SALT LAKE CITY – U.S. players and coaches were effusive in praise for the wonderful atmosphere last week in Seattle, going on and on about the fans’ regard and the enchanting song careening through CenturyLink Field.
The common theme: “We’ve got to come back here!” And rightly so.
But unsaid as the narrative developed was this: It’s like this pretty much wherever the U.S. national team plays now. And isn’t that something!
Rio Tinto Stadium will look and sound just the same tonight. This is a festive and fiery market for the national team, too.
The game sold out in two days. More seats were added and they were gone fast. Attendance for tonight’s match will be 20,250 officially.
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Not that it’s a surprise. In 2005 more than 40,000 fans made Rice-Eccles Field a wonderful place. Bruce Arena told a story about walking out of the team hotel for a haircut on the morning of the match, and how everybody recognized him. Same for the players, who enjoyed being big shots around a smaller market, something that might not have happened in larger cities.
In 2009, Rio Tinto was rocking as the United States found a much-needed win over El Salvador in the drive for South Africa 2010.
Fans and media tend to understandably get caught up in the moment. Last fall in Kansas City, U.S. players talked up Sporting Park and how the team really needed to come back there. And rightly so.
They say the same about Columbus every time they cruise in and out of Ohio. And rightly so. Those are fantastic sites. Loud as it was at CenturyLink, the roof in Kansas City makes a difference, keeping much of that noise inside the ground.
The bigger point is, the United States has options in site selection. Great ones.
Major League Soccer has worked hard to create and cultivate bright markets. And there are good markets beyond MLS shores. Part and parcel here is that U.S. Soccer, with the help of those market leaders, can better control ticket sales. That’s important in creating that advantage in the stands that was so frequently forfeited during qualifiers of the last decade.