2020 is the start of a new decade, but it will also mark the beginning of the road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. For the United States Men’s National Team, qualification begins in September with the beginning of the Hexagonal qualifying round.
The Hex will be determined differently this cycle, as CONCACAF has revamped its qualification format. Before, the top teams in the region would have to go through a qualifying round involving some of the lesser teams, who enter qualifying earlier, to earn a trip to the Hexagonal round. For the 2022 cycle, the Hex will be comprised of the top 6 teams in the region according to the June 2020 FIFA World Rankings. At #22, the USMNT is basically assured of qualification for the Hex.
The Hex teams, barring something crazy happening between now and June, will be: Mexico, the USMNT, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and either El Salvador or Canada. So, knowing the Hex will most likely be these teams, where should the USMNT play their home matches? For these important matches, the USMNT should consider venues that have natural grass surfaces (the USMNT will not consider venues with artificial turf) that would provide the best home field advantage and create an atmosphere conducive to getting the points necessary to qualify for the World Cup. Let’s examine some possible options for the USMNT as they get ready for the Hex next fall.
Mexico - Allianz Field, St. Paul (Capacity: 19,400)
Fans may still be nostalgic to Mapfre Stadium in Columbus and the many years we enjoyed success against Mexico from 2001 until 2013. They may think that the magic will transfer over to the new Columbus Crew SC stadium, which opens in 2021. However, the loss in 2016 broke the cheat code for Mexico, and it would be nice to find another fortress to house the biggest rivalry in North America. That fortress could be found in Minnesota, with an Allianz Field that can be very loud and intimidating to opponents. With fans right on top of you, the home field advantage in St. Paul would be incredible. This match could be in a lot of places, but the best place could be Allianz. If this match happens to be in November, imagine how much fun it will be to have tons of snow on the ground and in the stands.
Costa Rica - Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City (Capacity: 18,467)
For the 2nd biggest home match in the Hex, we go to the best soccer stadium in America, where we play very well and will have the entire stadium behind the team. Also a candidate to host the Mexico match, the USMNT has only allowed 2 goals in 6 matches at Children’s Mercy Park, and it has long been a difficult place for opponents to play. The noise comes at you from all angles, and the fans are into it the whole match. That will hopefully frustrate the Ticos just as much as it pushes the USMNT forward to victory.
Jamaica - Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City (Capacity: 18,061)
Heading to Denver (and a mile-high elevation) will take Jamaica all the way out of their element. A team built on speed and endurance can have that neutralized in the Rocky Mountain air, and it will present a great advantage for the USMNT. No opponent has scored against the USMNT at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and when full it can be a vibrant atmosphere in a part of the country that doesn’t get a lot of USMNT matches. For this important one, 3 points are very possible if we bring the Reggae Boyz to Denver.
Honduras - Avaya Stadium, San Jose (Capacity: 18,000)
Avaya Stadium is no stranger to World Cup qualifiers, hosting this very same matchup back in 2017. Then, the USMNT won 6-0 in a magical match. They will want to bring that magic back against Honduras, and returning to San Jose to do it will be a match that will bring an energetic atmosphere.
El Salvador - Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville (Capacity: 11,700, expandable to 14,000)
Louisville? Yes, Louisville. Sure, their new stadium, which opens in March, is a small one, but some of the most energetic atmospheres come from stadiums that are small. Louisville City has had some raucous crowds, and moving into a beautiful new stadium will only make the noise louder. Plus, the best stadiums to host World Cup qualifiers aren’t all in MLS. Bringing the game to new parts of the country will mean new fans have a chance to give their all for the USMNT. Against El Salvador, a scrappy team that the USMNT shouldn’t overlook, placing them in the ‘Ville won’t disappoint. Louisville will respond, and it could be a great spot to host an important match.
Canada - Audi Field, DC (Capacity: 20,000)
Audi Field is a stadium built for sound to travel out onto the field, and when it’s at its peak decibel level, it’s arguably the loudest soccer stadium in the country. Ear splitting noise will be rewarded, and facing our neighbors to the north in our nation’s capital will be a recipe for success. Cramming 20,000 people into Audi Field, with the noise coming from all parts of the stadium onto the field, and in front of a wall of supporters, the USMNT will have all the home field advantage they will need to get the win.
The venue selection for the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying will be incredibly important in 2020 and 2021 to give the USMNT the best chance to win all 5 home matches. Hit the comments to discuss where you think the USMNT should play their Hex matches.