Three months after Kansas City unveiled a stunning $75 million national training center, the soccer facility has its first major visitors on the calendar. And it lured high-profile games down the street, to boot.
The United States women’s national team will visit Children’s Mercy Park on July 26, and the venue will also host a 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup men’s doubleheader next summer.
The U.S. women are scheduled to face Japan at 6 p.m. on July 26, following a match between Brazil and Australia at 3:15 p.m. in the second annual Tournament of Nations. The four teams will play a round-robin format at three different venues, with the home to Sporting Kansas City hosting the openers.
The U.S. women plan to arrive four to five days earlier to train at Pinnacle, a shared facility between U.S. Soccer and Sporting KC that opened in February. Part of the venue's concept was drawing the national teams to Kansas City on a more regular basis.
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These two events represent a starting point.
“I think you need these events to have those nations come in, see the facility and experience the world-class nature of it,” Sporting KC president and CEO Jake Reid said. “Then ultimately when they leave, they’re talking to everyone else about it. I think that’s how the word spreads.
“I don’t think you can underplay the importance of having a world-class training facility that can host four different teams. So, yeah, I believe it makes a massive difference and will only continue to enhance the type of events we get here.”
U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis toured Pinnacle on Wednesday, along with Jay Berhalter, the U.S. Soccer chief commercial officer. Berhalter laid out several factors in determining locations for both men’s and women’s national team matches, with the stadium and field king among them.
But, he added, “The training facility is definitely a component that we look to make sure our teams have a great environment. We always want that. So having a world-class facility available is definitely a plus.”
That could bode well for Kansas City in the latter announcement Wednesday — the men’s Gold Cup matches in 2019. The participants in the doubleheader will be announced in September. It’s not yet guaranteed to include the U.S. men’s national team, though the Americans have played at Children’s Mercy Park each of the previous two times the venue has hosted the biennial tournament.
“I’d say, just based on the history and what we know, we’re (optimistic) that there’s a pretty good chance of that happening,” Reid said.
The U.S. has automatically qualified for the Gold Cup, which will be played in 13 American cities, along with sites in Central America and the Caribbean. The 16-team event runs from June 14-July 7. The 2019 version will be the third trip to Children’s Mercy Park.
The Gold Cup includes six automatic qualifiers — the U.S., Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, along with 10 open spots secured through qualification. It’s likely to be the first major tournament for the U.S. men after hiring a coach and general manager. U.S. Soccer’s search for both positions is ongoing after the team did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup this summer.
The U.S. women have played seven times in Kansas City, the previous three at Children’s Mercy Park. They have never lost inside the stadium. The July tilt with Japan will be a rematch of the 2015 World Cup Final won by the Americans.
The appearance comes only months after Kansas City lost its National Women’s Soccer League franchise, FC Kansas City, to Salt Lake City.
“Our players love coming here. It’s a very comfortable place for us,” Ellis said. “I think the fans and the field are usually the two leading qualifiers in terms of what we want, and they’re both fantastic here.”