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The final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is set for 2013, and while we still don’t know on which dates the U.S. Men’s National Team will be taking on the other five teams competing in the Hexagonal, we can start thinking about the venues that make the most sense to host those five important matches.
There are some venues that simply make too much sense, like Crew Stadium in Columbus and LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, but after that we are talking about three slots for more than a dozen potential venues to fight over. There are worthy candidates from coast to coast. Some with a history of being good USMNT hosts, and some others that haven’t really been given the chance yet.
Here is a closer look at the ten venues we could see having the best chances to earn the honor to host one of those five precious World Cup qualifiers:
1. CREW STADIUM, Columbus, Ohio
USMNT history– Has hosted the past three Hex home games vs. Mexico, all victories. Recently hosted a qualifying win vs. Jamaica.
Why it works– USMNT fans from the East Coast and Midwest converge, and there isn’t a strong presence from any other CONCACAF fan bases nearby.
Why it won’t– Crew Stadium is getting a game. Can’t see it not.
Outlook– USA-Mexico seems destined to return, but if something surprising happens with that game, you can bet U.S. Soccer will either put the Costa Rica or Honduras match there.
2. LIVESTRONG SPORTING PARK, Kansas City, Kansas
USMNT history– Gold Cup group stage victory vs. Guadeloupe in the 2011 Gold Cup, and more recently a World Cup qualifying win vs. Guatemala.
Why it works– A beautiful new stadium, strong foundation of fans from Sporting KC and it is in the middle if the country, within range of a wider variety of American fans.
Why it won’t– One of two clear-cut locks to host a Hex game.
Outlook– The scenes for the Guatemala qualifier were impressive, and the stadium provides a perfect atmosphere for a high-profile match. Livestrong could still snatch away USA-Mexico, but a more likely alternative is the Honduras match or Costa Rica match.
3. RFK STADIUM, Washington D.C.
USMNT history– It may be old, and run down, but RFK Stadium has hosted a qualifier in seven of the past nine World Cup qualifying rounds the USMNT has played in.
Why it works– There is something about the nation’s capital hosting qualifiers that just feels right. Throw in the rapid fans of the Northeast being able to make the trip relatively easily and you have a recipe for strong turnouts.
Why it won’t– The stadium is old, but a bigger concern is the proximity to fan bases of the other Hex teams. When USA played Honduras there in 2001, the stadium was two-thirds Honduran fans. U.S. Soccer did that on purpose for a payday, but after watching the team lose there it became clear the planning for future qualifiers there must be more careful.
Outlook– With Jurgen Klinsmann more actively involved in the selection of venues, you wonder if he will buy into the history of RFK as a good home for the national team. It is far from a sure thing, and the presence of newer stadiums nearby has to cut into RFK’s chances.
4. HOME DEPOT CENTER, Carson, Calif.
USMNT history– Has hosted one World Cup qualifier, a blowout win vs. Barbados in 2008.
Why it works– If Klinsmann wants to hold a lengthy camp around a home game, then his own home of Southern California could be a good fit.
Why it won’t– The commute for European-based players makes this an unlikely option outside of the summer, which reduces the number of possible games it can host.
Outlook– How the HEX schedule shakes out will determine if the Home Depot Center has any chance. if the USMNT home game against Mexico is during the summer, that will reduce the odds of seeing a qualifier there.
5. SOLDIER FIELD, Chicago
USMNT history– A crowd of 55,347 filled the stadium for a USA-Honduras qualifier in 2009. USA is 5-3-3 at the venue.
Why it works– Big stadium in a big city in the heart of the country, with a history of drawing very large crowds.
Why it won’t– LiveStrong Sporting Park looks like the new midwestern home of the USMNT.
Outlook– With LSP expected to get a game, it seems like a long-shot that Soldier Field would get one too, but the prospects of being able to draw more than 50,000 fans without having to go all the way to Seattle could make Soldier Field a good option.
6. RIO TINTO STADIUM, Sandy, Utah
USMNT history– Hosted the USMNT’s HEX win vs. El Salvador in 2009.
Why it works– A closer commute than the West Coast. Can produce a cold weather environment for a February. Strong home-crowd advantage.
Why it won’t– Altitude. Still a bit of a hike for European-based players.
Outlook– It has a chance, but we’d rule it an outsider right now.
7. LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD, Philadelphia, Pa.
USMNT history– Hosted a Gold Cup quarterfinal win vs. Panama in 2009, the USA-Mexico friendly in 2011 and the World Cup sendoff series win vs. Turkey in 2010.
Why it works– Strategically located to draw fans from New York and Washington D.C. Big stadium with a beautiful field and a track record of strong crowds for USMNT games.
Why it won’t– Location would also make it easy for large contingents of fans from all five HEX participants to travel.
Outlook– The best alternative to New York and Washington, and a venue Klinsmann is familiar with. PPL Park is also an option in this market, but it’s small size makes Lincoln Financial Field the more sensible option.
8. LP FIELD, Nashville, Tenn.
USMNT history– Hosted the HEX win vs. Trinidad & Tobago in 2009 (27,959) and a friendly loss to Paraguay in 2011 (29,059).
Why it works– In terms of southern venues, LP Field has become the unofficial southern home of the USMNT. It’s location leads to a good draw from the south, midwest and even the East.
Why it won’t– The nightmares of the failed U.S. Olympic qualifying run last spring are still fresh in the mind, though it would make for a great redemption story.
Outlook– It caters to an underserved area of the country, has drawn good crowds before, and the stadium can hold a large crowd assuming it is an important match. An outside chance of getting a game, but a chance nonetheless.
8. CENTURYLINK FIELD, Seattle
USMNT history– Has hosted four USMNT matches in the past, including three Gold Cup matches, never drawing more than 17,819 (but that was before the MLS Seattle Sounders era).
Why it works– Have you been to a Sounders game recently? The MLS club has energized the city of Seattle, turning it into one of, if not THE strongest soccer fan haven in America.
Why it won’t– Artificial turf is the big drawback. And no, laying down grass doesn’t work because temporary grass fields are never as good as natural fields. There is also the travel time issue for European-based players. Even with those two drawbacks, it certainly does feel like there is more at play here as to why the national team hasn’t been back since the 2009 Gold Cup.
Outlook– As amazing as the scene is in Seattle, CenturyLink continues to look like a serious long-shot for a USMNT match.
10. EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
USMNT history– Hosted the USMNT’s blowout win vs. Scotland in May.
Why it works– This venue drew a great crowd for the Scotland match, providing the kind of energy that is sure to stick in Klinsmann’s mind as he considers venues.
Why it won’t– Could lose out if U.S. Soccer wants to limit the number of small markets that get HEX games.
Outlook– Call it a long shot, but the crowd in May definitely made an impression that puts them on the list.
There are certainly other venues worthy of consideration, from Red Bull Arena, to BBVA Compass Stadium to Jeld-Wen Field, but given the history of some of these venues, and based on the track record of venues selected in the past, the aforementioned group of stadiums make the most sense to be in the final mix. Could we see a surprise? Absolutely, but I would be very surprised if at least four of the five HEX home qualifiers for the USMNT aren’t played in venues listed here.
Now is your chance to vote. Cast your vote for the five venues you would like to see host Hexagonal Round home qualifiers for the U.S. Men’s National Team here (please select five venues):
What do you think of the list? Which five venues did you choose? Is there a venue you hope doesn’t make the final cut? Is there a longshot venue you’re praying makes the cut?
Share your thoughts below.