TAMPA, Florida – I just landed in rainy Tampa, set to spend a few days in and around the U.S. national team as it wades into the vast World Cup 2014 waters.
So I’ve got Tampa on my mind, and how Cigar City has treated U.S. soccer teams past.
When it comes to selecting World Cup qualifier venues, it’s all about competitive advantage. Or it should be.
Getting to the World Cup is the only thing that matters for the U.S. national team, and absolutely nothing should be taken for granted or left to chance. Nothing.
That’s why I prefer smaller venues; Columbus and Kansas City, U.S. Soccer’s choices for subsequent home-soil U.S. qualifiers, sound like dandy selections, indeed. Tampa? I still need some convincing.
If U.S. Soccer wants to squeeze a little more green off the dollar, maximizing revenue from the splattering of friendlies along the way by placing some in larger, lesser tailored venues, well, I suppose I see some big-picture benefit. It’s hardly ideal in my book, but it’s just a citation offense, not an arrest.
So we get to the USMNT history (three matches) at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. What were the crowds, and did they help create an intimidating atmosphere, the kind of F-15 engine blast of noise and the roiling cauldron the U.S. is sure to see next week in Guatemala?
And, pounding the bottom line here, is there a history of success?
The answers: “no.” And, “not much.”
- March, 2007: A crowd of 31,547 saw the United States top Ecuador in a friendly, 3-1.
- February, 2010: A crowd of 21,737 saw the United States top El Salvador, 2-1.
- June, 2011: A crowd of 27,731 saw the United States fall to Panama in Gold Cup group play, a wildly disappointing loss for its historical significance and, later, for its likely role in moving Bob Bradley from his managerial seat.
Conclusions: Those crowds aren’t bad, and those friendlies probably made a little coin for U.S. Soccer. But we’re not exactly talking lottery score here.
And a loss in this very stadium almost one year to the date of Friday’s World Cup qualifier opener? Holy bad recall, Batman! (Last year’s loss came on June 11.)
If we’re honest, none of this should matter against Antigua & Barbuda, a Nano among the iPads and PowerBooks of CONCACAF. Still, the history factor at Raymond James is unimpressive, at very best.