Louisville City FC's Lynn Family Stadium is the largest soccer-specific home constructed for an independent Championship club in the league’s history. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
The opening of Louisville City FC’s Lynn Family Stadium on Sunday evening will be a landmark moment for the USL Championship. With an official capacity of 15,304, including a massive safe-standing supporters’ section at behind one of the goals, the $65 million venue will become the largest soccer-specific home constructed for an independent Championship club in the league’s history.
A monument to the game and its fans, Lynn Family Stadium is a new high-point for the league off the field. It’s also set to be joined by new venues for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and the Charlotte Independence in 2021, while others including OKC Energy FC, New Mexico United, North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven have submitted proposals that would create exciting new venues in the coming years.
On top of that, new potential Championship expansion clubs in locations such as Des Moines, Iowa and Pawtucket, Rhode Island have their own remarkable visions that would add great homes for the game. And we’d be remiss to leave out the work already done by League One’s Chattanooga Red Wolves SC and South Georgia Tormenta FC in creating permanent venues in their communities.
There are those venues across the Championship, however, that have provided key steps in the league’s growth over the past decade. Ahead of Lynn Family Stadium’s official arrival on Sunday, let’s take a look back at the path that led the league and its clubs to this remarkable moment.
On the banks of the Monongahela River, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC's Highmark Stadium has been among the most scenic in North American soccer since it opened in 2013. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
In many ways, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC provided the blueprint for what the Championship was going to look like in the future. When the club broke ground on Highmark Stadium in June 2012, it marked a crucial step forward for a team that had already existed for more than a decade, but had never achieved market penetration in a city with historic names like the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins.
The club’s first season at Highmark Stadium began to change that direction – the Hounds welcomed English club Wigan Athletic for a summer exhibition – and the years following have seen the club’s prominence both locally, and in the Championship, steadily grow. After expansion in 2018, the club welcomed a venue-record 6,073 fans to its playoff clash with Louisville City FC last November, and the potential for further expansion has been suggested. One of the most scenic venues in North American soccer on the banks of the Monongahela River, Highmark Stadium put Riverhounds SC on the map, and gave future Championship clubs a concept that could be executed in their own markets.
Opened with a capacity of 8,000 in 2014 - which then expanded the following offseason - Papa Murphy's Park has seen many remarkable moments over the course of its history. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
Sacramento Republic FC’s entry to the Championship was a game-changer for the league, and a key part of that was the construction of Papa Murphy’s Park as a permanent home. Housed on the Cal Expo, the venue opened officially in June 2014 and welcomed a sellout crowd of 8,000 fans to every remaining game of the season, including the 2014 USL Championship Final that saw Republic FC take victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders.
What was notable about the venue in addition to the crowds, however, was the simplicity of the construction. Completed in a matter of months – and then expanded to its current capacity of 11,569 fans in the offseason prior to the 2015 season – Republic FC effectively created the first pop-up stadium of its kind in the Championship, a model that would later be emulated elsewhere.
Constructed following the award of an expansion franchise to Rio Grande Valley FC and opened in 2017, H-E-B Park provides one of the best fan experiences in the Championship. | Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC
Expansion was rapid in the middle of the past decade for the Championship, but when Rio Grande Valley FC was welcomed as an expansion club in 2015 for the 2016 season, it also brought with it the idea of what now has become standard for new arrivals to the league. While the Toros might have played their inaugural season in a temporary venue, work was already underway for what is now one of the finest venues in the Championship in H-E-B Park.
With a capacity of 9,735, the stadium built by owner and local construction magnate Alonzo Cantu set a new standard in what a Championship venue could be, and it remains one of the best places to watch a game in the league. The club welcomed a sellout crowd for its opening against Liga MX club CF Monterrey, and with the Toros taking a new direction this year under the leadership of President Ron Patel, H-E-B Park could again become one of the most exciting atmospheres in the league very soon.
Completed in just 53 days in early 2017, Phoenix Rising FC's Casino Arizona Field helped build the club's newly-created identity with a gameday experience to match the quality on the field. | Photo courtesy Phoenix Rising FC
The story of Casino Arizona Field is a legendary one. In just 53 days, Phoenix Rising FC went from a groundbreaking on February 1 to hosting its first game at the venue on March 25 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,890 fans. Accompanying the rebrand of the team the prior offseason, and the future arrival of minority owner and player Didier Drogba, Rising FC’s new venue produced a buzz in the Phoenix community that has only grown since.
Success on the field has been married to success off the field, with Rising FC now one of the model and most visible clubs in the Championship. That standing seems unlikely to diminish anytime soon as the marriage of a great team and vibrant home atmosphere has made for many memorable nights over the past three years.
An inaugural member of the Championship in 2011, Orange County SC's arrival at its permanent home has resulted in a notable rise in prominence thanks to strong on- and off-field investment. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC
One of the founding members of the Championship, Orange County SC underwent a similar, if more gradual, transformation when current owner James Keston bought the club in September 2016. Less than a year later, the club moved into its new home at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine’s Great Park, and the first step toward becoming one of the bigger names in the league was underway.
The investment into the venue and the team’s infrastructure has continued apace, with Orange County not only becoming the professional launching pad for multiple current U.S. youth internationals, but also a side that has become a contender in the Championship. OCSC’s home venue has already played host to some big games in its short life, and there may be much more to come in the future.
Opened early in the 2018 Championship season, Real Monarchs SLC's Zions Bank Stadium has become one of the toughest places to visit in the Championship. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
It was one thing for independent Championship clubs to construct their own venues. A team owned-and-operated by an MLS organization? That was quite another. But prior to the 2017 season, Real Monarchs SLC decided it was going to take a different tack, and look to create its own identity within the organization. New signings like Chandler Hoffman and Sebastian Velasquez helped transform the team on the field, but off the field the start of construction on Zions Bank Stadium brought the team to a different place.
Debuting early in the 2018 season, the venue has become one of the most difficult for opponents to visit in the Championship, as evidenced by the Monarchs’ run to victory in the 2019 USL Championship Final. As important, it has given the club its own identity in the Rocky Mountains.
Austin Bold FC christened its new home with a victory when it opened to a sellout crowd at Circuit of The America. | Photo courtesy Austin Bold FC
Located in the heart of the Circuit of the Americas, Austin Bold FC’s home venue has quickly become one of the more recognizable in the Championship since its opening night on March 30, 2019 when Kleber scored the first goal in its history to defeat Copa Tejas rival San Antonio FC in front of a sold-out crowd.
The investment into the venue – as with the squad the club assembled that reached the postseason in its first campaign – illustrated the seriousness with which Bold FC has stepped into the Championship. With the club aiming to provide a platform for younger local talent to thrive in the future, it could also be a launching pad for exciting developments to come.
Undergoing a massive redevelopment prior to opening in 2019, Dillon Stadium and Hartford Athletic are set to bring professional soccer to Connecticut for many years to come. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic
Dillon Stadium was by no means a new venue when Hartford Athletic secured a lease prior to joining the Championship for the 2019 season – it had in fact previously hosted the U.S. Men’s National Team for a game against Bermuda in the 1970s – but the facelift put in place to make the 85-year-old venue ready for the city’s professional soccer team brought a new lease of life to the stadium.
Officially opened on July 13 last year with a sellout crowd enjoying a 2-1 victory against Indy Eleven, Dillon Stadium is now set to become the home of the Athletic for many years to come.