Commerce City, Colo. - If you're a soccer fan in Colorado, I hope you're tweeting, facebooking, and otherwise bragging today. I hope you're enjoying being the center of attention, or possibly envy, from the U.S. soccer community across the country. You deserve it.
The U.S. Soccer Federation today announced that they've selected Colorado's Dick's Sporting Goods Park - over all other venues across the country - to host the U.S. Men's National Team's home match versus Costa Rica on March 22.
Put it this way: The road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup for the USMNT will run through Colorado.
The Hexagonal stage, as the final round of Qualifying in CONCACAF is commonly referred to, will begin on February 6, with the U.S. playing at Honduras. The U.S. team's next match is here, making it the first of only five home matches they'll play in the round. Still to be decided is where the U.S. will play their matches against Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras, and Panama.
There's a few possible reasons for U.S. Soccer's choice to return to Colorado.
Altitude: For starters, it's clear the U.S. wanted to play a match at altitude ahead of their Qualifier in Mexico City four days later at Estadio Azteca, (altitude of 7,200 feet). What better way to prepare then by playing at 5,280. With Utah also in the running, and possibly even a finalist to host the match, Rapids fans might look at this decision as Colorado's first victory over their Rocky Mountain rivals this year. (Might also be to better match up with Costa Rica, as they play at around 3,700')
Playing surface: It doesn't matter the time of year, the amount of snow, rain, cold, or heat, the pitch at Dick's Sporting Goods Park is as perfect of a playing surface as any athlete could imaging. No one can dispute this, and it might have been a factor. Winter elements can always throw a wrinkle at a grounds crew, but read what players from Columbus and Salt Lake said of their surfaces early one season. Compare that to this video on how the grounds crew at Dick's Sporting Goods handled a snow storm later that year.
Weather / climate: The U.S. players might have an edge in being able to adapt to the potential cold or snow that a March 22 match presents in the Mile High City. Costa Rica, where the average annual temperature is 81 degrees, might feel the elements - or possibly be intimidated by them.
Home-crowd advantage: Sure, there are many markets across the U.S. that can claim the same, and that's great for the USMNT. But the good thing for Colorado is that U.S. Soccer is paying more attention to this market than some are from other cities. U.S. Soccer knows that average attendance for Rapids home games has increased each of the past four years. They were here in September, when the Colorado fans honored the gold-medal winning Women's team and gave coach Pia Sundhage an emotional send off.
Here's what USMNT head coach said about the March 22 match: “Winning games at home in World Cup Qualifying is crucial, and we really are expecting the fans in Colorado to bring us a huge home-field advantage.”
He later emphasized that the key reason in the decision to bring the Hexagonal home-opener to Colorado was the fans, not the altitude.
"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," he told MLSsoccer.com.
Although we don't yet have ticket details, I'm expecting U.S. Soccer to do as they've done in the past and first offer pre-sale tickets to their email list, and, hopefully, to Rapids season ticket holders. It would be another nice reward for those fans that have committed to support the Colorado Rapids and top-flight professional soccer in Colorado. And I bet once you have those tickets, you'll be bragging again.