With the selection of Kansas City as the final World Cup qualifying venue this fall, the U.S. Soccer Federation chose medium-sized facilities built for the sport for the last two home matches of the CONCACAF semifinal round.
Both Columbus Crew Stadium and Livestrong Sporting Park should serve the Americans well against Jamaica on Sept. 11 and Guatemala on Oct. 16, respectively.
Of the eight previous U.S. appearances at the Ohio venue, six were World Cup qualifiers: three famous victories over Mexico, a win over Grenada and draws with Costa Rica and Jamaica. (The other visits were for a win over Paraguay and a draw with Ecuador.) Average attendance: 17,802.
The choice of Kansas City makes so much sense. (My hunch that Salt Lake City would get the Guatemala game was dead wrong.) From the opening last year, LSP rocketed to the upper echelon of MLS stadiums. Crowds would’ve provided the U.S. under-23 team with passionate backing in its Olympic quest this spring — had the heavily favored Americans advanced.
The senior squad played there last summer in the Gold Cup, a 1-0 victory over Guadeloupe before a sellout crowd of 20,109.
Placing important matches against Latin American teams in accessible cities is always a challenge. Without aggressive marketing and ticket coordination with Sporting Kansas City, Guatemalan blue could claim a large swath of the stadium, especially if the group finale carries weight for the visiting Chapines.
Long before the curtain rises in Kansas City, Juergen Klinsmann’s squad must embrace the cavernous Raymond James Stadium in Tampa this Friday night for the qualifying opener against Antigua and Barbuda. About 14,000 tickets have been sold in the 66,000-seat venue.
The seemingly odd selection of Tampa was much more complicated than that of Columbus and Kansas City, however. Whereas those matches are one-off games immediately before or after away qualifiers during a short FIFA fixture window, the Tampa game is part of a month-long period at home — one that began in Florida with training camp in Orlando and a friendly in Jacksonville and concludes with a return to the Sunshine State.
As explained on this blog earlier this spring, the process of selecting venues involves numerous factors. Tampa offers a 116 x 74-yard field in a warm climate ahead of the trip to Guatemala next week. Unlike games against many other CONCACAF countries, concern about visiting supporters filling the ample seating doesn’t exist — not exactly a massive influx of Antiguan immigrants here. And because this game lacks the marquee billing of other qualifiers, it wasn’t going to draw a huge crowd anyway. A crowd in the upper teens or close to 20,000 would be respectable. So logistics won out.
In years past, early-round qualifiers against small countries have attracted 11,476 (Barbados in Carson, Calif.), 9,137 (Grenada in Columbus) and 20,293 (Cuba in Washington).
So here’s how the semifinal-round schedule looks:
Friday: Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Next Tuesday: Guatemala in Guatemala City, 10 p.m. (pay-per-view)
Sept. 7: Jamaica in Kingston (time and TV tba)
Sept. 11: Jamaica in Columbus, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Oct. 12: Antigua in St. John’s (time and TV tba)
Oct. 16: Guatemala in Kansas City, Kan., 7 p.m. (ESPN2)