid the impending onslaught of traffic. I’ve been to packed Dodger playoff games, BCS bowl games, and sporting events in the Developing World, and nothing compared to the disorganization and blatant disrespect being forced upon paying customers Sunday in Carson.

My friend and I drove out of the stadium parking lot that night, vowing never to return.

It seems Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the stadium, as well as the Galaxy, keep finding ways to drive new fans like Morino away. Incidentally, a press box colleague (who arrived late to the game) had a very similar experience with the traffic control (or total lack thereof outside the stadium) calling it “complete chaos.” And power hungry security at the stadium is another recurring theme, too. I’d be interested in hearing from other fans and AEG officials are welcome to respond as well in the comment section.

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U.S. to Play Sweden Jan. 24 in Carson

U.S. Soccer announced today its customary new year friendly at Home Depot Center Jan. 24 following a week-long U.S. Men’s National Team training camp.

The 5:30 p.m. game will air live on Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision.

The U.S. beat Sweden 2-0 last January in a game that saw the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan set the all-time U.S. scoring record. The U.S. is making its sixth visit to Home Depot Center where it has a 4-0-1 record.

Next year is a big one for the U.S. with CONCACAF Final Round qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Tickets, priced between $18 and $60, go on sale Monday.

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Final Result: Wizards at Chivas USA

Was magician David Copperfield in the house for the second half?

Despite a disappearing act worthy of a prime time special, Chivas USA hung grimly onto their two-goal half time advantage and salvaged a crucial 2-1 victory, overcoming a pretty Josh Wolff bicycle kick with 20 minutes to go.

With both Colorado and Real Salt Lake winning today and temporarily climbing above them in the standings, Chivas USA needed all three points to maintain their tenuous grip on second place in the Western Conference and remain just two points above the pair nipping at their heels by night’s end. Chivas USA even managed to close the gap to four points on leaders the Houston Dynamo, who could only tie 1-1 today with FC Toronto. There are four games left in the season for Chivas USA.

Back with more later from the locker rooms.

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