Photo by ISIPhotos.com
Now that the U.S. Men’s National Team knows the schedule for the Hexagonal Round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in 2013, it is time to start thinking about where the U.S. team’s five home qualifiers will be played.
It will be a while before we find out which five lucky venues will be selected, especially since there is only one home qualifier being played before June, but it isn’t too early to think about which venues make the most sense to host those five qualifiers.
Two venues seem like locks to host matches. Crew Stadium in Columbus and LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas both were outstanding hosts for qualifiers in 2012, and both are safe bets to be called on again for the Hexagonal.
That leaves three slots for three lucky venues. When considering the potential home qualifying sites, you have to consider not only the potential for drawing strong home crowds, but also fitting in logistically with things like travel and proximity to sites of subsequent road qualifiers.
With all that in mind, here are the five venues we see hosting 2013 home World Cup qualifiers for the USMNT, and the matches they would host:
March 22nd- vs. Costa Rica at Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy Utah
So why Rio Tinto? With a likely trip to Mexico City to face Mexico four days later, the U.S. can set up shop in Utah and play at altitude to get them prepared for that match. It would only be about a three-hour flight to Mexico City, and Rio Tinto could offer some good home-field advantage. RSL fans would also get the chance to see Alvaro Saborio, not that it would factor into the decision to pick Rio Tinto.
June 11th vs. Panama at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
With a June 7th visit to Jamaica beforehand, it is safe to bet that the U.S. will play on the East coast four days later. If you project at least three qualifiers being played in smaller soccer-specific stadiums, you would have to imagine that at least one or two matches will be played at larger venues. Lincoln Financial Field has drawn good crowds for USMNT games in recent years, and would allow the national team to tap into the New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. markets.
The other alternative here is southern markets like Nashville and Jacksonville. They would be a short distance from Jamaica, and would tap into an underserved region of the country. A southern venue would also free up Lincoln Financial Field for the Honduras home qualifier.
June 18th vs. Honduras at CenturyLink Field, Seattle
In a perfect world, the USMNT flies a few extra hours to Seattle, to play this game at CenturyLink Field. With no games after it, and with European-based players set for vacations, it would be a perfect chance to play a game in a market with a large and fervent soccer fan base. Throw in the fact this game would be played in mid-June and you could have a scenario where the Seattle Sounders install a quality grass surface that wouldn’t interfere with the Seahawks.
So what stands in the way of this? U.S. Soccer has to decide whether playing on a temporary grass field is acceptable, and Jurgen Klinsmann has to decide whether it is worth traveling a few extra hours to tap into Seattle’s fan base. If the decision is that Seattle is simply not viable, then U.S. Soccer could make Lincoln Financial Field the home for this qualifier, with a market like Jacksonville or Nashville serving as the market for the Panama home qualifier. That is unless U.S. Soccer decides to play a game at RFK Stadium or Soldier Field, two venues where Honduran fans have outnumbered U.S. fans in World Cup qualifying in the past. Somehow, I don’t see Klinsmann going for that.
Sept. 10th vs. Mexico at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
There is too much tradition in having USA-Mexico in Columbus to not project it as the pick, but you definitely should not rule out LiveStrong Sporting Park as a viable alternative. If it isn’t in Columbus, this one will be in Kansas City.
Oct. 11th vs. Jamaica, at LiveStrong Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas
If Kansas City doesn’t succeed in prying away the Mexico home qualifier from Columbus, then there would be no better venue to have the final home qualifier than LiveStrong Sporting Park. When you consider that this could be the match that clinches the U.S. team’s place in the 2014 World Cup, and you remember the crowd at the Hex-clinching Guatemala qualifier in October, you can see why this makes too much sense.
It should be noted that the Hex home qualifiers aren’t the only game in town in 2013. The Gold Cup will also be played next summer, meaning U.S. fans will have even more chances to see the national team play. And it also means that those venues that miss out on the five HEX home qualifiers will still have the chance to host meaningful matches.
What do you think about these selections? Which do you love? Which, if any, do you hate? What venue not on our list would you like to see a HEX qualifier played at?
Share your thoughts below.