COMMENTARY | The United States Men's National Team will be returning to Seattle for a meaningful match sooner than later if several people get their way.
Gone are the criticisms of the grass field that was laid over the CenturyLink Field turf in the days leading up to the June 11 USMNT vs. Panama World Cup Qualifier. In fact, it's barely been a talking point at all since the final whistle of Team USA's 2-0 win, a victory that has been hailed by many as the best overall performance to date of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. All anybody, US players, ESPN and Major League Soccer, included, seemingly wants to focus on is the tremendous crowd of American soccer fans who themselves put on quite a show during the match that was played in Seattle.
Midfield general Michael Bradley had this to say about the crowd after the game: "Unbelievable. The best crowd I've played in in the United States, without a doubt." Defender Omar Gonzalez also praised the supporters. "The fans were amazing tonight," he said. "To hear how loud it got at some points of the game, it was really incredible. I'm really happy that we did get to play here in Seattle." US goalkeeper Tim Howard could not have been clearer about his feelings on the subject: "Columbus is great and Kansas City has been fantastic, but this was rocking, and they did themselves justice tonight because everyone talks about the Sounders games. We see it, it's the best crowd around and we kind of knew they'd be up for it. We can't get back to Seattle soon enough."
And thus, we welcome the return of the annual "should the United States have a single national soccer stadium?" discussion. The answer from US Soccer has, up to this point, been a resounding "no." International friendlies, such as the one that the US played against Belgium at the end of May, are ways to advertise the sport in different regions of the country, and factors such as weather, crowd support and even altitude (i.e. the US playing in Utah before traveling south to face off with Mexico at Estadio Azteca) all play a role in which venues are selected to host important contests, like World Cup Qualifiers.
Merritt Paulson, owner of Major League Soccer franchise Portland Timbers, believes that he has the solution. "Have said for a while USMNT's best home field advantage in USA would be (Portland) and Seattle. Hoping last night was step in that direction," he Tweeted on Wednesday. Portland and Seattle Sounders are both in the top-three percentage-wise in MLS home attendance figures. Neither side, however, is number one.
That distinction goes to Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Park in KC will be the venue of the October 11 US vs. Jamaica match, and the city's centralized location and the support for the local MLS club have made the arena a favorite as a potential US national stadium. KC and Portland, unlike Seattle, do not play in American football stadiums, and thus giving one city more World Cup Qualifiers than the other based on fan base alone would be rather unfair.
You also can't leave out Columbus. Columbus Crew Stadium is a preferred location for big-time matches against the likes of Mexico, largely because the US will enjoy a real home field advantage that they wouldn't have if such games were played in major metropolitan areas such as New York or LA. In fact, multiple US Soccer players have, in the past, told me that they'd be just fine if all meaningful national team games were played in Columbus.
I always return to the idea of rotating among three different cities -- Columbus, KC and Seattle -- for international competitions whenever this topic arises. This would have US Soccer hosting significant matches in three different regions every year, leaving other cities as potential hosts for friendlies. I'd even be fine with adding Portland to the mixer for those times when the US are scheduled to host more than one game in the span of a week. Portland, like Seattle, has turf, but that surface is good enough for the USMNT if it's good enough for New York Red Bulls captain and living legend Thierry Henry.
Those who yearn for one US Soccer Stadium often forget two facts: The United States is a massive land mass, and the popularity of soccer in this country grows with every year. Let other countries have a single national stadium. We'll have three. After all, there's one thing every red-blooded American knows deep down in his/her heart:
For more: US defeat Panama
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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