The United States has long played World Cup qualifiers in soccer-specific stadiums, opting to do everything in their power to ensure the team a home-field advantage. But friendlies have been about making money and getting as many people in the stadium as possible. That was doubly true for pre-World Cup matches, when the Americans hoped to use the excitement for the tournament to get people in the door and turn them into fans.
That isn't quite the case this time around, though.
While the U.S. is playing their first Send-Off Series match at Candlestick Park in San Francisco -- capacity 70,207 -- and their third one at Everbank Field in Jacksonville -- capacity 67,246 -- the second pre-World Cup friendly will be played at Red Bull Arena. The capacity there? 25,189.
And now the USSF has a bit of a problem: there are way more fans who want to go to the match at Red Bull Arena, to be played June 1 against Turkey, than the stadium can possibly hold.
The match isn't just being played in New York, the nation's biggest market, it is the lone pre-World Cup match in the soccer crazed Northeast. That makes it the closest match for not just New York and New Jersey, but Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and all of New England too. Throw in this being the most anticipated World Cup in American history and you have a demand unlike any other.
The USSF is committed to The American Outlaws, offering them some tickets, while members of the U.S. Soccer Supporters Club (a cash grab, but not too bad), Visa cardholders (have to take care of corporate sponsors) and people willing to pony up for VIP packages can also get tickets.
But what if you're not a hardcore or flush with cash? What if you're just a regular fan who wants to see the U.S. before the World Cup or an American, maybe or maybe not a sports fan, who wants to partake in the nationalistic spectacle? You're at the mercy of a lottery.
The general public will have 24 hours to enter a ticket lottery and will be notified if they got tickets three days later. If they can't get them, oh well. They'll have to fly to San Francisco or Jacksonville to see the U.S. before the World Cup.
Of course, this could all have been avoided if the USSF hadn't taken the match to a soccer-specific stadium.
Prior to the last two World Cups, the Americans played three of their five matches in stadiums that held at least 68,000 fans, with 40,000 seat Rentschler Field in Hartford hosting the other two. In fact, the last time the U.S. played a send-off match in a stadium that held less than 40,000 was back in 1998, when the U.S. played Kuwait at Civic Stadium (now Providence Park) in Portland.
Of course, those matches did not sell out, but the U.S. fan base was not as big as it is now and the pre-World Cup buzz was a fraction of what is expected this summer. Despite that, all but one drew more than can possibly fit in Harrison's soccer cathedral.
It's not as if the U.S. is short on stadiums that can hold enough fans for the matches. Every NFL stadium holds at least 60,000 fans, while dozens of college football stadiums do as well and even some MLB stadiums can host a crowd topping 40,000. Those options include MetLife Stadium and Citi Field (if they are available, Yankee Stadium is not), both of which are in the New York/New Jersey area and hold 82,566 and 45,000 fans respectively. If not, Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia all offer options.
But instead of going to a stadium that could hold huge crowds and avoid a lottery, the USSF chose Red Bull Arena, which is not without its positives. The smaller stadium should provide an absolutely sensational atmosphere, perfectly capturing the World Cup excitement, plus it is an opportunity to show off the growth of the sport in America by showcasing one of its best stadiums. That a small stadium allows them to charge a pretty penny for tickets isn't bad either.
The question is whether that is worth shutting out thousands of fans in the country's biggest market for the lone pre-World Cup friendly the U.S. will play in Northeast? Is it worth limiting the opportunities for thousands of casual fans who could have turned into diehard fans with one great experience?
The USSF says yes, so enter that lottery and cross your fingers. We'll cross ours for you too.