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The Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying gives each of the participating teams five home matches, five chances to host crucial qualifiers, five opportunities to let fans see important matches on their native soil.
For some countries, picking the venues for these matches is relatively easy. For some, like the United States, the wealth of options often leads to tough decisions and inevitably some unhappy fans who are forced to travel some distance to see the national team play.
Two of the U.S. national team's five home qualifiers have been set, with the Mexico match set for Feb. 11 in Columbus, Ohio and the Trinidad & Tobago match set for April 1 in Nashville. That leaves three home dates and a plethora of cities hoping to get the call.
Here is a look at the cities that should be in the mix for those dates, as well as a look back at previous Hexagonal round hosts:
Here are the host cities of the past three U.S. cycles of Hexagonal Round qualifying:
2005– Foxborough, Columbus, East Hartford, Birmingham, Salt Lake City
2001– Columbus, Kansas City, Foxborough (2), Washington D.C.
1997– Palo Alto, Foxborough (2), Portland, Washington D.C.
What does this track record of home venues show us? Well, for starters, either Foxborough Stadium or the current Gillette Stadium have hosted at least one match during the Hexagonal Round, and a total of five Hex home dates in the past three.
You will also notice a dearth of Western venues. Palo Alto and Salt Lake City are the lone Western venues in this mix.
You will also notice the absence of Chicago, which has never hosted a Hex home date. In fact, Soldier Field has never played host to a World Cup qualifier of any kind.
Can U.S. Soccer address some of these issues with the three remaining unassigned home dates? It is possible and actually pretty likely, which is why Soldier Field and the newly-built Rio Tinto Stadium are looking like good bets to host matches.
Here are some candidates to host:
Chicago– The suburb of Bridgeview hosted the Trinidad & Tobago qualifier in the previous round of qualifying and the attendance was disappointing. Soldier Field looks like the safer bet if the USSF calls on Chicago again. There are rumblings that the Honduras qualifier on June 6th will be held at Soldier Field.
Salt Lake City– Rio Tinto Stadium is arguably the most beautiful stadium in MLS and Salt Lake City's central location for most of the Western states makes it the perfect place to cater to a side of the country that hasn't had many Hex matches in the past. If U.S. Soccer wants to take advantage of cold weather again, as in Columbus, an Oct. 15th match-up against Costa Rica might be a bit chilly in Utah. The only problem with that date is that the New York Red Bulls face Real Salt Lake that same night. Could we have a doubleheader?
Washington D.C.-RFK Stadium hosted a great turnout for the 6-1 drubbing of Cuba last round but memories of the 2001 Hexagonal loss to Honduras (when Honduran fans outnumbered U.S. fans by a more than 2 to 1 margin) still linger. With Honduras and El Salvador among the remaining opponents, that would leave the Oct. 15th qualifier against Costa Rica as the most practical choice. Would U.S. Soccer risk the home-field edge yet again by playing host to El Salvador at RFK Stadium on Sept. 5th? Considering the potential crowd such a match would draw, something tells me it shouldn't be ruled out.
Foxborough, Mass.– Most fans outside of New England and the New York/New Jersey area are likely to object to Gillette Stadium even being considered, which is fair considering New England has hosted multiple Hexagonal qualifiers in each of the past three cycles, but that track record means you have to include Gillette in the conversation. Could the folks in Foxborough wind up settling for Gold Cup matches instead? It is a real possibility, and the most fair move the USSF could make.
Philadelphia– So why Philadelphia? It would give the East Coast (and by East Coast I mean New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) its first Hexagonal home qualifier. It is probably a long-shot, but there is something to be said for having Philly host a match just months before the Philadelphia MLS expansion team is set to kick off.
East Hartford, Connecticut– Rentschler Field did a fine job in 2005 of being the host for a Hex home game, but the AEG-operated venue is probably too much of a long-shot this time around. Consider it an emergency alternative, though one that probably won't be needed this time around.
So what do I see happening? I see Chicago, Salt Lake City and Washington D.C. being chosen for the three remaining unassigned home dates. The safer bet would be El Salvador in Utah on Sept. 5th and Costa Rica at RFK Stadium on Oct. 14th, but flipping those two games would make for some interesting crowds.
What do you think? Which cities would you like to see receive one of the three remaining home dates?
Which cities are you hoping get home qualifiers? What would be your ideal schedule?
Share your thoughts below.