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The Carson Show

The Home Depot Center has been open a little more than two months but has already become the three-ring sports circus planners envisioned

August 10, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

It was a sweltering August afternoon and the web of locker room tunnels that make up the basement of the Home Depot Center in Carson was buzzing with activity.

In a room down one hallway, Martina Navratilova stretched between matches at the JPMorgan Chase Open women's tennis tournament, while James Lofton, recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and a San Diego Charger assistant coach, walked a bike back to his office.

Turn a corner and you bumped into two 300-pound Charger linemen on their way to lunch as they pass a room with Cobi Jones and a couple of his Galaxy teammates getting ready for their soccer game later in the day.

Welcome to the busy world of the Home Depot Center, where you can see an odd yet remarkable mix of world-class athletes go to work every day.

"This is incredible, so many sports in one facility," Kim Clijsters, the No. 2-ranked player on the women's tennis circuit, said after her first-round match last week. "It's great to see all the other athletes and how they train and prepare for their seasons."

The first event at the new complex was an invitational track and field meet, which drew a spirited crowd of 10,000 on June 1.

Except for a few big-time soccer matches, such as the Galaxy's home opener June 7 and Mexico vs. El Salvador on July 6, the growing sports empire at the 125-acre complex located on the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus was kept under wraps for nearly two months.

But that began to change when the Chargers opened training camp July 22. With an NFL team practicing, meeting and eating on the grounds every day, the complex suddenly had a steady flow of activity. Then things really picked up:

* Lazio, a major professional soccer team from Italy, worked out at the facility for nearly two weeks on off-days during its American summer tour.

* The Dave Matthews Band held concerts in front of packed crowds July 26 and 27.

* The Major League Soccer All-Star game was played Aug. 2, and the Galaxy had two other games last week.

* The JPMorgan Chase Open began Monday and concludes today.

Then there are the numerous local minor sports organizations that take advantage of the facilities nearly every day. The same weekend of the Dave Matthews Band concerts, a youth girls' soccer tournament staged more than 80 games in two days. And the Los Angeles Field Hockey Assn. began using the grass field in the middle of the track and field complex as a training site last Sunday.

"There was considerable foresight on the part of the people who developed this place," said Charger Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has raved about the location since the start of training camp. "To be able to host as many events that they do and at the same time not have people falling all over each other is truly remarkable. I know that other events have been taking place, but there's been nothing going on that's been distracting to us."

Maria Sharapova, a 16-year-old Russian tennis player, even put on shoulder pads and Doug Flutie's No. 7 jersey and threw a few passes with the veteran quarterback after the Chargers' afternoon workout Wednesday.

Later that evening, the complex had its first dual crowd experience, with a Galaxy game against the Fresno Fuego in the U.S. Open Cup and the JPMorgan Chase Open.

Lindsay Davenport's match against Barbara Schett was interrupted more than once by roars from Galaxy fans cheering their team's 3-1 victory.

"I heard the goals [and] the music," Davenport said. "It was kind of crazy out there."

*

Developed and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group, which also owns Staples Center, the Kings and Galaxy, the Home Depot Center is a $150-million privately funded sports playground, highlighted by a 27,000-seat soccer stadium and a tennis stadium that can seat 13,000.

The Galaxy is the complex's main tenant, but the defending MLS champions are not alone.

The Home Depot Center has nine soccer fields, including one on artificial surface, and serves as the national training headquarters for the U.S. Soccer Federation. It has 30 tennis courts, both hard and clay, and is the national training center for the U.S. Tennis Assn.; a world-class facility for USA Track & Field; beach volleyball capabilities for the AVP; and the ADT Event Center, home of the nation's only indoor velodrome for USA Cycling, scheduled to open next summer. The complex also is designated as an official U.S. Olympic training site.

Once the ADT Center opens, organizers are considering adding full-time training programs for indoor volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and martial arts inside the velodrome.

"I don't think that the concrete at the HDC ever really settles," said Beth White, general manager of the Home Depot Center.

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