This past Saturday, the US Men’s National Soccer Team came to East Hartford, Conn., for the first time since 2018. The occasion was an international friendly played against Germany, a perennial powerhouse across the Atlantic. It was the eighth time the men’s team played at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, and the crowd did not disappoint. Over 37,500 fans came out to watch, the biggest soccer crowd in stadium history. But not everyone was satisfied.
“Gray day in a gray, second-rate stadium for a first-rate visitor,” Washington Post’s Steven Goff tweeted pregame.
The first-rate visitor was Germany, an accurate statement. Dubbing Rentschler Field as a second-rate stadium, though? That’s disrespectful – and not totally accurate. Perhaps it’s easy to go to the best stadiums in the world and get underwhelmed by The Rent.
But why say that in the first place? I wouldn’t go to a friend’s house for dinner and then tweet out, “iffy house for a good family.” That’s one way to not get invited back. Where I come from, I try to be a respectful visitor, but maybe people had different upbringings than I did.
Putting any respect aside, Rentschler was the perfect venue for the game. Starting with its perks, they have great concessions highlighted by Connecticut staples Bear’s BBQ, the UConn Dairy Bar and Worcester Street Pizza. These eats are all above what most venues have to offer. In terms of size, it’s also great with a 40,000-person capacity. This is small enough to feel intimate but big enough to really rock when there’s an exciting game.
The Stars and Stripes have been much more focused on growing their crowd in other regions of the country these past few years. Friendlies have recently been played in the Midwest and West, with the Northeast something of an afterthought. New Jersey hosted the national team’s last game in the region all the way back in 2019, more than four years ago.
For an area that makes up so much of America and is so densely populated, this feels like it should be a location to focus on. But alas, it’s one that’s been placed on the back burner as of late. With the lack of games, this showdown was a hot ticket. As a paying customer for this one, I tracked ticket prices intensely in the week leading up. The lowest offering for a ticket never dipped below $100, a sign of a desirable contest to attend.
In the hours leading up to kick-off, the parking lot filled and people dribbled into the stadium. By the time the match was underway, the stadium was full. The crowd was alive in the first half with the rain holding off and the USA offering many exciting attacks. The area typically reserved for the UConn football student section was the rowdiest, but the entire stadium was packed as the players seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy.
This was all the more true when captain Christian Pulisic scored a fantastic goal to kick off the match’s scoring. Everyone supporting the States went wild, but that was, unfortunately, the last one they got to cheer for.
“It was amazing,” US goalkeeper Matt Turner noted postgame. “I thought the atmosphere was great. I wish we could have given them a little bit more, but I think we gave them some moments kids that might not have a chance to see the national team very often can be inspired from.”
Pulisic shared Turner’s sentiment.
“It was phenomenal,” the captain said. “First time I’ve been out here. It was really great, all the support you could see outside, all the support in the stadium. It was awesome, so I was really appreciative of that.”
This game proves that the general issue with Rentschler Field has much more to do with its inhabitants than any inherent flaws. Aside from parking and exiting, it’s a great environment to watch a game, so long as the stadium is full. When the product on the field is as unappealing as UConn football has put out lately, barring last year, people aren’t going to attend. But time and again, The Rent has been electric when there’s been an exciting show to watch. The USMNT is the latest example, but this dates back to the stadium’s earlier days when Connecticut football was at its peak.
“When we played at UConn my freshman year, that was the loudest place I’ve ever been as a football player,” former Baylor and NFL QB Robert Griffin III noted after he graduated. “The stands are right next to the field, it was packed and everyone was yelling.”
That’s not a bad review for a “second-rate” stadium.
Maybe Rentschler Field isn’t the dream location, nor does it have perfect amenities. But it’s perfect for its purpose and was a fantastic place to host USMNT Saturday. It’s loud, energetic and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Regardless of what some may think, The Rent should welcome more soccer matches, as a great atmosphere with the perfect capacity.