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Where should the United States-Mexico 2022 World Cup qualifier be hosted? | Charles Boehm

There are no two nations in Concacaf bigger than Mexico and the United States, and there’s no bigger World Cup qualifier than when “los gigantes” meet.

Naturally, the stateside fixture of this rivalry’s renewal on the road to Qatar 2022 is the biggest men’s date on the U.S. Soccer calendar. And for several MLS venues eager to host the match, set for October 2021, it’s a desirable prize indeed.

This matchup has been written in pen at Columbus Crew SC’s MAPFRE Stadium, of course, thanks to the “Dos a Cero” juju – and it may yet remain the case. But El Tri’s 2-1 win in November 2016 – their first ever at that venue and the beginning of the end for the USMNT’s Russia 2018 World Cup dream – has some advocating for a change of scenery.

Who could be in the mix if a departure from the Crew’s home – we’re considering the new downtown stadium, too – is considered by the U.S. Soccer decision-makers? Here’s a rundown, and please note we’re optimistically assuming COVID-19 will no longer be raging unchecked by next fall.

The factors

Location and climate

The stakes here are high. Mexico’s ancestral home at Estadio Azteca, where the air is thin and smoggy and the fans are hostile, fosters their track record of home dominance in qualifying. Most of the region’s other contenders call on something similar in their backyards. It’s a far more complicated situation in the large and highly diverse United States, of course.

Ideally, El Tri would be hosted away from major Mexican-American population centers. It’d also occur at a smaller stadium – no NFL-sized arenas – where ticketing can be more easily controlled. A strong aversion to artificial turf and an almost-as-strong discomfort with the temporary sod option means natural-grass venues have a strong advantage.

For this window, the USMNT travels to Kingston afterwards for a clash against Jamaica in the same window. Logistics dictate a location not too far from the Caribbean – in the Eastern or Central time zones, probably. While it’s only October, colder is always better when Mexico visits.

History and home comforts

Like most anyone else, the USMNT prefers familiarity and routine when a lot is on the line, so big games generally take place in spots they’ve visited and enjoyed good experiences with. A demonstrated history of big, loud crowds and loyal support is also key. Good training facilities nearby and dependable television infrastructure are also necessities.

The list

After carefully perusing USMNT history and the 2021-22 Concacaf “Octagon” schedule, scanning the map, talking to an industry insider or two and pondering the hints dropped by head coach Gregg Berhalter earlier this week, here are my top five contenders.

1) Columbus

In a nod to tradition, I’m starting with the incumbent here. But to be honest, I’m not sure they’re the favorites. I’ve seen a surprising – and to me, disappointing – number of pundits essentially write off the Columbus mystique after the 2016 loss (which is owed more to Rafa Marquez’s excellence and Jurgen Klinsmann’s ill-timed experiment with a three-man back line than the venue itself, if you ask me). Some powerful people may feel it’s time for a new chapter, too.

It’s crucial to note here Crew SC’s gorgeous new downtown stadium will be up and running by next October, so no MAPFRE. While the new house is an obvious upgrade in just about every way, it’s still a new venue, which may give the federation pause. History should still count for something, and for two decades the Ohio capital has been a very, very happy home for the USMNT.

2) St. Paul

Minnesota United have openly lusted after the US-Mexico fixture since the early stages of Allianz Field’s construction, and it’s understandable. The Loons’ home is modern, intimate, atmospheric, hosts a vibrant supporter culture and sits in one of the coolest climates in the Lower 48. Though it probably won’t be snowy and frigid yet, Twin Cities temperatures can drop into the 30s in October and that might – emphasis on might – discomfit El Tri a bit. But it’s also a pretty long flight to Kingston.

3) Kansas City

Children’s Mercy Park might just end up being the safe pick of the bunch. This is a loud spot with fans close to the pitch, and it’s hosted some memorable USMNT nights in the past. KC loves to welcome the national teams and being close to the geographic center of the continent makes travel manageable, even if its a few additional miles beyond the Eastern Seaboard.

4) Orlando

It’s a relatively short hop to Jamaica, and take it from one who was there: Exploria Stadium was an absolute cauldron when the USMNT hosted Panama in the penultimate qualifier of the last cycle, a packed house summoning deafening levels of noise in a 4-0 thrashing of Panama.

The steamy Florida humidity should lead us to recognize this huge nation can offer more than one kind of home-field advantage. If you can’t count on winter weather for this one, maybe just lure El Tri into a subtropical sweatbox instead?

5) Washington, D.C.

Audi Field hosted the USMNT against Jamaica in an international friendly last year | USA Today Sports Images

The reality is the population density and dazzling diversity of the “Acela Corridor” means almost any US game along that stretch of I-95 could draw significant numbers of emigre fans and hyphenated Americans to potentially bolster the visiting team. But the nation’s capital sits at the southern edge of the Northeastern megalopolis and has hosted the USMNT more than anywhere else down through the decades.

Most of those visits have been to old RFK Stadium, currently awaiting a date with the wrecking ball. But its successor, Audi Field, could become a similarly fruitful home. The DMV boasts plenty of US supporters, ample flight links for players arriving from Europe and the patriotism vibes would surely intensify with the U.S. Capitol looming just beyond the northern goal.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati, Philly

These are two potential dark horses; Cincy’s lovely-looking West End Stadium will debut in March and the Union’s Subaru Park offers some of the same advantages as D.C. Neither have a particularly substantial national-team track record, however.

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