By Josh Brokaw
There is only one team in the USL PRO that is undefeated. The Richmond Kickers are currently sitting at seven wins, five draws, and zero losses. It is impressive for sure, but it is also telling that the majority of Richmonds games have been at home. Out of all twelve of their games only one has been played away in league play. Granted they won the away game but it was against the Wilmington Hammerheads. The Hammerheads haven’t exactly had a fantastic season so far.
This got me wondering about home field advantage in the USL PRO. How much does it really affect teams in the third division. After all some teams don’t exactly have huge numbers of fans cheering them on. Granted there is still the small issue of travel for away teams but is that really all there is to it?
If you want to know how much travel can hurt a team just look at the Richmond Kickers polar opposites, the Antigua Barracudas. Unlike the Kickers, they have not played a single game at home. They are the USL PRO’s traveling team. It has been a terrible season for this team. They have not managed to scrape together a single win. They haven’t even been able to get a draw. You can be sure that a big factor in this team’s failure to produce comes from not having any home games.
What about teams that don’t play in front of big crowds? Do they still have home field advantage? Let’s take a look at VSI Tampa Bay. Their average home game sees around 250 people. Those numbers are not exactly the twelfth man on the field you hear about when it comes to home field advantage. Their home record is 6-1-1. While their away record is 1-5-1. That is a pretty huge difference. Only 1 single win away out of 7 games. So despite VSI playing in front of a very small amount of people they are still seeing a huge difference at home compared to away. Perhaps it’s the heat?
Even the best team in the league has weaker away stats. Orlando City has won every single game they’ve played at home. They have been defeated once in league play this season and it was away. They have also drawn twice away.
There is another factor that could be giving these teams a home field advantage, the field itself. Unlike other sports the requirements for a pro soccer field isn’t exact. It has to fit within a range of measurements but each field is a little different. There is also the fact that each field has its own field due to differences in grass. I’m not just talking about artificial turf compared to real grass. I’m also talking about the makeup of what’s under the grass. Ask any player and they will tell you that each field has its own feel.
So why is home field advantage in soccer such a big deal? I think in the end it is a combination of all of the above. A home team doesn’t have to spend time on a bus, they have the support of their fans behind them, and they better understand the field under their feet. So even if the stadium is a converted baseball field and you are only playing in front of 250 fans, you still have that edge over the away team.