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Ohio World Cup Venue was First Soccer-Specific Stadium in US - 2003-09-22


Six U.S. cities are hosting matches during the three-week-long 2003 Women's World Cup that began on Saturday. One of them, Columbus, in the state of Ohio, was the first city in the United States to build a soccer-specific stadium.

Columbus Crew Stadium was opened in 1999, as the new home for the city's Major League Soccer team, the Columbus Crew. Before it opened, the Crew played its matches at the massive American-style football stadium on the nearby campus of Ohio State University.

At first, things did not look good for the planned facility here in Columbus. The issue was given to voters, and twice the ballot measures failed. But then the State Fairgrounds officials expedited the process, agreeing to lease a plot of land on which a stadium could be built. And then the businessman who has been a major backer of professional football in the United States, Lamar Hunt, funded the new facility, without a dollar of public money.

Columbus Crew Stadium is about a 10-minute drive north of downtown, just off an interstate highway. It is a bit spartan in appearance, constructed mostly of steel and concrete. But inside, the 22,555-seat venue provides spectators excellent proximity and sight lines for football. There are no poles or signage to obstruct the view of fans, like Paul Teter, who told VOA Sports he comes to every Columbus Crew game and is attending all of the Women's World Cup football matches here.

"The view is good wherever you sit," he said. "Upper deck, or in the corners, or right up close. I've sat everywhere, and I like the view. Up close is obviously the best, right behind the benches, but it's a good view wherever you sit."

An usher at the stadium, Chris Fink, told VOA Sports that Columbus Crew Stadium officials tried to make everything about the venue fan-friendly. Talking with fans throughout the season, he says, all of them like the atmosphere.

"I know that they like the set-up, where you can see [the game] from a lot of different vantage points, like if you're buying concessions [which are sold only mid-level] you can see the field," said Mr. Fink. "There are places you can stand around and eat and watch the game. And I think that seems to be one of the most popular things about it."

And that's important for football, where the action is almost non-stop.

Columbus Crew Stadium is hosting three doubleheaders, or six games, during this FIFA Women's World Cup. It has staged other events besides football. To the delight of sports fans in Ohio, who love American-style football, there have been a number of high school tournament and regular season games held at the stadium. And it also has hosted concerts.

The top attendance at Columbus Crew Stadium was for a men's U.S. National Soccer team World Cup qualifier against Mexico. That game in February of 2001 drew more than 2,000 fans above the listed seating capacity of 22,555.

A large crowd is expected for the U.S. Women's National Soccer team when it plays North Korea in a World Cup group match on Sunday.

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