USMNT should choose from these 19 overlooked US cities for home games

While attendances for home US Men’s National Team (USMNT) games have been on the decline for several years due to exorbitant ticket prices and a lack of belief in the national team, there may be one factor that the US Soccer Federation is overlooking that could give the men’s team a boost — the home stadiums that they’re selecting.

Since October 2014 when the USMNT played its first home game following the World Cup in Brazil, the team has played 68 games on home soil. During that time, 75% of those matches (51 to be exact) have been played in the same 21 stadiums.

Consider that attendances have dropped for four straight years (in fact, 2019 saw the lowest USMNT attendance since 2006). And of late, January’s friendly against Costa Rica drew a paltry 9,172 fans, the ninth crowd of less than ten thousand fans since October, 2015.  

Is it any wonder that crowds are so low when the US team keeps on returning to the same markets for largely meaningless friendlies six months after fans forked over money for a Gold Cup or World Cup qualifying game?

For complete transparency, here’s where the US Men’s National Team has played home games from 2014 to 2020:

Upper South

Nissan Stadium – Nashville, TN (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)

South Central

Toyota Stadium – Frisco, TX (2015, 2016)

Southwest

State Farm Stadium – Glendale, AZ (2016, 2019)

West Coast

Earthquakes Stadium – San Jose, CA (2017, 2019)
Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, CA (2016, 2017)
Dignity Health Sports Park – Carson, CA (2015, 2016 x2, 2018, 2020)

Midwest

First Energy Stadium – Cleveland, OH (2017, 2019)
Soldier Field – Chicago, IL (2016, 2019)
Busch Stadium – St. Louis, MO (2015, 2019)
Mapfre Stadium – Columbus, OH (2016 x2)
Children’s Mercy Park – Kansas City, KS (2015, 2016, 2019)

East Coast

Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, FL (2017, 2018)
Exploria Stadium – Orlando, FL (2017, 2019 x2)
MetLife Stadium – East Rutherford, NJ (2018, 2019)
Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA (2016, 2017, 2019)
Talen Energy Stadium – Chester, PA (2015, 2018)
Audi Field – Washington DC (2019 x2)
RFK Stadium – Washington DC (2015, 2016)
Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ (2015, 2017)
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, MA (2015 x2)
Pratt & Whitney Stadium – Hartford, CT (2014, 2017, 2018)

The stadiums selected are even more irritating when you look at the list more closely.  For example, several of the stadiums on this list are in the same metropolitan area: Talen Energy Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field are both in the Philadelphia metro area. RFK Stadium and Audi Field are both in Washington DC, and so on.  

From October 2014 to February 2020, the US has played 51 of its 68 home games in the same 17 cities.  In a country with a population of 327 million, and four time zones, this is unacceptable.

One small step towards rebuilding the trust and goodwill among fans would be for US Soccer to start branching out and playing in some new cities. Play games in places where they either haven’t played in a long time, or places where they’ve never played before. Attendance may end up being poor in some of these new places, but it’s already bad right now in the same dozen venues.  At the very least, US Soccer could score some PR points for taking the game to different stadiums, and appearing to attempt to reconnect with fans.

Here’s a list of cities (in alphabetical order) for US Soccer to consider visiting before cycling back to their preferred places:  

Albuquerque

Last USMNT appearance: 2005

New Mexico is frequently overlooked as part of the American sporting landscape and perhaps justifiably so as they have no teams in any of the big four sports leagues. Nor are their two NCAA Division I schools (New Mexico and New Mexico State) much to write home about in either American football or basketball.  But just last year, the soccer scene got a big boost as New Mexico United began play in USL.  They were a resounding success as they averaged 12,693 in league play, had a record high attendance of 15,247 and even played a friendly against Cardiff City from the Championship.

Atlanta

Last USMNT appearance: 2015

This one should be a no brainer. Atlanta has become the new standard for what American soccer support can be.  Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a world-class venue that has played host to 55 soccer games since it opened in September 2017 and has averaged 52,905 fans per game.  It has already played host to an MLS All-Star Game, an MLS Cup Final, and a US Open Cup Final.  It’s also already had an international friendly played there when Mexico and Venezuela clashed in 2019.  

Birmingham

Last USMNT appearance: 2005

Soccer has long struggled to make significant inroads in the South.  But in 2019, Birmingham got a USL team which has helped raise the profile of the game in the area (the Legion averaged 4,562 fans per game in a 5,000-seat stadium on the campus of UAB).  Birmingham also frequently hosts massive youth tournaments with teams and referees from all over the region.  

Boise

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

While soccer doesn’t typically move the needle here, there have been flashes.  Most recently in August 2019, the US indoor soccer team made an appearance in Boise with none other than Landon Donovan captaining the squad.  Also worth noting is that in 2015 a club friendly between Athletic Bilbao and Club Tijuana drew close to 22,000 fans at Albertson’s Stadium (home to the famous blue turf of Boise State’s American football team).  

Charlotte

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

Charlotte has long been considered the next big American soccer market.  Charlotte Independence began play in USL in 2015.  MLS is slated to arrive soon.  Numerous games during the Gold Cup and the International Champions Cup have been staged there.  Mexico’s national team is popular there, having played at Bank of America Stadium four times between 2010 and 2019 (and never drawing less than 46,000).  The USWNT played there just last year and drew over 30,000 fans.  There’s no reason for the USMNT to not play there as well. 

Chattanooga

Last USMNT appearance: 2017

Yes, they played here as recently as three years ago.  However, the soccer scene in Chattanooga is quite strong and only making one appearance in this city is criminal.  The lone appearance by the USMNT drew 17,903 in a stadium with a capacity of just over 20,000.  The USWNT also made an appearance in 2015 and sold out the stadium.  On top of that, the 2015 NPSL final between Chattanooga FC and the New York Cosmos B drew a crowd of 18,227.  Consistent support like that needs to be rewarded with a national team appearance.  

El Paso

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

By area, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous US.  Yet, US Soccer has deemed that only Dallas and Houston are worthy of hosting US games.  Never mind that neither of the two MLS venues in those cities ever sells out for the MNT (or for the WNT).  Not playing in more locations in Texas is misguided.  Furthermore, the El Paso Locomotive just began play in USL in 2019 and averaged 6,585 fans per game in a 7,500 seat stadium.  A USMNT appearance would certainly be a boon to the soccer scene.

Honolulu

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

The sheer distance to Hawaii makes this one a little difficult, but not undoable.  US Soccer tried to have the USWNT play a game against Trinidad & Tobago at Aloha Stadium in 2015, though that game was cancelled due to the poor state of the field.  Opponent selection could also be a problem but teams like Japan, South Korea or China could move the needle. In 2008, Honolulu played host to the Pan-Pacific Championship which had two American clubs, one Australian club and one Japanese club.  The final between Gamba Osaka and the Houston Dynamo drew 23,087.  And should the USMNT play in Hawaii, it’s a good bet that a number of fans from the mainland would travel.

Indianapolis

Last USMNT appearance: 1988

Indy is quietly a big-time sports town.  They have an NFL team and an NBA team.  The Big Ten has played its conference championship football game there every year since 2011.  The NCAA Final Four is played there every five years.  On the soccer side of things, Indy Eleven has been playing in USL for the last two seasons and was in NASL for the four years before that.  They’ve averaged over 10,000 fans per game since they’ve been in USL.  And back in 2013, Lucas Oil Stadium played host to an International Champions Cup game between Chelsea and Inter Milan that drew over 41,000 fans.  

Las Vegas

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

It feels like all of a sudden, Vegas is the place to be when it comes to sports.  The city was given an NHL expansion team that began play in 2017 and made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.  The NFL’s Raiders are in the process of moving there and will begin play in their new stadium on the Strip next season.  Soccer wise, Vegas has more of a history than people would think. Caesar’s Palace played host to the draw for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.  More recently, Mexico’s national team had a friendly against Iceland in 2017 that drew a crowd of 30,617.  Several clubs from Mexico have also played exhibition games in Sin City with Tijuana and Leon playing in 2017.  The Las Vegas Lights began play in USL in 2018 and averaged 6,395 fans per game.  In 2019, they were managed by former USMNT striker Eric Wynalda and averaged 7,711 fans per game.  With everybody wanting a piece of Vegas, US Soccer should too. And much like Hawaii, who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?  

Little Rock

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

Little Rock is in the same boat as Albuquerque.  They don’t have any of the Big Four teams, nor do either of the two NCAA Division I American football schools reside in Little Rock (Arkansas is in Fayetteville and Arkansas State is in Jonesboro).  They also don’t have too much in the way of a big time soccer scene, though the Little Rock Rangers have been plugging along in NPSL since 2016.  The reason to play a game here is that not only is there a stadium big enough to have an international soccer game (War Memorial Stadium with a capacity of 54,000) but Little Rock is very easy to get to from a number of cities: Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, etc.  If the goal is to take the game to more people, this would certainly fit the bill. 

Louisville

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

This one may be close to happening.  Louisville City has been one of the most dominant teams in lower league American soccer history.  They joined USL in 2015 and have made the Eastern Conference Finals every single year, and have gone to three straight USL Finals, winning in 2017 and 2018.  The University of Louisville also has a history of winning, and opened up a new, on-campus, soccer-specific stadium in 2014 that is among the best in college soccer.  But the key piece to getting the USMNT to Louisville is the brand new home of Louisville City, Lynn Family Stadium.  It’s a $65 million stadium with a seating capacity of 11,700 but is expandable up to 14,000.  With an NWSL team set to begin play there in 2021, a USWNT game in the future is almost a certainty.  Why not a USMNT game too?

Memphis

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

The Bluff City has rapidly become an growing soccer city.  Some of the largest youth tournaments in the region are held at Mike Rose Soccer Complex, sometimes with an excess of 200 teams and 100 referees.  Memphis also periodically cracks the top 10 markets for Premier League games on NBC.  A club friendly between Colorado Rapids and Tulsa Roughnecks in September 2018 drew nearly 9,000 people.  And last year, Memphis 901 FC (where USMNT legend Tim Howard is now the Sporting Director) began play in USL.  They played 19 games at their home stadium of AutoZone Park: 17 USL games, 1 US Open Cup Game, and 1 club friendly.  Across those 19 games, the average attendance was 6,564.  With a former USMNT goalkeeper in the front office, and former US U-23 goalkeeping coach Tim Mulqueen coaching the team, perhaps Memphis could use its connections within the federation to lure a national team game to the Mid South.  

Miami

Last USMNT appearance: 2011

While the USMNT may not have played here in nine years, there is certainly an appetite for soccer in Miami.  Several clubs have played high-profile exhibitions there in recent years: Barcelona and Napoli drew 57,000 in 2019, Manchester United-Real Madrid drew 64,000 in 2018, and games between PSG and Juventus and Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2017 drew 44,000 and 66,000 respectively. International friendlies have done well there too: Peru and Croatia drew 46,000 in 2018, while in 2019 Brazil and Colombia drew 65,000. The USMNT probably wouldn’t draw those kinds of numbers, but it’s worth a shot.  

Milwaukee

Last USMNT appearance: 1990

Milwaukee has not seen a US National Team (men or women) for quite some time.  But that’s not to say that soccer hasn’t been played there.  A number of club exhibitions have happened and the crowds have always been promising.  In 2018, a pair of Liga MX clubs (Pachuca and Leon) drew 18,321.  In 2015, Atlas and Newcastle United battled in front of 21,256 people.  With their last appearance coming 30 years ago, it’s beyond time for the USMNT to return to Milwaukee.  

New Orleans

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

When thinking of New Orleans, soccer is not the first thing that comes to mind. But New Orleans is a party town, and US Soccer is desperately in need of a party atmosphere.  Plenty of big events are staged in New Orleans on a routine basis.  The Super Bowl has been held there a number of times.  The Sugar Bowl is an annual tradition.  The Final Four often frequents the town.  The USWNT played there back in 2017 (and drew 9,371) and back in 2015 (where they drew 32,590).  US Soccer would be wise to put a USMNT game there too.    

Oklahoma City

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

Professional soccer in OKC has only been around since 2014 when the OKC Energy began play in USL.  In their inaugural season, they averaged 3,702 fans per game.  The next year, it went up to 4,465.  In 2016, it jumped up to 5,140.  The year after that, it fell to 4,339.  The year 2018 saw it hold steady for the most part at 4,298.  And last year it again hovered around the same spot at 4,442.  It’s worth wondering if a USMNT appearance might help boost the profile of the local club (a strategy US Soccer has employed numerous times when attempting to bump attendance for some MLS teams).  

Omaha

Last USMNT appearance: N/A

Omaha is another city that’s not exactly a hotbed for soccer, but it’s one with potential.  USL certainly thinks so because Union Omaha begins play this year.  Creighton Bluejays have typically had a decent men’s soccer program, taking the to the NCAA College Cup five times in their history, most recently in 2012 (even finishing as runner-up in 2000).  They also had at least one player taken in the MLS SuperDraft every year from 1996 until 2014.  Outside of that, the only other soccer in Omaha has been a USWNT appearance in 2010 that drew 6,493 against Sweden. A USMNT appearance would serve the game well here.   

Portland

Last USMNT appearance: 2013

Just like Atlanta, this one is a no-brainer. Portland sells out every game for the Timbers in MLS and sells out almost every game for the Thorns in the NWSL.  Merritt Paulson just spent a vast sum of money to expand Providence Park to increase the capacity to over 25,000.  At this point, not playing national team games in Portland (MNT or WNT, as the women haven’t been there since 2012) is silly.  

Many of these places may not draw massive crowds for a USMNT game, but the USMNT is currently drawing sparsely in the same places they’ve been playing in for years, so what does US Soccer have to lose?  

US Soccer has long focused on trying to gain national media attention in the biggest markets but has neglected the small and medium sized markets.  It may come as a shock to some, but there are soccer fans in the US outside of New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Orlando.  At a time when belief in the national team and federation is at an all-time low, nothing but good can come from allowing more fans to see the team in person.

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