FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It may be one of the most redundant statements in Major League Soccer: The New England Revolution remain committed to building a soccer-specific stadium inside or near Boston’s urban center, but the club can’t comment on specifics.
The latest iteration, Monday morning, came straight from Revolution investor/operator Robert Kraft, who had just plunged a shovel into the wetlands behind Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, where he’s building a new, $35 million training facility exclusively for his MLS team.
“We hope this is the first of two great groundbreakings,” Kraft said during the ceremony for the new project, which will be completed in 2019. Kraft alluded to a future stadium build while flanked by his son, Jonathan, who is also a club investor/operator, general manager Mike Burns and president Brian Bilello.
Few doubt the Kraft family’s acumen as businesspeople and philanthropists. They’ve probably earned more plaudits for the way they run the New England Patriots, the five-time Super Bowl champions. But many in the soccer community – both in New England and beyond – just don’t see the Krafts showing the same tender love and care to the Revolution.
The soccer stadium issue remains a sticking point for even the most ardent Revolution fans, though complaints have also been levied about the club’s management and its roster, which is mostly devoid of marquee players. Additionally, the club was eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight year over the weekend.
Even on a day like Monday, when Kraft broke ground on a new multi-million dollar facility, the club is getting heckled on social media for not yet having a stadium to call its own.
The Krafts reportedly have been close to a stadium deal on a number of occasions. They’ve looked at sites near Boston, including in adjacent communities of Somerville, Quincy and Everett. They’ve spent more than $10 million exploring possible stadium solutions, according to The Boston Globe, and last year even released renderings of a facility with a capacity of 20,000-30,000 after a deal fell through near the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh seems to favor the Revs leaving Foxborough and moving north. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker appears to be for it as well, though he’s not as vocal.
That said, the club wants to build some momentum through the construction of the new training facility, which will serve both the first team and academy program.
The site is on 68 acres of wetlands to the southeast of Gillette Stadium. The project includes three new practice fields (two grass, one turf) and a 42,000-square-foot building that includes workout rooms, a meal center, lounge and even a barbershop.
Additionally, the club plans to move its administrative offices to the facility and is exploring the possibility of having a residency program.
When plans were first announced for the facility last fall, supporters immediately took that to mean the club had abandoned hope on a new stadium. The club has rejected that notion, and said it wants to maintain a presence in Foxborough into the future.
“This is not precluding us from doing something with a stadium; we are trying to pursue a stadium off-site,” Bilello said. “But the amount of land we have here gives us flexibility. We wanted to make sure our site wasn’t landlocked if we needed another field or a residency program, or if just the way we train athletes means in the future we need twice as much space.
For the amount of money we’re investing in this, it can’t last five years. It needs to last 30 years, 50 years, in one way shape or another. And if it needs to be upgraded, it can be.”
So no, it’s not a stadium, but it does appear to be a step in the right direction when it comes to attracting, retaining, and training new talent.