By IVES GALARCEP
Admit it. If you are a U.S. Men’s National Team fan who likes traveling for big national team matches you have probably spent an irrational amount of time scouring flight prices and checking Twitter and your email repeatedly for any sort of word on just where the five home World Cup qualifiers for the USMNT will be this year.
We are now 11 weeks away from the first home qualifier for the United States, a March 22nd showdown vs. Costa Rica, and we still haven’t heard a word on just where the only home USA qualifier before June will be. We have heard plenty of rumors, ranging from Kansas City to more recently talk of Colorado and Utah battling it out to be the high-altitude home of a qualifier that comes just four days before the USMNT travels to Mexico City to the altitude and pollution of Estadio Azteca.
If it feels a bit like the USMNT is cutting it close, there is certainly an argument for that.
It almost seems crazy when you compare the United States to the other five participants in the Hex. All but Costa Rica have chosen the stadiums were every qualifier will be played, and Costa Rica’s options are both in San Jose, either Estadio Saprissa or the modern but far less intimidating national stadium.
In other words, fans of all five other teams in the Hex already know where each home match will be played, even into October. Meanwhile, the USMNT can’t even figure out the first of their five home venues.
So what exactly is the hold up?
The first thing U.S. fans should realize is that the other Hex teams either have established national stadiums, like Jamaica and Panama, or clear-cut preferences like Azteca for Mexico. Honduras and Costa Rica are both really only choosing between two options, with Honduras holding one match in the capital of Tegucigalpa, while playing the other four qualifiers in San Pedro Sula.
The USMNT, as we all know, doesn’t have an established home. Instead, we have a Wal-Mart aisle worth of options to choose from. There are stadiums from coast to coast capable of hosting matches, which means Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest of the USMNT decision makers can pretty much tailor their selections to fit exactly the needs they have for those five important matches.
So why is this first one still taking so long? Good question. The easiest answer comes when looking at the calendar, and the match looming soon after that March 22nd date. The trip to Azteca to face Mexico on March 26th is vitally important for any number of reasons, and right now the USMNT is trying to figure out which March 22nd home venue works best as a launching point heading into the Mexico match.
Mexico City plays at altitude, but it is unclear just how prepared for that altitude the national team can get in the week or so lead-up to that match. If Klinsmann decides a week at altitude in Colorado can help the Americans when they go to Azteca, then Colorado just might make sense (and based on what I’m hearing, Utah is sounding less and less like a leading candidate for the March home qualifier).
Waiting so long to pick a venue hasn’t been too popular with U.S. fans, especially ones who are forced to hold off on making travel plans, but the decision is too big to rush and the USMNT is probably willing to lose out on some traveling fans if it means getting that decision right.
And the rest of the year? The sense I get is that we will hear about the two June home venues relatively soon, at least soon in the sense that it is very likely to come more like 3-4 months before the actual match, as opposed to less than three weeks beforehand.
With Columbus looking more and more likely to host the Mexico qualifier in September, that leaves only the October 11th qualifier against Jamaica as a home match U.S. Soccer won’t likely rush to book a venue for. Just where that match is played will depend largely on how the United States is doing in qualifying at that point. If the Americans are cruising, the U.S. could choose to play it in a large market in order to have a big payday at the box office.
And if the U.S. is struggling and in dire need of a result? You can bet Klinsmann will take his time and consider bringing the team back to a venue like Livestrong Sporting Park, the same place the Americans booked their place in the Hex.
Unfortunately for U.S. fans, all of this means that you are just going to have to keep waiting, and have to keep checking flight prices and Twitter and your email for the news. Waiting isn’t ideal for U.S. fans eager to make travel plans, but if picking the right venue helps the team win in March, it is safe to say U.S. fans aren’t going to care about how long they had to wait to make those plans.