122112_hexstadiums_saltlakecity_isi_uswnt033110167 George Frey/isiphotos.com
The Hexagonal

Handicapping the Hex: Who Will Host the U.S. Games?

Will Seattle get a game? Does New York have a shot? Who will win the jackpot—the Mexico match on September 10? ASN's Jon Arnold digs deep into the 2013 Hex schedule and forecasts the winners and losers.
ASN Slideshow 122112_hexstadiums_kansas_skcwebsite
BY Jon Arnold Posted
December 21, 2012
11:17 AM
(Ednote: Check out our Hexagonal stadium slideshow at right.)

The United States advanced. The dates are set. Jurgen Klinsmann has to get the players ready, but preparations for the Hexagonal do not end there. The U.S. Soccer Federation needs to start selecting the venues to host the five all-important home matches during this final round of World Cup qualification in 2013.

While most countries have a national stadium where they play key international matches, the United States has no such venue. Blame James Monroe or maybe Lewis and Clark. America is a huge country, and the federation spreads out WCQ games to various venues around the nation.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors influencing where to put each qualifier. It’s preferable to have a crowd that’s actively singing and cheering in support of the U.S. rather than the opposition—something that isn’t always guaranteed because of the country’s large immigrant population. It’s also ideal to make conditions as unpleasant as possible to create an even larger home field advantage for the Yanks. Luckily for the U.S., there’s plenty of climate variance they can leverage.

With that being said, it’s not always apparent which cities will foster the best environment. Will the presale of tickets be large enough to keep opposing supporters from snatching up swaths of tickets once they’re available to the general public? Is the city strategically located, allowing for players coming from all parts of North America and Europe to travel with minimal disruption? Is there enough of a soccer community in that city to create a passionate atmosphere? These conditions and more all must be considered. We do have some clues. In a recent interview with Grant Wahl that aired on Fox Soccer, USSF President Sunil Gulati said the majority of the five matches would be in MLS venues.

With that in mind, we take a look at nearly a dozen options for U.S. Soccer in the selection process and why they may or may not be good places to play a Hex match. For visuals on each venue, click on the slide show ("See All Photos") at the top of this article.

Let’s just get this out of the way. Since the Sounders made their MLS debut in 2009, the city has been the standard bearer for passionate soccer fans in this country. And yet, aside from matches in Los Angeles, the U.S. has made only one West Coast appearance since the Sounders' MLS inception—a 4-0 Gold Cup-opening victory against Grenada at Century Link (then Qwest Field) in 2009. There hasn’t been a final round qualifier on the West Coast since 1997.

The Hispanic population of Seattle proper is 6.6% , and while that number is increasing it’s lower than any other city in contention. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a safe bet Seattle would provide an ardent pro-U.S. crowd. It’s also known to get pretty cold there. One big problem: Century Link Field has artificial turf, which U.S. Soccer would prefer not to utilize. Grass can be overlaid on turf, but that usually creates an equally suspect playing field. Even so, Seattle has gained some traction in recent weeks.

“We are in active conversations with U.S. Soccer. We don't want to just bring any old game here. If we bring a game, we want it to have some meaning and be a game our fans are going to enjoy, not just be a money grab for U.S. Soccer,” Adrian Hanauer, general manager of the Sounders, said at an end-of-year business meeting. “That is something we're working on. With a little bit of luck and a little hard work, we might have something that we can hang our hats on in the near future here.”

Still, it’s difficult to tell if Seattle will be able to work through both artificial turf and a West Coast location to secure a qualifier. They appear to have a chance, which is something.
Seattle's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 3/1
Most likely opponent: Panama, June 11
Why Seattle will get this match: Passionate supporters
Why it won’t: Turf

Livestrong Sporting Park, located just on the Kansas side of the border, looks like a shoo-in to host a national team qualifier after tremendous atmospheres greeted the Yanks in both a 2011 Gold Cup match against Guadeloupe and a 3-1 win against Guatemala to close out the seminfinal round of qualification in 2012.

“We’ve not always had a pro-U.S. crowd, but this is a city where we do,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said prior to the Guatemala win.

Howard wasn't the only one who noticed the reception: “First of all, we’d like to thank that amazing crowd here and all the people involved in the game here in Kansas City,” manager Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the big influencers in selecting a venue, said after the match. “It was phenomenal. It was quite an experience for all of us, even for the European players who are used to kind of big places.”

It’s not just any qualifier Kansas City is hoping to nab, though. Oh, no. Sporting Kansas City president Robb Heineman always thinks bigger and is hoping to bring the crown jewel of the Hex schedule, the match against Mexico, to KC.

“I think it’s clear that Jurgen thinks Livestrong is the best place for the Mexico game,” he told the Kansas City Star. “As far as amenities for players and the environment the fans create, there is no better place.” Heineman is hardly an impartial observer, but he’s right in thinking it's not a question of whether KC will get a match but rather which one.

An interesting wrinkle is a report from a Costa Rican journalist, since deleted, that the city will host the home opener for the Americans against the Ticos, defying conventional wisdom that either Mexico or Honduras will be coming to LSP.
Kansas City's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 2/5
Most likely opponent: Honduras, June 18
Why Kansas City will get this match: Great venue, better support
Why it won’t: USSF wanting to spread the wealth

Two key stats tell the story of why Columbus, Ohio, while not the biggest city, the coolest city, or the easiest city to get to, will almost certainly get a Hexagonal nod: "3-0" and "2-0." The former is the U.S. national team's record against Mexico in World Cup qualifiers in Crew Stadium; the latter is the scoreline for each of those victories, coming in 2001, 2005 and 2009. There’s no reason to believe that things will be any different the fourth time around.

Like Kansas City, Columbus is a city that has proven it can draw a pro-U.S. crowd. It hosted a semifinal round qualifying match late this year. It’s also appropriately chilly, though it has an average temperature just under 80 degrees in September when the match with Mexico is to be played. That won’t do much to shiver El Tri’s timbers.

“Playing a World Cup qualifier in Columbus makes perfect sense, from the quality of the venue to the amazing history the U.S. team has at Columbus Crew Stadium,” Klinsmann said in May 2012 after the announcement that the USMNT would play a third-round match there. “The support of the home crowd for these qualifiers can be a big positive for the team, and the fans in Columbus have shown time and time again how much they appreciate the national team. I have always heard how great a host Columbus is for these games, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it for myself.”

With the team’s sterling record there (6-0-3 overall), Central Ohio should get the red carpet ready. The one wrinkle would be if Kansas City nabs the Mexico game. If that happens, there is a slight chance Columbus could be left out altogether for a sexier venue.
Columbus' odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 1/2
Most likely opponent: Mexico, Sept. 10
Why Columbus will get this match: Past American triumphs
Why it won’t: Not glamorous enough

This creates an interesting dilemma. New York City, as you’re probably aware, is the largest city in the United States and a major media hub. MetLife Stadium, the home of the NFL's Jets and Giants, has hosted several international friendlies, including a U.S.-Argentina contest in 2011. It, like Seattle, would require grass to be put over FieldTurf.

Red Bull Arena over in Harrison would provide a natural grass field, but memories linger of a 1-0 loss in a friendly with Ecuador in front of a pro-Ecuador crowd of 20,707.

Still, Klinsmann called Red Bull Arena “one of the best soccer-specific venues in the United States” before the match, and the facility is undeniably nice.

Part of the issue is that there’s really no opposing nationality that’s not well represented in the NYC area. The region has the largest Panamanian, Honduran, and Costa Rican communities in the country. After the Hartford area and South Florida, there’s no larger community of Jamaicans than in New York. That makes it tough to guarantee a crowd backing the boys in red, white and blue. That said, New York is simply too large and easy to access to cross off the list.
New York's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 25/1
Most likely opponent: Panama, June 11
Why NYC will get this match: It’s New York City
Why it won’t: Risk of opposing fans dominating crowd

The country’s second-largest city has been a home for soccer for years, and that’s been especially true since the 2003 opening of the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. While the Los Angeles area presents most of the same challenges Seattle does simply based on geographic location, U.S. soccer seems to believe it’s easier to get the team into L.A.—and perhaps they're right. Nevertheless, the long flight from Europe can still be a concern.

The other concern is again demographics-related. Need proof? Take a look at the highlights from the 2011 Gold Cup Final played between the U.S. and Mexico in front of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl. That's a large attendance number and the event was no doubt hugely profitable. But the vast majority of attendees wore green and rooted for El Tri.

You can’t cast L.A. aside just because of the potential for an unfriendly crowd. Klinsmann makes his home in the area, and it’s often the site of the January camp involving domestic-based players. It's hard to imagine a Hexagonal match against Mexico in Southern California, but the city, and the Home Depot Center, is still in the mix for other opponents.
Los Angeles' odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 20/1
Most likely opponent: Jamaica, Oct. 11
Why L.A. will get this match: Strong past showings
Why it won’t: West Coast travel

Philly has a beautiful stadium, and the local fan fervor has been well documented since before the Union were even in existence. But the one time PPL Park hosted the U.S., the crowd was announced at 8,823 in a venue that can hold 18,500. It might be a bit unfair to hold poor attendance in a friendly against an entire city, but it's a real concern. That said, it's hard to imagine a similarly poor showing for a Hexagonal match.

The city of Brotherly Love was also the site for Klinsmann’s first game as manager—a friendly against Mexico played at Lincoln Financial Field. That crowd was announced at 30,138 and proved to be a boisterous bunch. The Linc has the same playing surface, Desso GrassMaster, as Old Trafford, the Emirates, and Anfield. Of course, those stadiums don’t have gigantic linemen frequently digging into the field.
Philadelphia's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 10/1
Most likely opponent: Honduras, June 18
Why Philly will get this match: Gorgeous stadium; media friendly
Why it won’t: Poor past attendances

Soldier Field hosted a 2009 Qualifier against Honduras as well as a friendly against Poland after the 2010 World Cup. The qualifier drew 55,647; the friendly, 31,696. Those numbers prove you can get a good crowd to show up for a soccer match in Chicago.

The Windy City is also home to the federation offices, although that doesn’t play too much of a factor when you consider that only one of the top decision makers, CEO Dan Flynn, is based in Chicago. Like New York, Chicago has large pockets of pretty much any nationality you might be looking to find. The crowd at the 2009 match was at least 50-50 in terms of American fans vs. those supporting Los Catrachos. Toyota Park is obviously also in the area and hosted an earlier qualifying round match against Trinidad and Tobago that drew 11,452 fans. Even with the risk of a large opposition crowd, the gate numbers make Chicago intriguing.
Chicago's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 50/1
Most likely opponent: Honduras, June 18
Why Chicago will get this match: Easy money
Why it won’t: Federation hoping for more partisan crowd

LP Field has hosted the national team four times in the past six years and was the site of the U-23’s Olympic group failed attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics—a fact many U.S. supporters would like to forget. On a happier note, the U-23 team did secure an Olympic Qualifying victory at LP Field in 2008.

Nashville is the go-to city in the Southeast, especially when there are no NFL matches in session, because of its quality Bermuda Sod. And, while MLS venues will get the majority of the five home matches, “It won’t be exclusively that,” says Gulati, presumably meaning at least one venue will not be a MLS stadium.

Attendance hasn’t always been superb for games in Music City. A 2011 friendly against Paraguay drew 29,059, the best showing for Nashville, but the city has sounded enough of the right notes to be a frequent destination for U.S. Soccer for qualifiers and other matches.
Odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 7/2
Most likely opponent: Jamaica, Oct. 11
Why Nashville will get this match: Past successes, great surface
Why it won’t: Lack of built-in fan base

Sandy, Utah, the Salt Lake City suburb that houses Rio Tinto Stadium, has a couple of things in its favor.

First, it would be a pretty ideal location for the opening home match, against Costa Rica, as it’s a location that provides for a pretty quick trip to the away game at Mexico a few days later. And it will likely provide a strong pro-U.S. crowd. The Salt Lake City metropolitan area boasts approximately 40,000 Hispanics, but the vast majority do not hail from Costa Rica. In addition to the short travel to Mexico City, Rio Tinto sits at 4,265 feet above sea level, so it could provide the U.S. with good preparation for the Mexico match at Estadio Azteca (altitude: 7,200 feet).

It’s also a cold-weather climate that might provide a challenge for Latin American opposition accustomed to more temperate settings—though Costa Rican champs Herediano were able to get a much-needed draw against home team Real Salt Lake in late October.
Salt Lake City's odds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 3/1
Most likely opponent: Costa Rica, March 22
Why Salt Lake City will get this match: Easy travel to next match, high altitude
Why it won’t: Too far west

Denver, home to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, is a surprise entry included here because of Gulati’s mention of the United States’ success there. “Denver has been a good venue for us,” Gulati said. And he's right. The last time the national team played in Colorado it resulted in a 2-0 win on November 19, 2008 in the semifinal stage of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. In fact, that’s the only time they’ve played in Denver during the past two cycles. Only 9,303 fans turned out for that match, but the city has had strong showings for women’s national team matches since then.

Gulati name-dropped Denver while he was listing off several MLS cities, but one has to wonder if the USSF is considering a Colorado match for its cold climate/high altitude combo platter. Granted, American players would have to acclimate to the surroundings as well, but the Mile High City could provide the perfect locale for a Guerra Fria reboot.
Denver's sdds of hosting a 2013 Hex match: 10/1
Most likely opponent: Costa Rica, March 22
Why Denver will get this match: Freezing mountain air
Why it won’t: Small fan base

Given all of that, here's the way we see it playing out:

March 22 v. Costa Rica: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
June 11 v. Panama: Century Link Field, Seattle, Wash.
June 18 v. Honduras: Livestrong Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan.
Sept. 10 v. Mexico: Columbus Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Oct. 11 v. Jamaica: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.

Our rationale: Washington D.C. is expected to host a marquee friendly against Germany, so we’ve eliminated them from the running. Things seem to be turning in Seattle’s favor, and the Emerald City's best shot by far is a game during the European leagues’ break. LP Field is a risky proposition during the NFL season, but Gulati's comment that not all venues will be MLS stadiums makes a Tennessee return seem plausible if not likely. Put the Mexico match where you’ve got your best chance to win (Columbus), reward Kansas City for its excellent showings, and hit up Salt Lake to make the Mexico trip an easy one.

Where would you like to see the Hex matches played? Why have we given your city short shrift? Is there a city you think the U.S. should avoid? Make your case in the comments.

Post a comment