Is Philadelphia the Best City to Host 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final?

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2015

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 23:  A general view of Lincoln Financial Field is seen at the start of the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tennessee Titans on November 23, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)
Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Minutes after his city was declared as the host for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter made a bold declaration. 

"This is the greatest sports city in the United States of America," Nutter proclaimed from the podium inside Lincoln Financial Field. 

Nutter's statement may hold up when it comes to the major sports teams in the town, but it is easy to question how relevant it is to the city's soccer fans. 

On the same day when the City of Brotherly Love was being awarded the rights to host a major soccer match, most of the Philadelphia sports scene was focused on the capture of an NFL free agent. That's just how things are in the town synonymous for its fans who boo and throw snowballs at Santa Claus. 

In their six years of existence, Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union has gained little to no traction outside of the soccer-viewing public in the city. 

The club did capture the hearts of some outside observers during its run to the 2014 U.S. Open Cup final, but once it fell to the Seattle Sounders in extra time, things were back to normal in Philadelphia. 

Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz wasn't particularly concerned with drawing casual fans of the game to the Gold Cup final, which would presumably hand the MLS side some momentum in regard to attendance. 

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“We don’t need casual fans to watch soccer anymore in this country," Sakiewicz said. "We’re filling up our stadiums with soccer fans." 

Mar 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union fans during a game against the Colorado Rapids at PPL Park. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

PPL Park, the home of the Union and host of the Gold Cup third-place game, had an announced attendance of 18,022 for the club's season opener against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. Although the number of sold tickets was near the stadium's capacity, there were plenty of empty seats in the stands for the match itself. 

While the sport has taken off in some cities across the country like Seattle, Portland and Kansas City, Philadelphia has failed to catch the same amount of soccer fever despite plenty of big-name clubs visiting over the last few years. 

The perfect example of this is the lackluster attendance numbers for last summer's International Champions Cup match between Inter Milan and Roma. Only 12,169 fans showed up for the match at the site of the 2015 Gold Cup final. 

Aug 2, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Inter Milan defender Nemanja Vidic (15) dribbles the ball during the first half of the match against Roma at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

While it is worth pointing out the two events are completely different, a small number like that does bring up a bit of concern about Philadelphia's hosting ability. 

If the expected United States versus Mexico final comes to fruition this summer, the organizers of the tournament should have no problem selling out the venue. Back in 2011, a friendly between the two rivals drew over 30,000 fans to the home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. 

A potential final between the Yanks and El Tri should be able to fill the stadium to its capacity of over 68,000 given the magnitude of the match. 

The real concern comes about if the U.S. men's national team or Mexico do not earn a spot in the final, which is a strong possibility given the increased depth of CONCACAF. In the 2013 edition of the tournament, the USMNT defeated Panama 1-0 to win the tournament at Chicago's Soldier Field. 

Selling out a stadium in a major city is crucial for a major final, but not everyone will show up if the USMNT or Mexico faces a nation who is seen as a weaker opponent. Few casual fans are going to line up to watch one of the two top teams in CONCACAF beat up on a lesser-known side. But if both of the big teams are involved, everyone will line up to watch. 

The USMNT and Mexico last played in Philadelphia in 2011.
The USMNT and Mexico last played in Philadelphia in 2011.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

One positive about Philadelphia playing host to the Gold Cup final is the fan base will primarily be in support of the USMNT if the Yanks make the final. Unlike other major cities on the east coast, Philadelphia does not have a major ethnic group that would back a different team like Costa Rica or Mexico if they came to town. 

Out of all the stadiums hosting matches in the knockout round, Philadelphia does hand the USMNT the biggest home-field advantage, which could end up being a major factor during the July 26 final. 

If a successful final crowd in July can parlay into new fans and a stronger home support down the river in Chester at PPL Park, that would be a huge step forward for the city's support of the beautiful game. 

Mar 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; General view of PPL Park prior to a game between the Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

However, there is also the fear that things will go back to normal once the big show leaves town. That is a major possibility since the Union is not expected to be a contender in MLS once again. 

Philadelphia seems like the right site for the Gold Cup final due to its ability to hand the USMNT the support it needs. But once the dust settles, nothing much will change in regard to how the sport is viewed in the City of Brotherly Love. 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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