The USMNT is in a constant struggle to find a venue to give them a true home field advantage. While some countries play in a designated home venue – such as England in Wembley, Mexico in Azteca – the US team is forced to constantly shuttle between locations – often playing in relatively small cities and venues. While many countries rotate where they play and don’t have a “national stadium,” it does raise an interesting question: If America had a Wembley, where would it be?
Jason Davis at MatchFitUSA stole a bit of my thunder yesterday in discussing RFK as a hypothetical sight for a US Wembley. He has a great run down of RFK’s prospects and assesses Bill Simmons comments after the Costa Rica game that every big US game should be played at RFK. The major problem for the U.S., as Jason points out, is that the largest and most soccer obsessed cities often have huge Hispanic communities, which basically turns any US home match against a Central American country into anything but. And since most of our games are against Central American teams this creates a big problem for US soccer and raises a number of tough questions. Do you play in a smaller venue such as in Columbus or Salt Lake City and get less revenue and play in front of smaller crowds. Or do you risk playing in major cities, get the big payday and hope the US fan base grows?
The USA – Honduras game in Chicago this year was case in point. While US Soccer is careful to schedule Mexico out in Ohio, they got cocky against Honduras. Figuring they could get the big pay day and that a big pro-Honduran crowd wouldn’t make a difference due to Honduras historically being a Concacaf minnow, the US team was left to fight back against heavily vocal Honduran crowd. To avoid this the US Soccer federation moves venues to accommodate the situation – hence El Salvador in Salt Lake City.
It of course makes the most sense for US Soccer to rotate cities, since we are such a large country and it helps increase the games exposure by playing in different cities. But if we were to pick one place for the national team to play what city should it be? I have widdled the list down to six potential cities as possible sites for a US Wembley. While this is just a fun hypothetical exercise, I think it does lead to some interesting points about possible US mens national team venues. In developing my top list I have established a few criteria to take into account:
1. Decent population size – There has to actually be fans at the game after all.
2. Low Hispanic population – It has to be a real home game. I think this will be much less of an issue as assimilation continues, but for now a large Hispanic population tends to translate into significant opposition support.
3. Venue – US Soccer is not going to build a venue from scratch, therefore the venue needs to be suitable for soccer and ideally would be big 50,000+ to allow for the games growth.
4. East – Easier travel for Euro-based American players and lets face it the east coast dominates sports media – Pac-10 games are almost totally ignored.
5. North – The advantage of the North is that it is a shorter flight to Europe, we can exploit the cold climate against Concacaf teams and it forces Central American teams to travel a bit further.
6. In tangibles – city that would take to the game, a place that could grow the sport perhaps non-MLS city
Without further ado and in descending order:6. New York. Okay this is bad for a number of reasons and instantly violates criteria #2 – as large ethnic populations from almost every country would provide a sturdy base of support for any opposition team we play. However, New York fits every other category in spades.
*Population – check. It’s the biggest population center in the United States.
*Northern and cold – check. A February/March game in New York could be bone-chilling cold – perfect against Mexico. Also it would force central American teams to travel a bit further.
*East coast – check. A flight to London is like 6 hours.
*Venue – check. The Giants/Jets will have a new stadium and the Red Bulls will as well.
*In tangibles – check. This is the media/commercial capital of the US. While the Red Bulls have struggled to gain NYC’s attention, national team games there would certainly grab the spotlight and could serve as a boon to the game in the country and be a big money maker for US soccer.
Final analysis: New York makes the list because it would do the most to grow the game – but it totally fails in providing a real home field advantage. The USA-Mexico Gold Cup final had more Mexican fans than US fans and that is unlikely to change anytime in the next decade.5. Seattle – The support for the Sounders makes Seattle a city that has to be heavily considered. Part of the great crowd environment at RFK against Costa Rica, was due to the fan support and infrastructure already in place. Seattle has become a major soccer town and are regularly drawing 30+ thousand for Sounders games. One could easily expect huge turnout for the U.S. and a real homefield advantage. Additionally, Seattle is a big city (the 15th largest metro area in the country with 3.5 million) and large metro area that has a Hispanic population of just 6-7 percent. It is also often pretty cold and rainy – but with the benefit as not being as bitterly cold as the northeast. Qwest field is a great great venue – but the field would have to be changed to grass and the team would have to ensure that yard lines were removed if games happen during football season. As for intangibles, this would be a great city during and after games and would easily make Seattle America’s soccer epicenter.
Final analysis: It is just too damn far away. This is bad both for European based players, but also for attracting national attention. In short, while it would easily cement Seattle as the best soccer town in the US, I don’t think putting the USMNT in Seattle does all that much to grow the game nationally. Seattle has a reputation nationally as being quirky and liberal – not a bad thing at all – but soccer as a sport in the US already has a “left coast,” latte drinking, arugula eating label that it is trying to shed and that isn’t helped by playing all our games in Seattle.
4. Detroit – Despite the economic collapse, Detroit is still a very large metro area and placing the USMNT here could help grow the game in the US. Detroit is the 11th largest metro area in the country with about 4.5 million people. While the enthusiasm for soccer is a little unclear, Detroit has the population size and a relatively low Hispanic population to create a solid homefield advantage. It is in the north and could provide some gruesomely cold weather. It is also just a few hours flight further from the east coast so travel would not be a problem. Additionally, the fact that Detroit is not an MLS city in some ways adds to its appeal. It would be a good opportunity to grow the game in a sizeable media market that is seen as a very blue collar town.
Final analysis: The venue and the economy are real problems. Since the new Ford Field is a dome the venue would not be suitable for soccer. Other sites such as Comerica park would require too much reconfiguration. Additionally, Detroit’s economic problems and the fact that the region is shrinking in population is a significant deterrent to building America’s Wembley in the Motor city.
See the remaining candidates tomorrow.