The city that has set the standard for large, loud crowds in MLS may be closer than ever to hosting the US national team for a massive World Cup qualifier.
Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is most definitely in the reckoning to become one of the USMNT’s five home venues for the upcoming Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying, but at least one major hurdle remains as the US Soccer Federation navigates what has become a highly competitive selection process for its biggest matches on US soil.
US Soccer officials have confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that recent statements made by Seattle Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer at the club’s year-end meeting that Seattle are “actively in conversations” with the federation about this matter are accurate, although they noted that the same can be said for a range of other possible sites around the country.
Another source even stated that US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann himself has made holding a match in Seattle a high priority, with the German-American boss apparently eager to put the numbers, noise and passion of the Emerald City faithful to use on behalf of his team in one of five must-win games on what looks like a tricky road to Brazil 2014. The Sounders have set new MLS attendance records in every season since their arrival in the league in 2009 and many in Rave Green believe they can offer a dramatic home-field advantage for the US.
Speaking off the record due to the sensitivity of ongoing venue negotiations, others with knowledge of the process emphasize the hard realities standing in the way, however. Despite Seattle’s unassailable quality as a soccer market, it’s been about a decade since US Soccer selected the region to host a men’s national team game, a drought with many factors but one major, unavoidable one: the playing surface.
CenturyLink’s slick, firm FieldTurf does not enthuse federation officials and while the installation of temporary grass sod has become something of a summer ritual when foreign clubs visit for exhibition matches, the US have not been impressed by their recent experiences on similar pitches in Detroit, Foxborough, Mass., and the New Jersey Meadowlands. Such temporary surfaces tend to be heavy, choppy and susceptible to poor drainage, a nagging concern in the Pacific Northwest even during the relatively dry summer months.
The US struggled in two semifinal-round qualifiers on subpar fields in Jamaica and Antigua earlier this year and would have little time to acclimate to an unfamiliar surface in Seattle, whether natural or synthetic.
Yanks fans may not be able to take it for granted that CenturyLink would present a strongly pro-US crowd: A Mexico-Ecuador friendly drew more than 50,000 to the stadium in 2011 and US Soccer’s efforts to direct domestic ticket sales to their own supporters has historically been more difficult at larger-sized venues.
Seattle’s greater distance from the Western European nations where most of the US squad play their club soccer also negatively impacts its hosting credentials. Noting that, one source suggested that the city might work better as a host venue for one of the four home matches which take place during the multiple-game qualifying periods in March, June, September and October, larger time windows with more wiggle room for travel. The onset of the Seattle Seahawks’ NFL season would complicate plans to host one of the US matches in the fall, though.
With a lengthy gap between the Yanks’ opening Hex home match (against Costa Rica on March 22) and the rest of their domestic qualifying slate, the venue for the March game will probably be announced in early January and the subsequent four determined later in the new year. Klinsmann, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn are the leading voices in the decision-making process for venue selection.