Most qualifying cycles, it comes down to the final few games before the U.S. men’s national team punches its ticket to the FIFA World Cup.
If that trend continues, Sporting Park will play host to one of the most critical matches on the road to Brazil in 2014 — the last home contest in the final round of CONCACAF qualification on Oct. 11 against Jamaica.
U.S. Soccer announced the locations for the final four home dates on Thursday, one day before its first home match in the Hexagonal at 9 p.m. Friday against Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
“It looks like it could wind up being a very key game, and that’s what we want happening at Sporting Park — key games for the national team,” Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said. “Hopefully, this will continue the trend of those games being played in Kansas City and, over time, we’ll see more and more of them.”
The remaining three home matches also were announced. The U.S. men will play host to Panama on June 11 at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, followed by a match June 18 against Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
The coveted U.S./Mexico showdown returns to Columbus Crew Stadium.
All of the U.S. men’s home games in this qualifying cycle, including the Jamaica game in Kansas City, will be televised by ESPN.
“Anytime the national team plays a World Cup qualifier at your stadium, you’re very happy with it,” Heineman said.
It will be the third time the U.S. men play at Sporting Park, including a Gold Cup match in June 2011 and a 3-1 win against Guatemala in the semifinal round of qualifying last October.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl told The Star prior to the announcement that the federation looks for the “best possible place to get three points” and that the “pro-U.S. atmosphere at Sporting Park for the Guatemala game and the 2011 Gold Cup were great signs for KC.”
Heineman never had a doubt about that.
“It’s a huge testament to the fans,” Heineman said. “I don’t think, if you asked someone who didn’t know, where’s the likely location for the biggest game in the country that they’d pick Kansas City. It’s a testament to what the fans have built here and what they’ve turned Sporting Park into. I think it’s going to be a fortress for the team that over the years will become even more important.”
U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann certainly seems to be enamored with Sporting Park.
“From an energy point of view, it’s one of the best venues in the United States,” he said. “The stadium itself is a piece of art. It’s thrilling just to be in that facility.”
Entering Friday’s match against Costa Rica, the U.S., 0-1-0, sits last among the six teams in the six-team round-robin table after a 2-1 loss in Honduras last month.
The U.S., who were the only team not to pick up at least one point in the opening match, also plays Mexico on Tuesday at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
The top three finishers in the so-called “Hex” will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fourth-place finisher will face a two-leg playoff game against the winner of the Oceania Confederation’s qualifying tournament for another berth.