A significant piece of the puzzle regarding where the Eagles will play their summer matches fell into place today as Major League Soccer announced their schedule for 2013. We already know that the U.S. will be playing Ireland in Houston on June 8th, and there have been strong indicators that Fiji, and possibly Tonga, will be travelling to North America in the summertime. As was shown last year, and will be shown again this year at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, the Eagles hosting matches in MLS venues works. They are the right size for a good sized crowd and they have the dimensions to play good rugby. The visit of Fiji and Tonga is yet to be confirmed and things can still change, but assuming that they will be coming to North America, it could mean that the U.S. is in for more big crowds if they play those teams in the right venues. Those matches would likely be on June 15th and June 22nd. Further, the U.S. is set for a home and away World Cup qualifying series against Canada in early June.
So where will the matches against Fiji, Tonga, and Canada be played? With large Pacific Islander communities in Salt Lake City, the Bay Area, and Southern California, it would make sense to have the matches against Fiji and Tonga in one of those three areas. Additionally, the match against Canada is rumored to be taking place in Ontario, and while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the U.S.-leg in the West, it would also make sense to play the match in the East, reducing travel and spreading Eagles matches across the country. Now that the MLS schedule has been revealed, we can take a look at some of the venues that may potentially work.
Rio Tinto Stadium (Salt Lake City, capacity 20,213) - Rio Tinto has been home to some of the best crowds in recent memory as it saw strong attendance for the last two DI-A finals. It helps that BYU was in both finals, but as we also saw from the Junior World Rugby Trophy, there is a strong rugby community in Utah that will turn out. If the U.S. is going to play in Rio Tinto, it will have to be June 15th as Real Salt Lake, the main tenant of the stadium, has a match on the 22nd.
Home Depot Center (Los Angeles, capacity 27,000 or 18,000 depending on configuration) – Rugby hasn’t been held at the Home Depot Center on a big time basis since the U.S.A. 7’s packed up and moved to San Diego. This year will see the return of rugby in the form of the Grand Prix 7’s in July but that should be about it. With both MLS’s clubs Chivas USA and the L.A. Galaxy occupying the stadium, opportunities are limited. June 15th is open but with a Galaxy match on the 19th, it’s unlikely they would let the stadium be used for rugby. June 22nd, and early July are both unavailable.
Buck Shaw Stadium (Bay Area, capacity 10,525) – When the U.S. last hosted Ireland they did so in Buck Shaw Stadium and had a very strong crowd. Facing either Fiji or Tonga in the stadium would provide a similarly strong crowd. Bolstering the stadium’s hopes of hosting a match is the fact that it is unoccupied on June 15th and 22nd.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Denver, capacity 18,086) – The last several years U.S.A. Rugby has chosen to use Infinity Park instead of DSGP for several reasons. Chief among those is cost. Second, crowds haven’t exactly turned out when rugby has been played in DSPG and the more intimate Infinity Park has provided a better atmosphere. The Colorado Rapids play on June 15th, ruling that day out.
Out East things get a little more complicated when it comes to venues. Some cities either don’t have a suitable venue (Boston) or will have already been inundated with rugby (Philadelphia). Here is a look at remaining candidates.
Red Bull Arena (New York, capacity 25,189) – Red Bull Arena hosted the Churchill Cup final day in 2010 but had a disappointing crowd. While it’s open around the 4th of July, it’s not available the following week (the U.S.-Canada series is likely to be the first two weeks of July). Further, it’s probably too large and too expensive to make it an attractive place to host the match. However, New York is a very attractive place to hold the match and the 15,000 seat James M. Shuart Stadium in Hampstead, New York might be a better option.
Toyota Park (Chicago, capacity 20,000) – Toyota Park is a venue familiar to U.S.A. Rugby, having previously played against Wales and Munster, as well as hosting Churchill Cup matches. Chicago also boasts a strong rugby community. However, the Chicago Fire will play a home match on July 7th, a Sunday, meaning that matches on the Thursday before and after may be unrealistic.
RFK Stadium (D.C., capacity (approx.) 20,000) – D.C. is another city with a strong rugby community. RFK Stadium itself is old and not that fan-friendly but that may make it a cheaper option to some of the other cities. There is also a relatively high Canadian community in the region and playing a match of the 4th of July in the nation’s capital would be a special event.
Given the available options and assuming that U.S.A. Rugby is planning on using MLS stadiums for their summer fixtures there appear to be several likely candidates. Buck Shaw Stadium seems to be the most certain to host a match. It’s available, is a good size, and would draw in a good crowd for either Tonga or Fiji. Rio Tinto also seems to be available and a good bet for a match. It could be a little expensive to rent but would draw a strong crowd for either of the two island teams. For the match against Canada (again, assuming is played in the East), RFK makes the most sense.
Just because these venues are currently available doesn’t mean that they will be chosen by U.S.A. Rugby. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding where to put a match and there may be other items of the stadium’s calendar that aren’t public yet. Playing in bigger stadiums out West makes sense, but playing Canada in a place like Infinity Park or another 4-5,000 seat venue may be the best option for creating atmosphere. If that is the case, then a place like Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina or another similar –sized venue makes more sense.
At least with the MLS schedule now released U.S.A. Rugby will know what’s available and when. That should go a long way to solidifying the Eagles summer schedule.
What do you think? Should they play in MLS stadiums? If so, where and why?
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