World Cup Qualifying: CONCACAF's Toughest Places to Play
World Cup Qualifying in the CONCACAF region resumed on September 7, and will continue on September 11.
The twelve remaining CONCACAF teams represent the best the region has to offer, with a few upstarts mixed in. And the matches between these 12 sides will most assuredly be hotly contested.
But which of these countries boasts the best home field advantage?
Here's a look at the six toughest places to play in the CONCACAF region.
6. RFK Stadium, USA
This venerable stadium in Washington, DC is still one of the most inhospitable venues in the CONCACAF region.
The soccer alignment of this multi-purpose stadium places the fans right on top of the pitch. And the fans at RFK Stadium are notorious for rocking the bleachers up and down throughout the match, adding to the intimidation factor.
But this stadium can sometimes create a favorable advantage for the visitors instead of for the home team.
Due to the diversity of the DC metro area, Americans are not the only international soccer fans who can easily attend a World Cup Qualifier at RFK. In the last game of the 2010 World Cup Qualifying cycle, Costa Rica was well represented in the stands and felt right at home as they jumped out to a 2-0 halftime lead, before Team USA drew late.
This unintentional home field advantage is even more pronounced for other countries in the region. In fact, Team USA refuses to host Mexico or El Salvador at RFK.
As the site of a World Cup Qualifier, RFK Stadium is a tough place to play, sometimes for the host as well as the visitor.
5. Estadio Cuscatlan, EL SALVADOR
Located in the capital of San Salvador, Estadio Cuscatlan has the largest seating capacity of any stadium in Central America.
The official capacity is listed at 39,023.
But the interesting fact about the seating capacity of Cuscatlan is that there is not a lot of actual seating.
Large portions of the stadium are simply slabs of concrete with no real seats. As a result, the capacity can swell. Unofficially, the attendance can reach as much as 70,000 Salvadorans.
The less-than-ideal seating arrangements don't seem to bother the fans, but they certainly make it uncomfortable for the the opposing players.
4. National Stadium Kingston, JAMAICA
Jamaica's National Stadium in Kingston is nicknamed "The Office", because "nobody comes to your office and bosses you around."
The hot weather means playing conditions are never favorable, and 36,000 supporters of the "Reggae Boyz" create plenty of noise.
But the Kingston crowd is notorious for creating other distractions, as well.
During a 2001 World Cup Qualifier, US players, claimed they smelled marijuana emanating from a cloud of smoke that hovered over the crowd.
Jamaican international and MLS veteran Dane Richards best explained this unique home field advantage to Tropigol.com:
They say when they come there, they smell marijuana. We get them high and then we try to beat them. It’s a really good atmosphere.
That's quite a distraction.
3. Columbus Crew Stadium, USA
Columbus Crew Stadium is the trump card for Team USA during World Cup Qualifying.
Home of the MLS team of the same name, this cozy venue is where Team USA hosts its biggest World Cup Qualifiers.
The stadium holds 20,000 fans, which is much smaller than RFK and most other stadiums that Team USA utilizes for WCQ matches. This small size allows US Soccer to better regulate the number of international fans who attend the games, therefore negating any advantage the traveling supporters may give their team. In other words, the unintentional home field advantage that exists at RFK Stadium for visiting national teams does not exist at Columbus Crew Stadium.
But most importantly, it gets cold in Columbus in the fall and winter. US Soccer purposely schedules games at this stadium to take advantage of the unwelcoming weather conditions. This is especially useful during the fourth and final round of World Cup Qualifying—the so-called "Hexagonal"—when the US can host a game at Columbus in January or February. Earlier this year, Columbus had an average high temperature of a mere 41 degrees during these two winter months.
For big games, this stadium offers a very chilly reception.
2. Estadio Saprissa, COSTA RICA
"The Purple Monster" eats visiting national teams for lunch.
Estadio Saprissa in San Juan de Tibas gained its nickname from the professional team that plays there, for which purple is the primary color. But the stadium's malevolent moniker is perfectly appropriate based on its reputation. In fact, "La Ultra Morada" has become a personal house of horrors for the United States and other CONCACAF teams.
Saprissa seats only 24,000, and its open-ended construction does not allow for the retention of crowd noise. But these two factors have done nothing to deter the intimidating effects of the stadium and its crowd (see video).
The rabid fans of the "Ticos" turn the Purple Monster into a living, breathing creature that unleashes a deafening roar upon any pour souls unfortunate enough to enter its lair.
1. Estadio Azteca, MEXICO
Estadio Azteca is the gold standard of the CONCACAF region.
Azteca seats 105,000 fans who aren't known for being quiet. And this massive structure is not built in a classic bowl shape like the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, another 100,000-seat stadium in the CONCACAF region. Instead, it was built with two tiers of stands, so all of your favorite Mexican supporters are right on top of you. And it resides in Mexico City, which is 7,349 feet above sea level and had an average high temperature of 77 degrees during the 2011 calendar year.
All these factors help give Mexico a nearly insurmountable home field advantage, and they wisely schedule their most important World Cup Qualifiers at this venue.
But Azteca has lost some of its currency in recent weeks. For an August 15 friendly against bitter rival United States, Mexico inexplicably scheduled the match for Azteca, instead of at another venue somewhere else around the country. Azteca was loud, but was not filled to capacity due to the decreased significance of the match. Consequently, the Americans played in a less intimidating environment and were able to play much better. In fact, the 1-0 win was the first victory by the Americans in Mexico in the 75-year history of the cross-border series.
So what was originally a meaningless game turned into a valuable experience for Mexico's fiercest rival. Team USA now knows they can win in Azteca, and will be more comfortable in the stadium, even with a full house.
The rest of CONCACAF is surely taking notice.