It has become tradition; the year before a World Cup year is the Year of the Hex(agonal) in North American soccer circles, and 2013 is no different. The final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 kicks off in less than one month's time, and that means the time is ripe to start (well, continue) talking about where the U.S. allotment of five home games will be staged. Obviously, one of the games should be - more, needs to be - at the District's own Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
Sure it's got raccoons in its bowels. Of course it's not the modern jewel of a soccer-specific stadium that you'll find in Kansas City. But that won't make the fans any quieter or the pitch any less perfect. Quite simply, the reasons to have a Hexagonal game on East Capitol Street resoundingly outnumber the reasons to skip over Washington, DC.
Could you imagine Mexico going a full qualifying cycle without stopping in Mexico City? What about England forgoing London? Spain bypassing Madrid? Washington, DC is our nation's capital, and that alone is one reason why big games belong here.
Much and more has been written about the supporters culture in the DC metro area, from the early days of MLS and before, all the way through more recent Gold Cup games and World Cup Qualifiers. When you match up Sam's Army and the American Outlaws with the country's longest-running club supporters' groups, big things can happen. Even in response to tragedy and with tight time pressure - as with the Charlie Davies tribute just a day after a lethal car crash nearly ended his career (not to mention his life) - the supporters in the DMV don't let anyone down.
A full RFK Stadium is a beautiful thing, and we can fill it again with a World Cup Qualifier.
We all know about the bouncing stands and the noise the old building can hold in. But when the upper deck gets filled up, it feels on field-level like a sea of humanity is about to wash over you. The last time I saw RFK like that was in the 2011 Gold Cup quarters, where a double bill of USA-Jamaica and El Salvador-Panama saw the stands split between fans in USA gear (dominating the lower bowl) and those wearing the blue and white of El Salvador (much of the upper deck) who gladly and loudly lent their voices the USA during the first match of the day. That was the last time I really felt like RFK actually could collapse around me. I miss that feeling - it's not one you can experience in many stadiums. It's a feeling we can get back with a World Cup qualifier, and it's one that is surely intimidating to visiting teams.
Other cities will talk about a home field advantage they might be able to provide due in part to their smaller immigrant populations, but since qualifying began for the 1998 World Cup, the U.S. has lost only once at RFK in all competitions, winning nine and drawing four in the process. The USMNT has a history of getting results at RFK, and results ultimately are what this is all about.
The U.S. will be playing five home games during the Hexagonal, and it's clear to me that the first should be at RFK. That game will go down on March 22 and will feature Costa Rica, the same team the U.S. drew with at RFK in 2009 to clinch the top spot in the qualifying table. The same Costa Rica that saw their hopes of a trip to South Africa expire with a Jonathan Bornstein header deep into stoppage time. Why not make them return to the scene of their most recent major demise?
[Update: In news I somehow overlooked, Grant Wahl has it that the first game will be held at one of Denver, Salt Lake City or Kansas City, with the announcement coming this week.]
Beyond the Costa Rica game, there are two possibilities - we'll be realistic and discount our chances of landing the Mexico game (likely a Columbus lock, winter or no) or the Honduras game (given our large Honduran population in the region): Panama (June 11) and Jamaica (October 11), both of which played here during that Gold Cup quarterfinal double-header I mentioned before, and both of which had precious little support in the stands that day. Against any of those three teams, Old Glory and the red, white & blue of the USA would dominate the stands.
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It should be a no-brainer to host a Hexagonal game in Washington, DC. If there were a shiny new stadium at Buzzard Point, nobody would be asking "if" there would be a game here, but "which" game it would be. Despite the stigma some attach to RFK, a stadium that is too big and antiquated for a club side like D.C. United, it is a building that is perfect for the U.S. National Teams and perfect for a World Cup qualifier. Bring the Hexagonal back to DC.