Now is a great time for Kansas City soccer fans who want to watch the US Men's National Team in their back yard. There is little doubt that LIVESTRONG Sporting Park will be selected to host a match in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati recently stated in an interview with the Miami Herald that 10 to 12 venues are being considered for qualifiers. Stadium size, time zone, fan demographics, field surface, and weather are among the considerations for home-field advantage. Gulati has repeatedly mentioned Kansas City as a site well-suited for hosting Hexagonal qualifiers. LIVESTRONG's passionate crowd, world-class amenities, and central location drew rave reviews from US Men's National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, U.S. Soccer Federation, and many players.
Recently Grant Wahl confirmed to Fox Sports that "U.S. Soccer is now willing to stage home World Cup qualifiers on temporary grass fields for the first time since 1997." This is a marked contrast from recent years where a (non-temporary) grass field was U.S. Soccer's "#1 priority" for a World Cup qualifier venue. If the field surface is less important in the eyes of USSF, then other factors grow in importance that could hamper LIVESTRONG Sporting Park's chances to host qualifiers for the 2018 and 2022 rotations.
The biggest challenge for LIVESTRONG Sporting Park can be summed up in one number: 16,947. That is the announced attendance for the USA-Guatemala third round qualifier hosted at LSP this fall.
FIFA rules place restrictions on venues hosting international games, with no standing room only areas and only assigned seats. This rule greatly reduces the number of fans in the stadium, particularly in and above the Cauldron. ESPN's decision to place their promotional desk on the Bud Terrace drew down the number even further.
The third round game at LIVESTRONG was the lowest attendance for a US World Cup qualifier since 2005. Crew Stadium and Raymond James averaged over 23,000 fans in the third round. In the last World Cup rotation, the smallest venue to host a Hexagonal round game was Rio Tinto Stadium at 19,066. Seattle's 60K+ crowds and Portland's 19K+ stadium are now viable options with a grass-over-turf system.
Higher attendance means more money for the U.S. Soccer Federation. It's not to say that money and crowd size are the over-riding factors--the days of hosting World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica in Torrance, California are long gone. The primary goal of the USSF in selecting sites is to provide the USMNT the best opportunities to qualify for the World Cup. Kansas City gets the nod because the USSF can depend on a pro-USA crowd. In the future, there will be much greater selection for the federation as the game's popularity continues to grow.
If Kansas City wants to continue to be a hosting option in future World Cup rotations, it needs to consider solutions to the stadium size issue. Temporary seating above the Cauldron and moving TV staging areas could be a solution--but in the long run it may be that KC won't see another qualifier until there is another deck at LSP.