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Top 20 overlooked cities that USMNT should consider for home games

USMNT future games

The US Men’s National Team (USMNT) faces a unique challenge in planning out locations for future games.

There are 50 states spread out across thousands of miles. Yet, there are only so many games to go around. Many other countries around the world, especially within CONCACAF, are geographically small. Island nations and Central American countries are small enough that cities and venues for games are limited.

US Soccer seems to have forgotten that they have fans throughout the whole of this country, not just in a few select cities or states. Hosting duties for the 2026 World Cup are rapidly approaching, along with the 2028 Summer Olympics.  The USMNT needs to take a traveling roadshow mentality and start playing in as many different places as possible.

Upcoming games

During the current World Cup cycle, starting after November 2017, the USMNT played a total of 43 home games in 27 different stadiums across 18 states, including Washington, D.C. On face value, that seems like a decent variety of places.

However, this is not the case. Of these 18 different states represented, 53% of those games have been played in just five states. Florida leads the way with six, trailed by five in Ohio. Then, California, Kansas and Texas each hosted four games. Upon further inspection, many fans notice that the US has not played a game in northeastern United States since September 2019, a 3-0 debacle against Mexico at MetLife Stadium. Nor has the U.S. played in the north west since June 2016 during Copa América Centenario.

Remedies to the issue

In our opinion, US Soccer needs to diversify the list of places they play their games, plain and simple. One aim of US Soccer is to grow the popularity of the USMNT. With the 2022 World Cup nearing and the 2026 World Cup on home soil, there are ways to do that. The federation must get around to all different corners of the country.

Here’s a list of places US Soccer should consider trying to play a game or two over the next four years. This list is limited to places the US has not played during either of the last two World Cup cycles. Essentially, that is since September 2014. Therefore, obvious locations such as Seattle, Atlanta or San Antonio are not on this list. That being said, there are no issues with the U.S. returning to those sites.

Ideal locations for USMNT future games

(In alphabetical order)

1) Albuquerque, NM

Last USMNT appearance: 2005

New Mexico is frequently overlooked as part of the American sports landscape. 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 in 2019, the soccer scene got a big boost as New Mexico United began play in USL Championship. They were a resounding success as they averaged 12,693 in league play and had a record high attendance of 15,247. With the USMNT having been absent for 17 years (since a 1-0 friendly win against Honduras in 2005), it’s about time to return.

 

2) Birmingham, AL

Last USMNT appearance: 2005

Soccer has long struggled to make significant inroads in Alabama. But in 2019, Birmingham got a USL Championship team that 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 before moving into the brand-new Protective Stadium for the 2022 season. It’s a 47,000-seat stadium that plays host to the UAB football team as well as other big events. Birmingham also frequently hosts massive youth tournaments with teams and referees from all over the region. The last USMNT appearance was 17 years ago when they defeated Guatemala 2-0 during World Cup Qualifying in front of a crowd of 31,624 at the old Legion Field.

 

3) Boise, ID

Last USMNT appearance: None

While soccer doesn’t typically move the needle in Idaho, there have been signs of hope. In August 2019, the US indoor soccer team made an appearance in Boise with 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 football team).

 

4) Buffalo, NY

Last USMNT appearance: None

While the USMNT has played in the New York City area numerous times over the years, those have all been either at Giants Stadium (and its successor MetLife Stadium) or Red Bull Arena. All three of those stadiums are across the river in New Jersey. The last time the US played a game in the state of New York was way back in November 1984 against Ecuador in the town of Hempstead on Long Island.

 

5) Charleston, SC

Last USMNT appearance: None

The USMNT has never played a game in the state of South Carolina, and there’s no time like the present to remedy that. For almost 30 years, the Charleston Battery has been alone on the soccer scene but always had a following. The USWNT played in Charleston several times at the old MUSC Health Stadium (originally known as Blackbaud Stadium) but the fans never got to see a USMNT game. It might be well past the time to reward them with an appearance.

 

6) Charlotte, NC

Last USMNT appearance: None

Charlotte has long been considered the next big American soccer market. Charlotte Independence began play in the USL Championship in 2015 before Charlotte FC arrived in MLS this season. So far, it’s safe to say that it’s been a success, with the team averaging 41,634 fans per game through four games (drawing a whopping 74,479 for their home opener against the LA Galaxy). 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 a friendly in 2019 and drew over 30,000 fans. There’s no reason for the USMNT not to play there as well.

 

7) Detroit, MI

Last USMNT appearance: 2011

Soccer in the Motor City never truly moved the needle. Despite this, flashes exist of the game thriving in the city. For example, the U.S. opened the 1994 World Cup at the old Pontiac Silverdome against Switzerland. In 2012, Detroit City began play in the NPSL before moving to the NISA in 2020. Finally, it bumped up to the USL Championship for the 2022 season. Relative success of the club prompted a vociferous following from supporters.

Attendance this season at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck has been solid. Attendance stretches anywhere from 4,100 people to 6,100 people. The USMNT avoided Detroit since the Gold Cup opener against Canada in 2011. Then, 28,209 came to Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Since then, the USWNT drew 34,538 for a victory tour friendly against Haiti, also at Ford Field. With professional soccer in Detroit booming , a USMNT appearance in Detroit can be justified.

 

8) El Paso, TX

Last USMNT appearance: None

By area, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous United States. Yet, US Soccer deemed that only Dallas, Houston and most recently Austin as worthy of hosting USMNT games. Part of that stems from each of those three cities has its own MLS club. Never mind that two of the three MLS venues in those cities never sell out for the MNT. Not playing in more locations in Texas is misguided. Furthermore, the El Paso Locomotive 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.

 

 

9) Honolulu, HI

Last USMNT appearance: None

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. However, that game never happened due to the poor conditions on the field. Opponent selection could also be a problem but teams like Japan, South Korea or China could all be suitors.

In 2008, Honolulu played host to the Pan-Pacific Championship. Here, two American clubs, one Australian club and one Japanese club played a small competition. 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 at least some fans from the mainland would travel to the islands.

 

10) Indianapolis, IN

Last USMNT appearance: 1988

Indianapolis is quietly a big-time sports town. They have an NFL team, the Colts, and an NBA team, the Pacers. The Big Ten 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 started play in USL Championship in 2018 after four years in the NASL. It averages over 10,000 fans per game in the USL. The club is somewhat nomadic bouncing between Carroll Stadium on the Campus of IUPUI and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Back in 2013, Lucas Oil Stadium played host to an International Champions Cup game between Chelsea and Inter Milan. Over 41,000 fans attended that game. Despite a strong soccer presence, the USMNT last played 34 years ago. An Olympic qualifier against El Salvador drew 9,500 fans at Kuntz Stadium. It’s high time for US Soccer to give Indy a big-time soccer game.

 

11) Little Rock, AR

Last USMNT appearance: None

Little Rock is in the same boat as Albuquerque. None of the major sports leagues play in Little Rock, nor do either of Arkansas’s major universities’ football teams. Little Rock has a smaller soccer scene. The Little Rock Rangers started in 2016 and now play in USL League Two.

There are two reasons to play a USMNT game in Little Rock. For one, War Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 54,000, well in the range to house fans. Secondly, Little Rock is easy to get to from many major cities. For example, Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Kansas City and Oklahoma City are all within driving distance of Little Rock. If the goal is to take the game to more people, this would certainly fit the bill.

 

12) Louisville, KY

Last USMNT appearance: None

Louisville City is one of the most dominant teams in lower league American soccer history. It joined USL in 2015 and reached at least the Eastern Conference Finals each season. Just as impressive, Louisville City went to three straight USL Finals between 2017 and 2019. The University of Louisville also has a history of winning, and opened 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 new home of Louisville City, Lynn Family Stadium.

Opened in 2020, it’s a $65 million stadium with a seating capacity of 11,700 but is expandable up to 14,000. Unfortunately, COVID protocols forced limited attendance for the first year it was open. Even the first few games of 2021 had attendance capped at 7,652. But, starting with a June 26 game against Indy Eleven, every game hit the 10,000-person mark. They have also been successful on the NWSL. Racing Louisville draws over 6,000 fans for every game except for one during their debut season. An NWSL team means that a USWNT game in the ‘Ville at some point soon is a near certainty. It seems that a USMNT game should be too.

 

13) Memphis, TN

Last USMNT appearance: None

Long known as a basketball town, Memphis nonetheless goes about quietly building a soccer following. Some of the largest youth tournaments in the region are held at Mike Rose Soccer Complex, sometimes with an excess of 200 teams. Also, Memphis periodically cracks the top 10 markets for Premier League games on NBC. An exhibition between the Colorado Rapids and Tulsa Roughnecks in September of 2018 drew 8,957 people to AutoZone Park. Memphis 901 FC began play in the USL Championship in 2019, averaging 6,564 fans per game during their debut season.

A new indoor team competing in the NISL, the Memphis Americans, just launched in December of 2021. It outdrew their Landers Center co-tenants the Memphis Hustle of the NBA G-League. Memphis, surprisingly, also has a number of connections to US Soccer. For example, Tim Howard is co-owner and Sporting Director of Memphis 901 FC. Also, the President of US Soccer, Cindy Parlow Cone, is from Memphis. It might be time to start using the US Soccer connections to bring a USMNT game to the Mid-South.

 

14) Miami, FL

Last USMNT appearance: 2011

US Soccer flirted with putting MNT games close to Miami with games in Boca Raton or Ft. Lauderdale. Yet, it avoids Miami proper. With Inter Miami and Miami FC coming to fruition, there is increased appetite for one of the USMNT future games in Miami.

Several high-profile games drew large crowds in the area. Barcelona and Napoli drew 57,000 in 2019. Manchester United and Real Madrid got 64,000 in 2018. 66,000 fans watched El Clásico in 2017. At the international level, the same applies to friendlies. Peru played Croatia to a crowd of 46,000 in 2018. A year later, 65,000 sets of eyes watched Brazil play Colombia. The USMNT probably wouldn’t draw those kinds of numbers, but it’s worth a shot, especially with Miami being part of the bid to host games for the 2026 World Cup.

PHOTO: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

 

15) Milwaukee, WI

Last USMNT appearance: 1990

Milwaukee has not seen a US National Team for quite some time. In fact, the U.S. played against a country that no longer exists, East Germany. Moreover, the stadium that hosted the game is no longer standing. Twelve-thousand fans watched from Milwaukee County Stadium. 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 over 30 years ago, it’s beyond time for the USMNT to return to Milwaukee.

 

16) New Orleans, LA

Last USMNT appearance: None

New Orleans is a party town, and if one of the goals is to have as many people in as many different places as possible excited about hosting the 2026 World Cup, then a New Orleans party atmosphere is just what US Soccer needs. New Orleans plays host to a multitude of major sporting events routinely. 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, including in 2022. The USWNT played there back in 2017 (drawing 9,371) and back in 2015 (where they drew 32,590). US Soccer would be wise to put a USMNT game there too.

 

17) Oklahoma City, OK

Last USMNT appearance: None

Professional soccer in OKC only started in 2014 with the OKC Energy in the USL. Over the years, the attendance at home games hovered in the 4,500 range each season. A surprise move in 2022 came by putting the team on hiatus. This stems from dramatic improvements to the club’s home venue, Taft Stadium.  It’s worth wondering if a USMNT appearance might help boost the profile of the local club. US Soccer employed this tactic when trying to build up attendances for some MLS teams.

 

18) Omaha, NE

Last USMNT appearance: None

Omaha is another city that’s not exactly a hotbed for soccer, but it’s one with potential. USL certainly thinks so. Union Omaha began play in 2020 at the USL League One level. Unfortunately, COVID-19 spoiled via the accompanying restrictions. It is promising, however, that they hit their max COVID capacity of 2,400 for every home game before averaging 3,496 in 2021 with a number of early season games still restricted.

Creighton, a major university in Omaha, shows the success of Nebraska in soccer. They 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.

 

19) Pittsburgh, PA

Last USMNT appearance: None

The USMNT has made numerous trips to Pennsylvania over the years. In fact, since 2009 they’ve been to the Keystone State a total of nine times. However, all nine of those appearances have been in the Philadelphia area: 6 games at Lincoln Financial Field and 3 games at Subaru Park. Western Pennsylvania has been largely neglected, though. Despite this, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a mainstay of lower division soccer. They also play in a stadium with perhaps the most scenic view in all American soccer. Highmark Stadium sits just under Mount Washington within sight of the iconic yellow I-376.

In November 2019, the Eastern Conference semi-final pulled 6,073 fans, the most in the history’s stadium. But the biggest crowd for soccer in Pittsburgh came in 2015 from the USWNT. In the side’s victory tour, 44,028 came out against Costa Rica. The USMNT making an appearance in the Steel City would certainly help get folks in the western part of the state excited about the US and excited about the 2026 World Cup.

 

20) Portland, OR

Last USMNT appearance: 2013

This one is what many people like to call “a no-brainer.” Portland is one of the best soccer towns in the country. US Soccer not putting a single game in the Rose City in the last nine years is completely asinine. They sell out every single Timbers game in MLS. They sell out every single Thorns game in the NWSL.

The last USMNT appearance in Portland was the Gold Cup opener in July of 2013, which the US won 6-1 against Belize. Since then, Providence Park grew to a bigger venue. The capacity now sits at 25,218, over a 5,000 increase from the last visit. The USMNT making a return to Portland should happen urgently.

 

U.S. attendance

Many of these places may not draw massive crowds for a USMNT game. Attribute that to anything from venue size to just lack of awareness of the team. But, the attendance for the US during the current cycle hasn’t exactly been setting any records. Through the 43 games of this cycle, the US averages a mere 23,145 per game. This is the lowest attendance for a cycle since the August 2002 to June 2006 cycle. Then, the U.S. averaged 21,735 per game over the course of 45 home games.

At the end of the day, fans in some of the cities and states don’t want to hear excuses from US Soccer. They don’t want to hear about venues being too small, the logistics of it, the field size, opposing team potentially packing the place, the turf, or about crowds elsewhere. They just want an opportunity to watch the team they love in-person.

The frustration doesn’t just stop with the Ohio obsession. US Soccer announced that their Nations League home game against Grenada on June 10th will be at Q2 Stadium in Austin. That marks the third time in 11 months the US plays at this particular shiny new MLS stadium. On top of all that, the announcement of a friendly against Uruguay on June 5, which is the fifth game during this cycle at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. This is the most of any venue during that time, surpassing Exploria Stadium in Orlando, which has four.

The World Cup

With the US making their return to soccer’s biggest stage for Qatar 2022, and with the 2026 World Cup hosting duties rapidly approaching, taking the team all over the country to truly get as many people in as many different places excited about it as possible is imperative. The one knock on the 1994 World Cup was that while the crowds were absolutely massive, it didn’t feel like the whole country was swept up in the event. Getting the smaller markets involved in supporting the US would definitely help the excitement level for the tournament.

But hosting duties for the World Cup aside, hosting US home matches simply should not be the exclusive domain of Ohio, Texas, Florida, and California. It may come as a surprise to those in charge at Soccer House, but there are soccer fans outside of those areas. And should the US play games in some of these smaller cities, there’s no doubt that they would be the biggest event in town on that particular day. That means local media coverage and tons of excitement in the stands. With no really competitive home games to speak of until after 2026, what does US Soccer have to lose?

TITLE PHOTO: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jenni

    May 4, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    There are a couple of reasons why Indy Eleven have been “somewhat nomadic.” The state rejected their first proposal for soccer-specific Eleven Park: “Go to Lucas Oil, the supposedly multi-sport place we just paid hundreds of millions for, or stay at Carroll.” They try it for two seasons, but the City makes it obvious who the priority is, letting the Colts sew yard lines onto the pitch. It’s a dreadful watch, both in-person and on ESPN+ The second Eleven Park proposal was approved, so they decided to go back to Carroll until it’s built.

  2. Inter Miami Football Club Fan

    May 3, 2022 at 12:37 am

    I attended the USA game in Miami on October 8th, 2011 in front of 21,170 fans which ended up being played under the rain as well. The problem with Miami is that no matter which National Football Team USA plays against, the support will be most likely for the opposing National Football Team in the end. Therefore, it is not an attactive place to play your matches. By the same token, I attended the USA game they played on October 14th, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida which is approx 1.5hrs north of Florida, and the support was more for the U.S. National Football team.

  3. Yespage

    May 2, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    Buffalo? Maybe after they get a new stadium. List seems to include some good selections with serious head scratchers.

  4. Johnathan Heathcote

    May 1, 2022 at 5:50 am

    This article does not take into account whether the city has a stadium with a grass field of sufficient size.

  5. Goalscorer24

    April 30, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    Hawaii would be awesome. Please!

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