The United States men’s national team faces a big year in 2013 with World Cup qualification the biggest item on the agenda.
In the CONCACAF hexagonal, the final round of World Cup qualification for the USMNT, the U.S. will face off against Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Mexico and Jamaica in home-and-away series.
U.S. Soccer tends to look at several factors when choosing World Cup qualification sites. Most importantly, however, it looks for cities with soccer-specific venues where it can guarantee a large, pro-American crowd. (I can’t imagine this is a problem for many countries in World Cup qualification other than the U.S.)
Here are my predictions for the hexagonal sites for those qualifiers.
The standard formula for CONCACAF World Cup qualification is draw on the road and win at home.
The U.S. opens the hexagonal away to Honduras, a very difficult away venue, on Feb. 6, where it will hopefully secure a point.
Coming home on March 22, the U.S. will need a three-point effort.
A cold environment will also be a good choice, throwing a mental curveball at the boys from Latin America.
Salt Lake City and Denver seem to be the two obvious choices, but I’ll go with Denver here as their average nightly low in March is 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, located just outside Denver in Commerce, Colorado, seats 18,000 fans and should guarantee a nice, cold venue and a very pro-American crowd.
A night game also makes a lot of sense considering both the Mountain Time Zone and the fact that the later in the day the game starts, the colder the temperature will be.
June will be the biggest month for the USMNT in qualification because the team plays away to Jamaica on June 7 before hosting two games against Panama and Honduras, respectively.
As three of the Americans first four hexagonal games are away, this game against Panama on June 11 will be a big one.
Being June, weather will probably not be much of a factor, regardless of where the U.S. plays.
Seattle would be a good choice here for a number of reasons.
Despite being a notoriously rainy city, the average rainfall in Seattle in June is fairly low. Seattle also offers the opportunity for a very large crowd with the Seattle Sounders home, CenturyLink Field, having a capacity of 72,000.
The Sounders routinely have the largest crowds in Major League Soccer and the city has a huge soccer following, routinely doubling or tripling the average attendance of other MLS teams.
The biggest problem with Seattle is that grass would have to be installed to make the venue work as U.S. Soccer is very unlikely to play a game on the artificial turf in Seattle.
However, a June date offers plenty of time to get the grass laid and plenty of time to rip it out before the NFL season starts.
Two of the best venues for World Cup qualification in the United States are Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio and LIVESTRONG Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Both venues were fantastic for the U.S. in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying with the U.S. picking up key wins at both venues against Jamaica and Guatemala, respectively.
These two stadiums have to be the favorites for the two biggest games of the hexagonal, against Honduras and Mexico.
Conventional wisdom would have Columbus being chosen for the game against Mexico with Kansas City getting the game against Honduras.
However, the opposite will happen.
The venue in Kansas City is brand new and proved in the October game against Guatemala that it is fully capable of producing the raucous crown atmosphere needed for the big match against Mexico.
While Columbus is still a great venue for the USMNT and perfectly capable of producing a great atmosphere of its own, KC will get the crown jewel of World Cup qualifying with the game against Mexico and Columbus will get the Honduras match.
The venue at Crew Stadium (the first soccer specific MLS stadium in the United States) hosts 24,000 fans and should help the U.S. produce a much needed three-point effort against Honduras.
While the choice of Kansas City over Columbus for this game flies in the face of U.S. Soccer tradition, it is the right choice.
LIVESTRONG Park, which just opened in 2011, is a state-of-the-art facility and is the best venue for the most anticipated match in the hexagonal.
The crowd and atmosphere in Kansas City for the U.S. match this past year against Guatemala was simply perfect.
Although its capacity is slightly smaller than Crew Stadium with LIVESTRONG being capable of seating 18,000 fans, the environment is more intimate and should guarantee a very loud and very pro-American crowd.
In the final home game of the hexagonal, the U.S. will face Jamaica.
The most likely remaining venues for a World Cup qualifier are PPL Park in Chester, Pa. and Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Both are beautiful soccer-specific stadiums with stunning views and both would be excellent choices for a hexagonal game.
But, U.S. Soccer is not likely to mess around with a game that could make or break the USMNT’s World Cup qualification efforts and will go with Utah as the “safer” venue.
Rio Tinto can host 20,000 fans and will produce a good pro-American crowd.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, has the second highest Jamaican-American population in the United States.
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