USA at Red Bull Arena: When soccer-specific is right

Mike Stobe

SB Nation's Ryan Rosenblatt explained why RBA is the wrong venue for a World Cup tune up match. I'm going to explain why it's right.

Back in March, it was announced that the US Men's Team, ahead of the 2014 World Cup, would play a three game send off series, visiting San Fransisco, CA, Jacksonville, FL, and Harrison, NJ. Ryan Rosenblatt, of SB Nation's US blog Stars and Stripes FC says that Red Bull Arena is not the right choice because the small capacity causes a lottery to sell tickets. My response: so what?

First off, there is a specific reason why RBA was picked, and it didn't have to do with the number of seats. The US' World Cup travel schedule for the group stage starts in Natal, Brazil, then to Manaus, and finishes in Recife. Total travel distance, approximately 3,484.93 miles. San Fransisco to Harrison to Jacksonville: 3394.52. It's pretty clear that part of the intent was to mimic the amount of miles that will be traveled during the group stage.

Now, you can make the argument that MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford would be a natural selection due to the 82,566 capacity. However, there's two things standing in the way. First, local radio station Hot 97 has, since 2008, held their annual "Summer Jam" concert at Giants Stadium and now MetLife Stadium, with this year's concert scheduled for June 1st. Second, MetLife uses Field Turf, not grass. Field Turf causes more wear on players' legs and won't be used in the World Cup. After MetLife, there is no other stadium in the New Jersey/New York area that cannot properly accommodate a send off game, including Yankee Stadium (hosting MLB on June 1) and Citi Field. Does US Soccer really want to see a baseball field underneath it's players in what is essentially an ad for the World Cup? What about the size of the field? Red Bull Arena provides a properly sized soccer pitch, something Citi Field can't.

Ryan mentions Rentschler Field in Hartfor, CT having hosted a send off match before. While he's right, that stadium also hosted a 2013 Gold Cup match. D.C. is another option, but that area has hosted the team at least one time each of the last 3 years. Baltimore also hosted a Gold Cup match in 2013. The last time the NJ/NY area hosted the men was October 2011 (US-Ecuador), the only time Red Bull Arena has hosted the US Men's Team, and it wasn't even a competitive match.

Coming back to the capacity issue, yes, Red Bull Arena can't hold more than 26,000 fans, but again, so what? Using Soccer Specific Stadiums isn't new, and neither is a ticket lottery. During CONCACAF Qualification last September, Crew Stadium (Capacity 20,145) Columbus was used to host US-Mexico (like it always is). Tickets to that game were sold using a lottery, and that was a competitive game! I'm sure demand was larger than supply then as well. What about Sporting Park (18,467) hosting three competitive games (Gold Cup & 2 World Cup Qualifiers)? What about Dicks Sporting Good Park (17,424-19,680), Rio Tinto (20,213), and Providence Park (20,438-22,000)? Those were all Soccer Specific, yet I heard no complaining then about capacity and fans being locked out.  Yet RBA (25,189) gets the complaints after US Soccer makes a decision on how to sell tickets?

The question is whether that is worth shutting out thousands of fans in the country's biggest market for the lone pre-World Cup friendly the U.S. will play in Northeast? Is it worth limiting the opportunities for thousands of casual fans who could have turned into diehard fans with one great experience?

Isn't playing games in California, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Washington, & Oregon limiting? Isn't only having 5 games (1 competitive) in 3 years (1 in 2012-13) limiting for a region? Instead of bemoaning fans being shut out of the lone friendly played in the north east, how about we ask why US Soccer isn't giving the north east more credit, and more opportunities to support US Soccer?

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