ORLANDO, Fla. – Chalk up Bruce Arena as a fan of the Orlando City Stadium for World Cup qualifying games. And that goes for all of his US national team, too.
The question of "home advantage" has been a thorny one for the national team in recent years, but there is no doubt about the electric charge that carried them into battle against Panama on Friday night – and sent them storming to a 4-0 victory that has them thinking positively of playing time in Russia next summer.
The new Orlando venue was a sellout for the USA's penultimate Hex outing, and it was clearly a massive advantage as they eased into a 2-0 lead inside 19 minutes and never looked back as the crowd roared them on in raucous, partisan fashion.
It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the head coach, and he made it clear he is ready to see this Central Florida hotbed stage more games in the future.
“I would recommend that the next cycle [of qualifying games] we closely scrutinize venues where we are strong in qualifying, “ he insisted. “And, from what I see, I would come back to Orlando.
“Home-field advantage is huge and every time we create an atmosphere that supports our team in this manner like tonight, it really helps us.”
Arena knows the grueling CONCACAF qualifying schedule can be tough on his men, and he has been vocal about giving the US a better advantage for their home games.
“Every time we play a home game in World Cup qualifying, we should have a strong, supportive crowd,” he added. “Once in a while, it happens that we don’t have that, and that can be a problem. But this was very positive, and it certainly helped us tonight.”
Dax McCarty also noticed the jolt the team received, right from the starting whistle.
“We needed the fans tonight,” he said. “There was a lot of talk about Red Bull Arena and Costa Rica’s fans [last month], but when you hear the way the fans were here, there is no doubt they push you to do more, and to do well.”
It was also a welcome homecoming for McCarty, who grew up not far from the downtown venue. He was genuinely amazed at the atmosphere generated by the sell-out crowd of 25,303.
“Never in a million years [did I imagine something like this],” he added. “To see so many people in Orlando and to see soccer as big as it is, it’s amazing. The reception that the team got was second to none and this can definitely be a fortress for us in future.”