Crew Stadium: a Spartan place, but one with enormous significance in American soccer

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I know that beating up on Crew Stadium, easily the most plain Jane facility among 14 constructed expressly for MLS clubs, is something of a pastime for domestic soccer supporters.

It’s an easy target. I get it.

But today is a great time to put Crew Stadium and its critical place in domestic soccer into proper perspective. Because one could easily make this case: Considering soccer’s history here, it might just be the United States’ most important professional soccer stadium.

It was the country’s first major soccer stadium, the tip of the spear of what is, was and always will be the most critical early initiative in professional soccer’s latter day growth here. Simply put, in terms of making MLS facility headway, nothing else happens without the lightly adorned Crew Stadium’s development. None of it.

Not Home Depot Center. Not Red Bull Arena. Not PPL Park. Not Livestrong Park, etc.

Heck, probably no Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers – those very organizations, that is.

Crew Stadium is Spartan, no doubt. It is essentially four sets of stands erected around a pitch, with some build-out in the concession areas and some bare-bones suites attached. Built on fair grounds leased from the Ohio Expositions Commission, the surrounding area is nothing to shout about.

That said, none of it matters a bit. This stadium was never about aesthetics or fancy-schmancy. And it wasn’t about location; we were all still years from figuring out marketing models that made more sense with venues closer to urban cores.

This park was about symbolism and economic empowerment.  And about faith.

In fact, it was probably the demonstration of faithful conviction that makes Crew Stadium place so important. Specifically, it was a leap of faith from Lamar Hunt, who had taken them before in professional soccer and landed well short his mark, suffering the financial bruising to prove it.

But trustingly into the breach he went once more. The final Crew Stadium cost of $28.5 million will buy roughly one-sixth of a stadium today, give or take. But, you know, it’s still $28.5 million. Who wants to toss that into the ol’ yellow dumpster?

The Crew home ground went up in 1999 when MLS was still just a wobbly legged pony – and nobody was sure if that little guy would ever trot even one full lap around the track, much less zoom around it spectacularly at full, beautiful gallop.

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Only after the facility went up did everyone fully understand what it meant, the full promise economic sustainability that would never, ever, ever happen as renters. And only then did fans, officials and (probably later) media fully embrace the symbolic value of clubs having homes to call their own. Their house – in the middle of the (soccer) street!

I don’t think anyone every put it better than Dwayne De Rosario, who said not too long back “People take you seriously when you get your own stadium.”

There is also soccer history to talk about with Crew Stadium. We’ll get to that later. It’s the Lamar Hunt’s trust in the game and his wonderful, enduring faith that we should spend a minute celebrating today and tomorrow ahead of Tuesday’s huge World Cup qualifier.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.