TUKWILA, Wash. – Several obstacles stood in the way, but the United States will play a World Cup qualifier in Seattle for the first time in nearly 40 years when they host Panama at CenturyLink Field on June 11.
Jurgen Klinsmann personally phoned Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer to pitch the idea of Seattle hosting a match and wanted the game there badly enough that the potential roadblocks of having to lay down temporary grass and limit capacity were ultimately overlooked.
“I think it’s great,” Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s great for the city of Seattle. We deserve to have a qualifier here and I want to make sure our fans get out and support it in full force, just like they do us every week when we play, and create an atmosphere that’s very beneficial for the US team.”
Although CenturyLink Field can hold as many as 67,000 people, only 42,000 seats will be sold for this game. The standard capacity for Sounders games is about 38,500.
With the Seattle Mariners playing a game literally across the street at around the same time, there are real-world infrastructure limitations such as parking spaces and sidewalk capacity, Hanauer said.
“We were comfortable with it,” Hanauer said. “Forty-two thousand is a big number.”
Even with those limitations, a sellout would give Seattle the USMNT its third-biggest crowd for a qualifier since the start of the 2002 World Cup cycle. The only two games to draw bigger crowds were both against Honduras, in 2009 at Chicago’s Soldier Field and in 2001 at Washington's RFK Stadium.
While no one was exactly excited about the prospect of playing this game on temporary grass, the concerns were limited. The Sounders have laid temporary grass in each of the past two years and feel confident they can make it work. The grass will be laid after a concert on June 1 and have a full week to settle before the Sounders play on it June 8. It will have two full days to recover from that.
“It’s never 100 percent ideal because it is pallets,” Schmid explained. “You’re laying it over the turf field and it’s not the same, not molded and meshed together like a normal grass field would be. But the second time [vs. Chelsea last year] it played fairly well and obviously that’s the way they want to go.”