Up until this season, Belson was the location of the Cosmos’ first game of the US Open Cup, seeing the green and white play the Jersey Express and Brooklyn Italians in the previous three seasons. The move to Belson for games against PDL or NPSL teams seemed like a logical one, as they produced much lower attendance numbers than regular season Cosmos matches. This season, however, saw the Cosmos face MLS side New England Revolution at Belson, a decision described by Erik Stover as a response to “criminal activity”, and a ban on USOC games against MLS opponents at Shuart Stadium by Hofstra University.
A league final, however, is different. It is the culmination of 34 league games, with a league’s players seeing the ultimate goal of their blood, sweat and tears coming to fruition. That being said, what does Belson Stadium offer as a venue for an NASL Final? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
The Cosmos retain the right to have a home final
This is the most obvious and apparent of the positives: the invaluable home field advantage. The Cosmos home form this season has been staggering: an undefeated 9-2-0 at home, as opposed to a 5-3-3 record away. Additionally, the Cosmos have enjoyed three wins out of four in their time at Belson Stadium. Undoubtedly, home form was the biggest reason in conceding to play the match at Belson Stadium.
As previously mentioned, the Cosmos have played their first round Open Cup games at Belson Stadium in previous years. Adding in training sessions taken at the stadium, it is clear that the Cosmos have had enough experience on the Belson pitch to have it feel like home. Other venues, like the mystery venue in Connecticut rumored to be discussed, would not have that level of familiarity.
“Friends and family”
Finally, there is the element of player and staff opinions factoring into the decision. In the club’s press release, Gio said the following about the venue choice:
“It’s important for us to play in New York. That way the fans can be part of The Championship experience, and our players are rewarded for all their hard work by having the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.”
I haven’t spoken to any players on the choice of venue for the final, but one can assume (even beyond this quote) that professional soccer players would prefer to play the final of their league at home, as they deserved it.
AtmosphereFor all it lacks in looks, Belson Stadium provides an insanely unique and intimate atmosphere for a soccer match. With seating being directly at field level, and the distance to the sideline being about four feet from the front rows, there are few places in North America where you could get closer to the action. Imagine the thrill for a young child watching Juan Arango take a famous free kick so close to his seat? Magical. Additionally, the tradition of players coming to the fence to thank supporters is an experience that is truly special, time and time again. This photographer doesn’t love how the sidelines can only fit one person, but the intimacy to the game is a special one.
While considered by fans and players alike as a “home” venue for the Cosmos, the location is a bit out of the way from most people’s homes. As a commuting student to St. John’s University, I can personally attest to the struggle of getting to Belson: a 20 minute commute to Shuart doubles with a move to Belson. The Northern State and 495 are both treacherous roads, no matter day or night, weekday or weeknight. Additionally, those in the city won’t have the easiest time to reach this location. Our own Luis Hernandez lives in Queens and needs to take a bus to a subway, transfer to a second subway, and then climb on a another bus to get here. All in all, Belson is not the easiest location to access, even if it is closer to more people.
Before getting into statistics, this must be said: the look of holding the NASL final at a 2,168 venue is beyond embarrassing. It is shambolic, and deep cutting reminder of the state of the league (and club) at this point in it’s life. For a game where both league and club needed a joyous, packed house to escape from the reality of their collective status, it is a very real possibility that the Soccer Bowl will be a stark opposite.
Now, let’s look at this from a statistical perspective. The New York Cosmos reeled in an average 3,451 spectators during the 2016, 1,283 fans over the maximum capacity at Belson. In principle, a whopping 37% of the Cosmos average fans that attended matches throughout the 2016 season will be shut out of the Soccer Bowl due to the capacity. This brings up many questions in respect to ticket allocation: how many of the 3,451 were season ticket holders that could have first priority to the final? How many tickets would be allocated to visiting team supporters? Is it a possibility for casual, walk up fans and flex pack holders to be frozen out of the final? Admittedly, this is wild speculation due to the lack of concrete information, however, a problem nonetheless.
Additionally, the capacity of Belson restricts the marketing to possible news fans, especially ones on the campus of St. John’s University. This is, admittedly, a long shot. While St. John’s soccer average 1,117 fans per game in 2013, the campus still has a vibrant, sports centric student body that could certainly put extra butts in seats. The general restriction to walk up sales and marketing to the Queens population is concerning, without a doubt.
There have been reports of the seating of Belson Stadium having the ability to be expanded to roughly 5,000 people. I, as a St. John’s student who parks under the stadium everyday, can sincerely see no feasible expansion, certainly none that reaches 5,000 total seats. Belson Stadium dubiously sits atop a parking garage, and is on the edge of said roof on three of its four sides. There are gaps in the bleachers: one on both sides of the press box stand, and one between the benches and near goal. All of these gaps, however, are designed in order to have use. Using the gap at the entrance would constrict fan movement entering the stadium before the match and after the match leaving it. The gap on the opposite side of the press box has been used for player entrances and exits from the pitch. The third gap between the benches and the near terraces, leads down a staircase to the parking lot and has also been used to regulate player and staff movement before, during, and after matches. The only feasible way to add any seats would be at gap number four, on the opposite side of the benches. However, that is barely any space at all. Any use of these gaps in seating would create a game-day operations nightmare.
In addition to lack of seating, Belson Stadium surprisingly has less room for amenities than Shuart Stadium. In previous games at Belson, the Cosmos have been able to fit a game day operations tent within the stadium as well as a “Fan Zone” on the hill directly behind the stadium’s press box stand. Furthermore, St. John’s (just like at college games) only provides a singular food truck near the entrance to the stadium to supplement their two vending machines near the bathrooms.
The surrounding area is not much more promising: a few fast food chains, a plethora of delis, and half a dozen dive bars litter the perimeter of St. John’s University. On campus, a Subway may be open before the match, but that is the most promising option.
In short, this venue has no amenities that scream title game, let alone preseason friendly.
Looking at all of these reasons, it’s clear that Belson Stadium is unfit to host the 2016 NASL Soccer Bowl. From amenities to numbers, it is not anywhere near a professional enough venue for a game of this magnitude, and is even below D-2 USSF Stadium Requirements.
The non-quantitative home field advantage may have been seen as reasonable against the facts and figures, but Belson’s negatives certainly give it’s abstract positives a run for their money.