To the case for Los Angeles as the capital of cutting-edge
architecture--and who can argue, really, with Frank Gehry's
swooping Walt Disney Concert Hall or Jose Rafael Moneo's
modernist Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels?--let us humbly
submit one more piece of evidence from the outskirts of town.
Better yet, let L.A. Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas, soccer's
troubadour, sing the praises of The Home Depot Center, which
opened in Carson, Calif., last June. "As American soccer players,
we spend our lives promoting the game," says Lalas, whose
team calls The HDC home. "But the fact is, you have to see the
progress, otherwise you're just spouting off. It has to be
He pauses, allowing the splendor of the $150 million, 27,000-seat
stadium--a futbol shrine capped by a stunning (and cunning)
translucent roof--to sink in. "This," he says, "is tangible."
No venue in North America affords a more exquisite soccer
ambience than Victoria Street--as Galaxy fans have christened The
HDC, English-style, after an adjacent thoroughfare. Here, form
follows function. Why does a stadium in sunny SoCal need a roof
over the seats? (To magnify the noise, of course.) Why does it
hold only 27,000? (So a seat becomes a rare and precious thing,
and demand increases.) For that matter, why does Major League
Soccer, which has never made money, need its own stadiums? So it
can inch toward the black. By controlling its own revenue
streams, the Galaxy this year cleared the first operating profit
in league history, a modest $250,000.
Bankrolled by telecommunications billionaire Phil Anschutz--the
reclusive MLS sugar daddy known fondly as Uncle Phil--Victoria
Street has already hosted a Women's World Cup final,
international matches, and the MLS All-Star and championship
games. It won raves from such visiting icons as Pele, David
Beckham and Jurgen Klinsmann, who appreciated its international
influences: European style (the roof) and good ol' American
comfort (dynamite sight lines and luxury boxes), imbued with
Latin passion (the drum-beating fan base). The stadium is, in
other words, uniquely Yank--and, says Lalas, "a glimpse of what
this game can be in the United States."
So many skeptics want to know when soccer will "make it" in
America on an NFL scale, ignoring that it took pro football five
decades to draw huge crowds and robust TV ratings. Eight years
in, MLS has more modest goals, many of which it has already
achieved. While other alphabet startups have folded, the 10-team
league attracted new investors this year (including real estate
billionaire Stan Kroenke and Mexican soccer honcho Jorge Vergara)
and announced plans for expansion in 2005. In October, MLS also
struck a six-year deal with one of the world's most sought-after
talents, 14-year-old American forward Freddy Adu, who will make
his debut for D.C. United next season.
Before the U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup, Lalas recalls, he and
his teammates would fantasize about playing in an American league
of their own. "It was just talk and dreams," he says, "but that
became a reality in 1996. Then I can remember the start of MLS,
when we said, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a 30,000-seat stadium
that would really give fans the experience they deserve?' That
seemed like a dream too. And yet here we are."
Other palaces are now in the works (next up: suburban Dallas in
2005), providing brick-and-mortar evidence that the American game
is taking hold. MLS intends to build on each success. "The HDC
was a direct result of Uncle Phil's vision," Lalas says. "Now
let's do it bigger and better."
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK RATTLE AND HUM The HDC's Teflon roof helps create a clamorousatmosphere for crowds of 27,000.