Why U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF chose Nashville

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Olympic qualifying begins in two days in Los Angeles and Nashville. While the important issue to decide here is whether the United States can qualify for London 2012, there is another nagging question nipping at some heels …

Why Nashville for the U.S. group? And why the ginormous LP Field?

It’s a great place. And Nashville is an underrated city. Good BBQ. A great university right in town (Vanderbilt). And while I’m not much of a country music man, I can appreciate the cultural attachments.

But it hardly makes sense for an under-23 soccer tournament that was always going to be a tough sell. (Unlike Los Angeles, where Mexico’s presence will push ticket sales to a better place.) Ticket sales are moving predictably slow in Nashville and, even if there’s a big walkup, the TV pictures are likely to show a cavernous facility with more than 50,000 empty seats.

Nashville’s LP Field was a joint choice between U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF.  So I talked to U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe about it this morning.

As always, lots of factors are in play when selecting international match venues, he said: facility availability, locker room space (enough for four teams), other events preceding the match (that might rip up the field), frequency of U.S. Soccer visits, type of surface, seating capacity, weather, travel logistics, etc. So, LP Field checked all the right boxes.

“The field is in great shape,” he said. “And they have such a great staff there, and really go out of their way to support the event.”

There is a good chance of a healthy crowd and much better atmosphere in Kansas City, site of the (all-important) March 31 semifinals and (rather anti-climactic) final.  Both semifinal winners advance to London.

Ticket sales are already around 5,000 for the semis at Livestrong Sporting Park, Buethe said.  If the United States and Mexico advance into the semis as expected, the numbers are sure to rise quickly.