The scene will be absolutely pulsating tonight at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Sporting Kansas City will have the home field advantage in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final. Facing Seattle, they’ll get the extra supplies of “Kapow!” that only a raucous volley of frenzied home ground support can provide.
Seattle had the same edge last two years, which is a major part of the reason Sigi Schmid’s team is a three-time defending champion.
The crowd last year was exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Seattle Sounders night: 35,000-plus in rave green splendor, driving their team through voice and raw energy.
It will be the same tonight when Sporting KC and Seattle kick off at 9 p.m. ET; Livestrong Stadium in suburban Kansas City is sure to be sold out, and the sea of Blue Hell will rise high for this one.
As much as I love the brilliant atmosphere, I wonder if it should be this way.
I just can’t get 100 percent comfortable with the thought of a major domestic soccer crown being decided at a home ground. There’s just an inherent unfairness about it – especially when the home ground is decided through a sealed bid, which is tied to how much the owners are willing to spend to provide their club with the big edge.
And it is a big edge. As I’ve written before, since Major League Soccer was born, adding a top professional layer to the annual all-comers competition, home teams are 11-3 in the final. (The final was played on neutral ground twice in that period, hence only 14 finals in the sample over the league’s 16-year history).
That is a significant, undeniable statistical edge, one directly linked to money. That stinks, and there’s no amount of spin that can change my mind on this one.
I always think about the College World Series and how the city of Omaha has created something very special by hosting that event, same time, same place every year. The city and locals devote enormous support and create a real feel and buzz around the event. Together, they’ve created a place on the annual sports calendar, helping to develop something truly unique in domestic athletics.
Being in the middle of the country helps, as it becomes a little more accessible than a full cross country trip required if were on a coast.
So, what if a place like St. Louis did something similar? (Or even Kansas City, I suppose, although that creates an obvious, potential complication in terms of competitive edge.) Any place, really, with a good base of soccer support and a proper ground.
On the one hand, I’d love to see a city and a stadium embrace the project, make it their own, help grow awareness through a locally-based, national sponsor. It would also give clubs something slightly more tangible as a target, as in, “We want to be in St. Louis on the last weekend of September!”
Then again, I might just change my mind as soon as I see the crowd tonight and catch the energy bursting from the stadium at kickoff.
As one reporter friend told me, “The neutral site is a good idea, except for one thing: We just wouldn’t get what we’re going to have in Kansas City.”