Sooner or later, something’s got to give on Seattle as a U.S. national team venue.
The challenges are vast, but at some point the U.S. Soccer federation and officials from Seattle Sounders FC will need to sort out the details of how to match the United States men’s soccer team with the country’s top professional soccer market.
The Sounders just set an MLS attendance record (again!) with a league-leading average of 43,144. In fact, “league-leading” hardly does justice to the town’s dominance here. That whopper-eye-popper of a total was nearly double second-place Los Angeles.
The problem, of course, is down to two words: artificial turf.
Yes, FIFA has approved certain types of the fake stuff for international matches. That happened long ago. But – this is where the Seattle-as-U.S.-venue argument eludes many people – that does not mean that U.S. Soccer or the American players really want to play there.
No one is opposed to Seattle, believe me. Heck, who doesn’t like good coffee, Pike Place salmon tossers, Mount Rainier and all of the city’s wonderful grunginess? Mostly, American players and officials all appreciate how the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, has embraced and enlivened domestic soccer. What’s not to love about it – except for that playing surface, that is?
They just don’t like playing on it. If choices didn’t exist, everyone might think differently. But, clearly, there is a country full of juicy options out there. So from beyond Seattle, it’s a difficult choice to justify.
Yes, officials around CenturyLink could spend the $150,000 to lay a temporary grass field for one match. And how does that usually work out for everyone?
Let me tell you: people like me beat the hell out of U.S. Soccer for trying something that almost never works. The fields are bad, so the game looks bad and plays badly. The players complain (if only quietly), and rightly so, because safety is an issue at some point.
I know the fans in Seattle recoil when they see that (and they tend to get upset when journalists like me write it) but this is not my opinion. I promise you, I’m not making up this stuff! This is what I hear from players, coaches, staff and agents.
So we circle back around to CenturyLink Field – and to Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, for that matter – and its presumed need for artificial turf.
Personally, I’ve always just checked the box here beside “Imperfect World.” CenturyLink Field is where the Sounders need to be in 2012. I have no problem with that.
CenturyLink needs artificial turf. OK, fair enough.
The U.S. Soccer players do not enjoy playing on artificial turf. Therefore …
It’s an imperfect world, so we don’t see important U.S. match there.
Or … Will we? All that said, Seattle Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer seemed to hint at something in today’s piece from The Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers:
… We don’t just want to bring any old game here. If we bring a game, we want it to have some meaning and be a game that our fans are really going to enjoy, and not just be a money grab for U.S. Soccer. That is something that we’re working on, and with a little bit of luck and some hard work, we might have something that we can hopefully hang out hats on in the near future here.”
I’m not sure what that means in terms of U.S. venues and the important matches coming up in 2013.
My best guess at the moment: you won’t see one of the World Cup qualifiers there in 2013, but there is a Gold Cup tournament to be played.
(MORE: Sunil Gulati on venue selection for World Cup final round qualifying)
Last time Seattle hosted the national team, by the way: during the 2009 Gold Cup.