The quasi dark side of RBNY fandom.
By Patrick MacDonald
In case you’ve been living under a log, the final round of 2014 World Cup Qualifying starts up this February for the United States. The biggest question for fans is, where are the home matches going to be held so they can plan travel accordingly? A number of pundits have recently weighed in, and while some venues make sense, others do not. One clear omission is our dear Red Bull Arena.
RBA’s omission really only affects one match, the one that appears to be slated for the Northeast corridor. Other than that, the pundits have it right.
The most spot on choice is Sandy, Utah for the U.S. match against Costa Rica on March 22. Not only does it provide a cold weather atmosphere for a tropical opponent, but with Mexico and its high altitude (7200 ft) only four days later at Azteca, placing this match at Rio Tinto (4500 ft) or at longshot Dick Sporting Goods in Colorado (5200 ft) makes all the sense in the world to allow the U.S. to acclimate.
The other two no brainer sites are Livestrong Sporting in Kansas City and Crew Stadium in Columbus. Livestrong is one of the newer crown jewels of soccer specific stadiums, which should include the site in the conversation automatically. Then you consider how the fans turned Livestrong into such a raucous homefield advantage (still a rarity in U.S. soccer) versus Guatemala and scheduling a qualifier in KC becomes a must.
Same goes for Crew Stadium. Sure, in terms of quality, Crew Stadium has long ago been lapped by many other modern soccer specific stadiums, but against Jamaica the fans proved once again Columbus is a USMNT fortress. Then of course, it’s tradition to host Mexico in C-bus, an American stadium where El Tri’s fanbase is actually outnumbered.
After those three stadiums it gets tricky.
It’s always nice to give a stadium a dry run with a friendly, like the Northeast Corridor stadiums yet to be discussed, but it’s hard to ignore yet a another MLS gem of a stadium, BBVA Compass Park. Of course there is always a risk of having an overwhelming Hispanic ex-pat crowd that will ruin homefield advantage for the U.S. That’s why, if Houston’s on the map, you schedule the Jamaica match October 11th.
And then there’s the Northeast Corridor matches. At least one match is predicted to be scheduled in the Northeast either June 11 v Panama or June 18 v Honduras. Prior to those matches, a friendly v Germany is scheduled to take place June 2 v Germany (which should mercifully preclude RFK from the qualifier convo). Then the U.S. has away trip to Jamaica on the 7th. Just in terms of logistical advantage, it makes all the sense in the world to host at least one match in the Northeast.
Pundits are very quick to label PPL Park as the deserving venue for that match. Question is, on what grounds?
If you look at the numbers, it makes no sense. In October 2010, coming off winning it’s World Cup group for the first time ever, the U.S. hosted Colombia at PPL Park. The attendance figures? 8823 and a significant portion wore yellow.
On the other hand, Red Bull Arena has long been dismissed because of its one USMNT “failure,” a friendly against Ecuador, where admittedly, the U.S. crowd was also outnumbered by the Ecuadorians. However, the combined attendance was 20,707. At least a third was pro-U.S., which is hardly unique as American fans aren’t exactly the best at showing up for friendlies.
The fact is, friendlies are a poor measure when it comes to testing a fanbase’s fervor for soccer. We’re at a point where U.S. fans are quite savvy and they know when a match is essentially meaningless. Not only should that wipe the slate clean for RBA, but it should for PPL as well.
But why choose one over the other?
The pundits seem to think, throw the match in Chester, PA because “they deserve it?” However, the more logical choice would be to hand the match to one of the top stadiums in MLS, where 25,000 can overwhelm the vistors. NYC is the London/Paris/Mexico City of America, it needs to be a U.S. homefield. All thing considered, it’s obvious. Bring the 2014 Qualifying campaign to Red Bull Arena.