Village of Lisle Benedictine University Sports Complex (map it)
5700 College Rd
Lisle, IL 60532
Year Opened: 2005
There are no tickets available at this time.
Official Review by Marc Heiden, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In the wake of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the 2015 World Cup, there has been a new wave of interest in women’s professional soccer. Enter the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, who play in the western suburb of Lisle.
There’s plenty of talent on the field, but it’s not easy to be a tenant at a multi-purpose stadium, particularly one that’s designed for several different sports.
Can the Red Stars capitalize on the opportunity?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession stands are a disaster. The lines are ridiculous from well before the game to the point near the end when nobody wants to bother waiting any more. While there are several windows (in a row, near the stadium entrance), they are staffed by teenagers with no experienced supervision in sight, so there is little coordination or advance planning in the kitchen.
At a match I attended, a trip to the concessions early in the second half ended up costing 32 minutes of game time, and half of the items I planned to try were gone (or required a ten minute wait) by the time I got to the window. In the meantime, I watched two kids in neighboring lines having meltdowns over having to walk away empty-handed (after waiting a half hour) because the game was about to end.
All told, fans should only plan to deal with the concession stands if the group has a patsy who's willing to stand in line and miss a bunch of the game.
At least the food is cheap and the quality is decent, with Eisenberg hot dogs ($2.75) and brats ($3.50), gooey slices of cheese pizza ($2.75), and popcorn ($2.25) heading the menu. Desserts are also cheap, including freeze-pops ($1) and ice cream sandwiches ($2.50).
Look for a yellow menu off to the left for alcoholic beverages, which include Miller Lite ($4/$5.50) and Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, and Sam Adams ($6/$7) along with Mike's Hard Lemonade ($4.50) and margaritas ($5.50).
The field is painted for soccer, football, and lacrosse, creating a bizarre mess of numbers, colors, lines, and shapes. (Even an experienced fan will lose track of which one is the sideline for soccer.) The modest scoreboard only shows the score and time left, and the reddish numbers can be difficult to read until the sun has gone down.
The biggest problem is a highly conspicuous running track between the main seating area and the field. The team sells "VIP" cocktail tables in that space, but when half of the tables are empty - and the other half are occupied by people whose attention appears to be occupied elsewhere - it creates a huge energy drain between the bulk of the fans and the game. The space would be perfectly suited for getting the crowd in the main seating area excited, whether via marching band, a cheer squad, a mascot, or practically anything other than cocktail tables.
Another challenge posed by the running track is that it separates the Red Stars supporters club - who sit in the goal-side bleachers - from the rest of the crowd. The supporters are great, but they aren't loud enough to cover that distance, so there's no connection between them and the rest of the fans. Put the supporters club into the main seating area and it could really transform the atmosphere.
The Red Stars have pretty slick branding and their flags and banners look great wherever they are displayed, particularly against the red bricks of the stadium.
The sound system is good, but music cues are mostly restricted to halftime, and the announcer does not always seem to be engaged in what's happening on the field. For example, there was an amusing halftime promotion involving kids in plastic bubbles trying to knock each other over, but the announcer ignored it, taking the microphone only to read a few sponsor promos. Likewise, the Red Stars have a Philly Phanatic-esque mascot, Supernova, but he or she stands off to the side for most of the game, rarely engaging with fans.
There's unrealized potential here. A cash-strapped club may not be able to compete on video boards or fireworks, but enthusiasm is free.
What can you say? It's the suburbs. The only local landmark of note is the beautiful Morton Arboretum, which is well worth a visit.
There are a few fast food places on Maple Ave between the highway and the campus. Best bets are El Burrito Mexicano (1219 N Maple St.), a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that outperforms its size, and Passero's Pizza (5328 Main St.), a family friendly pizza joint just north of Maple on IL-53.
The only bar that merits consideration is the Squirrel Cage Tavern (5528 Lincoln Ave.), just south of Maple on IL-53. It looks like somebody's house outside, so watch for the Pabst sign out front. Inside is a classic little dive bar with cheap beer and liquors like Malört that have tormented Chicagoans' livers for generations.
Between the suburban location and the popularity of youth soccer leagues, it's no surprise that this is an overwhelmingly family oriented crowd - lots of parents and packs of children under twelve. Each one of the goal-side bleachers had at least one kid zoned out with an iPad on the grass under the stands while the rest of the family watched the game.
That said, most of the fans are attentive; a missed shot or a hard tackle will always get an audible reaction, and the crowd picks up the intensity near the end of a close game. More knowledgeable soccer fans seem to prefer the goal-side bleachers.
The supporters club is a charming bunch - they don't try to outperform their numbers sound-wise, but it's clear that they have personal affection for the team and a bunch of customized songs and chants to express it.
Lisle is 45-60 minutes west of Chicago. Take the Maple Ave exit of I-355 S and head two miles west to the Benedictine campus. Coming from Chicago, traffic tends to be bad on I-90 W, the first portion of the drive, but clears up after that (I-290 W to I-88 W to I-355 S). Bring change for tolls if you don't have an express pass. From anywhere other than Lisle itself, it's a long drive that may confuse drivers unfamiliar to the area, and not particularly scenic at that.
Parking is free at lots around the Benedictine campus, but there's nowhere near enough of it, and there are no signs or stadium personnel to help; as a result, the situation is pretty chaotic by gametime. Parking on the grass seems to be permissible as a resort for late-comers.
Going to the game by public transportation is possible, but not really practical. Take the Metra BNSF Line from Chicago's Union Station to Lisle (about an hour), then call a taxi from the station or walk about two miles to the field. If you choose the latter, bring a map or a phone with GPS, and expect some pedestrian unfriendly areas.
Access for fans in wheelchairs is limited. There is only one elevator, which is out of the way and labeled as restricted (for media only), and the team doesn't post any staff nearby; this elevator reaches the party/observation deck. Otherwise, the only wheelchair accessible seats are near the bottom of the bleachers and on the sidelines. There is a ramp at the far end of the stadium, past the Section 100 stands.
Ticket prices are comparable to a lower-tier NCAA Division I men's basketball game, and the quality of play is at least as good. Factor in the cheap food and free parking, and this is a good value.
The General Reserve bleachers ($15) are a good deal, other than sections 100 & 108, which are partly vacant. The Club Reserve seats ($20) are the next step up, covering the central sections of the main seating area, but a lower seat in General sections 102 & 106 would offer a better view and more space than a seat in the upper Club sections (103-105), as long as you don't mind bleachers rather than stadium seats.
Without a video replay board, it can be tough to follow the action at the other end from the goal-side bleachers ($30), but the atmosphere and camaraderie are worth the price for a serious fan.
The field side VIP seats ($60) are really comfortable and get close to the action, though a cheap plastic chain fence partially obscures the view from those seats. What is a team saying to its highest-paying customers if it thinks they're a liability to rush the field, and what is the team saying about security if it thinks a cheap plastic chain fence is enough to keep that from happening?
On the whole, it's hard to recommend the more expensive seats, and the fans seemed to agree - everything above the goal-side bleachers in price was sparsely attended.
I'll add a point for the family friendly atmosphere. Kids seem comfortable engaging with Red Stars games at their own pace. Off to the side, between the ticket gate and the stadium entrance, there is a nice patch of grass where kids can pass a soccer ball around and burn off some energy. (It would be wise to have some stadium personnel around to keep that from spilling over into the walkways by the concession stands, though.)
A second point goes to the high quality of play. With so many of the world's best female athletes playing in a fairly small league, there's a lot of talent on almost every NWSL team; anyone who enjoys soccer will recognize the quality of play here.
It's hard to imagine a professional team succeeding at Benedictine University over the long-term, but finding the right place to move - and the right time to do it - is a lot easier said than done.
At present, the Red Stars are putting a great product on the field, and if the 2016 Summer Olympics can help continue the momentum from the World Cup, the stars may align in their favor.
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