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USMNT: Thin Air for Ticos as First Hex Site Announced

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dsgpThe Yanks are coming to the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains.  The US Soccer Federation is expected to announce today that the March 22nd World Cup Qualifying match against Costa Rica, the first home contest in the hex schedule for the Americans, will be held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City Colorado.  Kickoff will be at 8pm.  The vital contest, the only home match in the first four for the USMNT, will be their first return to the Mile High City since a 2-0 drubbing of Guatemala in 2008.

Denver was one of the early front runners to host the match, and was likely favored by the USSF brain trust due to its weather and demographics for a match against the Central Americans.  Altitude may have also played a part; with a week to train on a pitch set a mile above sea level the US may not give the US an atvantage against the Ticos, who’s home pitch in San Jose is at 3,800 feet, but should be excellent preparation for the contest against Mexico at the Azteca (1.5 miles above sea level) less than a week later.  The team is expected to train at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, one of the most state-of-the-art athletic facilities in the world.

The selection of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, rather than the larger and more centrally located Sports Authority Field, home of the NFL Denver Broncos, is consistent with statements made by US Soccer President Sunil Gulati in September of last year that the selection process would heavily weigh the home field advantage offered by smaller, soccer specific venues as opposed to the larger potential payday of football stadiums. High profile friendlies are likely to continue to be played in NFL stadiums.

The announcement of Commerce City leaves only two open slots left for cities to host Hex matches, as Columbus and Kansas City are expected locks to host Mexico and Jamaica, respectively.  Salt Lake, thought to have been a front runner for the Costa Rica match, may be out of the running, as its proximity to Denver may rule out a national team return to the region this cycle.  Washington, DC will be hosting the Centennial Match against Germany, removing it from likely consideration.  Philadelphia remains high on US Soccer’s potential venue list, along with Nashville, Chicago and, dubiously, the Pacific Northwest.  In a positive indicator for Philadelphia, the placement of the match in Commerce City shows a willingness to move matches to stadiums outside major urban centers, a trend that could help a PPL Park bid.

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