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When a “fortress” in soccer is not very fortress-like

Jul 3, 2013, 4:50 PM EDT

Sounders FC Sporting Kansas City Soccer

Show me a stadium that TV types enjoy referring to as a “fortress,” as a place that’s Kevlar-tough on opposition and I’ll show you … a place that probably is none of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a scarf-sporting, beer-chilled, rocking wall of synchronized noise as much as the next foam-fingered fellow.

It’s just that media members, particularly those paid for adding words to the HD moving pictures, have always found it easy to falsely equate lively grounds and packed seats with prodigious home-team performance.

Only, it’s frequently nonsense.

BMO Field was the classic case — it took forever for TV broadcasters to knock off the hyperbole, referring to Toronto FC’s ground at Exhibition Place as “Fortress BMO” and as “one of the toughest places to play in MLS” and such. It finally became painfully obvious that the team stunk, no matter how faithfully fantastic the crowds were back in the late 2000s.

Tonight MLS gives us a couple more comparative examples:

Sporting Kansas City performs insides its sumptuous, teeming ground. I really love Sporting Park, a place where owners spent generously – and absolutely nailed it. When the place is rocking, the noise trapped marvelously by the glistening roof overheard, few of those storied European or South American grounds have anything on the place.

All that said, Sporting Kansas City has never truly made it a “fortress” in terms of results. True enough that the team’s former high-pressure ways made it a difficult place to play – but the numbers are the numbers.

And they ain’t that great.

Peter Vermes’ team is a pedestrian 4-3-2 at Sporting Park this year. They tumbled out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 there. Plus, a crushing U.S. Open Cup loss in June to lower tier Orlando City was more devastating still because it happened inside the team’s suburban KC ground.

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City-Vancouver preview)

Since the swell and sparkly place opened three years ago, Sporting KC is 23-8-12 at home, a .674 winning percentage.

Last year’s 9-3-4 mark was ninth-best in MLS. So it’s not awful; we can probably go with “just OK.”

Now consider that Real Salt Lake is 69-13-21 all-time at Rio Tinto Stadium, a .771 winning percentage. It’s better, even if not wildly so. (RSL plays tonight at Rio Tinto.)

But when we talk about perception, that’s where we find some “there” there. Because we tend not to think of Rio Tinto as one of the more intimidating MLS places to play. It’s a pretty stadium, and difficult to pull points from because RSL has been an MLS steady performer for years now – but perhaps not cray-cray raucous the way the home grounds tend to be in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and perhaps Philadelphia.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-Philadelphia preview)

It all makes sense, really. After all, visiting players get all geeked and stoked to play in front of big crowds, too. Especially in MLS, where it’s still not the norm. Hardly so, unfortunately.

By the way, Portland in two-plus seasons before that loud and loyal Timbers Army at Jeld-Wen: just 21-10-11 at home.

Seattle is better, but the 38-15-17 mark (.664 winning percentage) at CenturyLink since joining MLS is even worse than Sporting Kansas City’s home mark.

  1. mazblast - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    Shhh. You’re disturbing The Narrative. Once The Narrative has been decided, it is to be followed and not ever to be contradicted.

    Never confuse an issue by bringing up the facts.

  2. buckyball77 - Jul 4, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Even in our late USL days, I always felt that Timbers’ opponents got almost as rev’ed up as the home team when the Army was at full volume.

    Lots of players get motivated by the thought that there’s a crowd out there that cares about the result – even if they’re not OUR crowd.

  3. charliej11 - Jul 4, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    Seattle’s record in MLS when they draw over 50k fans is incredible…. I believe they have won every game. So maybe the problem is the limited stadium sizes. Most are limited by stadium budgets, or thoughts that a smaller stadium would be better. Seattle keeps their stadium limited to 40k most games. Maybe the small stadium idea is working financially, but not for results.

    ps. Sounders-Timbers game has sold 55k seats already and the game is a month or so away.
    Too bad Portland.

    • awsnavely - Jul 7, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      Didn’t stop them from stealing a point last time.

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