I have been against the idea of a single US Soccer Stadium for years. My thought on the subject has always been that United States Men's/Women's National Team matches should be tools that help promote the game in different areas of the country. Besides, having one national soccer stadium would, in theory, prevent people in certain areas of the US from being able to see USMNT games.
I'm no longer so sure about my opinion on the matter after last night.
The USMNT had a clear home-field advantage at Columbus Crew Stadium during Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier against Jamaica. While that may seem like a "no duh" comment to casual observers who don't actively follow US Soccer twelve months out of the year, the truth is that US home games often resemble a match that is being played on neutral soil. There are several factors that contribute to this, including the opponent and location of the match.
Playing in front of a raucous crowd that's cheering you on from match kickoff until the final whistle makes a difference. Any athlete will tell you that. The crowd of US Soccer supporters in Columbus was absolutely fantastic on Tuesday, a true "12th man" for a team that desperately needed a win and three points. Those fans also got me to thinking about where the USMNT should play contests that are held in this country.
For starters, US Soccer has to stop scheduling home matches to be played in humongous NFL stadiums. Yes, I know this is hardly a new complaint, and I'm also aware that games in such stadiums will likely continue because of the ticket revenue they generate. Tuesday's game reminded us that an intimate venue that is jam packed with US Soccer supporters rocks for 90+ minutes, so much so that it makes fans watching at home wish they were in attendance. That's the type of atmosphere US Soccer should be selling.
Besides, how much is a USMNT vs. Brazil match that draws 65,000 people to a huge 80,000 football stadium, a game the US lose 4-1, really worth to US Soccer at this stage of the game?
US Soccer home matches also must be about location, location, location. I love where I live for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Red Bull Arena is a 15-minute drive away from where I sit as I type this sentence. Quite frankly, it sucked being outnumbered by opposing fans while watching the USMNT play in that venue last fall. The US also happened to lose to Ecuador 1-0 on that night.
Whenever I am speaking with a knowledgeable fan or analyst on this subject, the three cities that are always mentioned as potential USMNT homes are Columbus, Kansas City and Seattle. Seattle has continued to prove itself as a soccer city throughout the current 2012 Major League Soccer season. Columbus Crew Stadium was filled beyond capacity on Tuesday evening, and we'll see how next month's US vs. Guatemala game in Kansas City goes.
My idea is to rotate a set amount of host cities throughout the calendar year. This would, in theory, prevent any "been there, done that" mentality that could come from one city hosting multiple US Soccer matches during a limited time frame. I would be just fine with US Soccer adding other cities, such as Portland and Chicago, to the mix; but ONLY if those cities have soccer specific stadiums (I'm aware Seattle Sounders play in a NFL stadium, but they get a pass for averaging over 40k per home match). I love being able to take the train to see the USMNT, but I don't ever want to do so for a match that's taking place at MetLife Stadium.
I can already hear fans in the south, especially those in the southeast, complaining about my proposed plan. Guys, I don't know a nice way to tell you this, so I'll just come out and say it: US Soccer stars don't like playing in Florida. They don't like playing in Texas. There are certain times during the year when they really don't like playing in California.
Why? Because it gets really flippin' hot and/or muggy in those parts of the country, especially between the months of April and September when international friendlies and competitions occur. Soccer/football is and always will be a fall-to-spring sport, and the US hosting a match in Maryland in July does the team zero favors. If some entity wants to create a soccer specific dome in Florida, one that features real grass and not turf, than we'll talk.
I'm willing to admit that my idea has its flaws, and I would be open to any and all suggestions. My main point is simply this: While watching Tuesday's game, I felt as if the USMNT were home. US Soccer needs to do whatever possible to make sure I feel that same way whenever our national teams play matches in this country.