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Back in the U.S.S.A.: The Big Six Venues

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.

So the Women’s World Cup is back here in the States. But as much as it is a complete bummer for China, it is a complete boon for the U.S. Women’s National Team, the WUSA, and simply, soccer in general. But where to play, especially on such short notice? Do you go for the same big stadiums that made USA ’99 the most successful women’s sporting event in history? Or do you take a safer approach and pick venues more around the 30,000-seat, FIFA-friendly benchmark?

We learned the answer just four days ago. That answer? Both. FIFA and U.S. Soccer agreed on a format that features six stellar venues: three big football stadiums to hold major market crowds and three more soccer-friendly stadiums that will be packed to the rafters. The Armchair Midfielder goes about breaking down the basics of each venue and taking a stab at why each venue made it as one of the Big Six, which are listed in the order that the U.S. would make a stop on the way to their repeating as Women’s World Cup champions.

Game 1: RFK Stadium
City: Washington, D.C.
Capacity: 53,000
Tenants: D.C. United (MLS), Washington Freedom (WUSA)
Big-game history: Has averaged just under 47,000 fans for four U.S. World Cup qualifiers in the 1990s. Also hosted the 1997 and 2000 MLS Cups, the 2002 MLS All-Star Game, the 2002 WUSA Inaugural Game and a 1996 Olympic game.
Why it made the cut: The site of 16 U.S. matches (12 friendlies and four World Cup qualifiers) across the last 12 years, the USA’s history at RFK is overwhelming. Add in the stadium’s history with successfully hosting marquee MLS, WUSA and Olympic events, and it may be the most storied soccer venue in the nation. It only makes sense to start the team’s title defense in the nation’s capital.

Game 2: Lincoln Financial Field
City: Philadelphia, Pa.
Capacity: 70,000
Tenant: Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)
Big-game history: Ruud and the Man.U. boys will be the first to baptize the pitch when they face Barcelona there on August 3.
Why it made the cut: Well, first off, it’s a magnificent new stadium. While U.S. National Teams haven’t played in the city of Brotherly Love in the last ten years and its big-game history is slim to none, U.S. Soccer is confident that this relatively new soccer market will be able to step up and pack the choice venue for the first and possibly last chance to see Mia and the gang all together on one field.

Game 3: Columbus Crew Stadium
City: Columbus, Ohio
Capacity: 22,555
Tenant: Columbus Crew (MLS)
Big-game history: Hosted the delightfully chilly 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Mexico in 2001. Has also hosted 2001 MLS Cup, 2000 MLS All-Star Game, and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finals.
Why it made the cut: The original prototype for major soccer-specific stadiums in the U.S., it keeps getting better and better, and has made a name for itself by successfully hosting all kinds of events, from futbol to football to lacrosse to *NSync concerts. They know how to stage an event, and the venue has become the closest thing in geographic terms that Chicago-based U.S. Soccer has known to a “home” stadium.

Game 4: Gillette Stadium
City: Foxboro, Mass.
Capacity: 68,000
Tenants: New England Revolution (MLS), New England Patriots (NFL)
Big-game history: More than 50,000 fans flocked to Foxboro for a U.S. game at ’99 WWC. Foxboro has also hosted a ton of important World Cup qualifiers (the last one being the 2-1 win on Oct. 7, 2001 that sent the U.S. to the 2002 World Cup), three MLS Cups (the last one being in 2002 that drew another 50,000+ crowd), and the 2001 Founder’s Cup.
Why it made the cut: Like RFK, Foxboro has been a frequent stop for both the U.S. men and women. In fact, the city has hosted more U.S. matches (15; 11 men’s and four women’s) than any venue in the country over the last 10 years. Coming back to one of the places that made us what we are was a no-brainer.

Game 5: PGE Park (formerly Civic Stadium)
City: Portland, Ore.
Capacity: 28,359 (with temporary bleachers added)
Tenants: Portland Timbers (A-League), Portland Beavers (Triple-A Baseball), Portland State University (NCAA Football)
Big-game history: Was one of eight venues for 1999 WWC and was host of the U.S. WNT send-off match in ’99. PGE, then Civic, has also hosted a successful U.S. Men’s World Cup Qualifier as well as WNT friendlies in the late 90’s.
Why it made the cut: Portland fans rallied around non-U.S. tournament games four years ago and had solid turnouts, despite being the smallest of the seven markets. The converted baseball field works well for soccer and its setting below ground right in the smack of downtown gives it an added community atmosphere. And it doesn’t hurt that the city just spent ten of millions of dollars to renovate the place.

Game 6: Home Depot Center
City: Carson, Calif.
Capacity: 27,500
Tenant: L.A. Galaxy (MLS)
Big-game history: Set to host both marquee MLS events this year with the All-Star Game on Aug. 2 and the 2003 MLS Cup on Nov. 23, not to mention a possible WWC send-off match for the WNT in early Sept.
Why it made the cut: Now completed, it has already become the crown jewel of MLS and the soccer nation, with the added bonus of being U.S. Soccer’s new National Training Center. Even with only two Galaxy games under its belt, the state-of-the-art facility and overall complex has already become THE soccer destination for years to come, and hosting WWC matches in its first year in existence is ideal.

Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Back in the U.S.S.A.: The Big Six Venues)
2) In Threes (w/ MNT defender Greg Vanney)
3) DeeJay for a Day (w/ U-17 MNT forward Guillermo Gonzalez)
4) Queries & Anecdotes (w/ WNT forward Mia Hamm)
5) Mark That Calendar (MNT vs. Group B – France 2003)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT midfielder Eddie Lewis)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Who will win the 2003 Confederations Cup?)
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (1999 Confederations Cup Trivia)

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