HANOVER, N.J. – Despite playing in what is arguably the most diverse region in the country, US national team coach Bruce Arena is confident that his side will have a homefield advantage on Friday night at Red Bull Arena against Costa Rica (6:30 pm ET; ESPN, Univision, UDN).
Traditionally, the United States have played their World Cup qualifiers in places with a distinct home atmosphere. As such, the New York City area has never had a qualifier match, given the melting pot of cultures and ethnicities in the region – potentially meaning that there would be more away support at the match than at most other venues.
But Friday’s match in the shadow of Manhattan represents a first, a bit of a surprise given the large Central American population in the area.
The decision to play the New York City area's first ever World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena was done before Arena's hiring late last year for his second stint as the US coach.
“It was done without my input. It was already established,” Arena said on Monday following his team’s session at the Red Bulls Training Facility. “When I found out about Friday, my sense is that we’re going to have good support. When we played Honduras in San Jose, there was concern that there was going to be a big Honduran population attending the game and that wasn’t the case. I think we had a favorable crowd in Denver; I would anticipate it would be favorable for us.
“We’re well aware of the fact that there are many Costa Ricans in the greater New York area. It’s all part of the exercise.”
The national team has enjoyed some tremendous support here, including a sold-out crowd at Red Bull Arena in 2014 just prior to the team departing for the World Cup in Brazil. That was a pro-American crowd and pointed towards the fact that the venue and market can turn out in strong numbers for the United States.
There is an advantage, as well, for the Americans. Given the far-flung nature of a national team playing throughout Europe, Mexico and across four time zones in MLS, the NYC-area setting is an advantage. Three major airports mean that players can get to the region rather easily from their club teams, likely without connecting flights or any of the hassles associated with other markets often used by the federation.
“I don’t mind playing here. You have a nice stadium,” Arena said. “It’s probably a great venue for us to play in in terms of getting our players in from Europe and other parts of the country and Mexico. That’s a plus.”
The bigger concern for Arena isn’t the split of the crowd on Friday night at Red Bull Arena as much as it is the team he faces. Costa Rica is currently second in the standings and have played some of the best soccer in the region during qualifying.
Arena highlighted players such as Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas and Ticos star striker Bryan Ruiz as reasons for concern.
“They’re in second place in the standings. They started off very well with six points in their first two games which has given them a little bit of a cushion,” Arena said. “They’re in a good place.”