CARSON, Calif. -- A looming showdown with Mexico at Estadio Azteca certainly had its say in US Soccer's decision to play its first home World Cup qualifier in CONCACAF's final-round Hexagonal in Colorado.
But it was not, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann says, the determining factor.
The US will face Costa Rica on March 22 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., in the “mile high” altitude just outside Denver, their second of 10 matches in the six-nation faceoff for a spot in next year's World Cup in Brazil. Four days later, the Americans take on Mexico in Mexico City, at 7,350 feet.
“It was a factor, but not a big factor,” Klinsmann told reporters following the national team's training session Tuesday morning at the Home Depot Center shortly after the venue announcement. “The most important thing for us is that we play in front of our home crowd, that we have total support by our fans, and we feel Denver is the right place.”
The USMNT, which opens the qualifying round Feb. 6 at Honduras in San Pedro Sula, is looking for its seventh straight trip to the World Cup. It also has home games June 11 against Panama, June 18 against Honduras, Sept. 10 against Mexico and Oct. 11 against Jamaica. No sites for those qualifiers have been announced yet.
The US have played one previous World Cup qualifier at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, beating Guatemala, 2-0, in November 2008 to win their semifinal-round group en route to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Klinsmann said creating the proper atmosphere was integral to his team's success in qualifying.
“There are many, many locations now in the US that give us a great environment. We've seen that already over the last couple of years,” he said. “I think soccer is just on the rise. No matter where the national team is now traveling, they will get a huge backup from their fans, and so we are sure that playing in Denver, this crucial game against Costa Rica, it gives us big support, it will give us confidence, it will push us to get to three points.
“And certainly it helps also a little bit to adjust already early to altitude, because we want to go to Mexico and we want to win there as well.”
And while many fans inferred that the USSF's decision to host the Costa Rica match in Colorado came at the expense of a match held at Rio Tinto Stadium outside Salt Lake City, Real Salt Lake president Bill Manning isn't necessarily so sure. He told MLSsoccer.com that Rio Tinto Stadium could indeed still be in the running to host one of the five-remaning Hexagonal games played later this year.
"I’m happy the game is in an MLS stadium," Manning said. "Of course we would have like to host the game at Rio Tinto Stadium, but they will do a great job and I imagine altitude was a key factor in the decision since they are higher up even than us. I spoke with US Soccer and hopefully we will have an opportunity to host one of the other Hexagonal games.
"The biggest thing is winning and advancing and less so about where they play," Manning added. "That’s what we all need to rally around."