Ask anyone with any knowledge of the situation about why the United States seemingly avoids playing in Seattle at almost all costs and you're likely to get one of several answers:
- It's the artificial turf, dummy: This is the most common quip and one that is an undeniable reality. Whether we agree with it or not, top national teams don't really like playing on artificial turf almost no matter what. Sure, grass can and has been laid over turf, but even those of us who think the negatives of artificial turf are overblown tend to agree that overlay is far from ideal.
- It's all about logistics: As has been pointed out many, many, many times, it's not just Seattle that is generally avoided. Other than Los Angeles, the entire West Coast is basically ignored. Since 2007, the U.S. has played two games on the West Coast outside of the LA area. One was at CenturyLink for a Gold Cup game in 2009 and the other was for a friendly against China at Spartan Stadium in San Jose in 2007.
- It's because Seattle is really hard to work with: No one has ever gone on record with this complaint, but clearly someone is letting it be known that the folks that run the stadium operations here aren't exactly willing to bend over backwards to get a game here. I've heard this story from numerous soccer journalists, who were presumably told this off the record by someone at U.S. Soccer.
For the most part, those first two things are not going to change. Permanent grass will not be installed anytime soon and Seattle is not going to get any easier to get to until teleportation devices are made publicly available.
Yet, we're suddenly hearing a lot about U.S. Soccer bringing a game to our fair city. First, there was an unsourced report referenced on MLSsoccer.com's ExtraTime Radio that suggested Seattle was in line for a World Cup qualifier. Then both Adrian Hanauer and Joe Roth went on the record about a willingness to host U.S. matches when asked about it at the End-of-Year Business Meeting.
"We heard people loud and clear, we heard this group loud and clear," Hanauer told the crowd. "We are in active conversations with U.S. Soccer. We don't want to just bring any old game here. If we bring a game, we want it to have some meaning and be a game our fans are going to enjoy, not just be a money grab for U.S. Soccer. That is something we're working on. With a little bit of luck and a little hard work, we might have soemthing that we can hang our hats on in the near future here."
Roth immediately followed up with this: "If the U.S. men's national team wants to come here with their first team and play a World Cup qualifier against a great team, we'll be right there."
I can't speak to past negotiations, but it sure sounds as if Seattle is at least trying to be accommodating under the right circumstances. Is that enough to actually convince U.S. Soccer to play an important match like that here?
The biggest draw from U.S. Soccer's perspective is the promise of a huge, probably partisan, crowd. Nothing is guaranteed, but based on everything we've seen, I think a crowd of 65,000-plus could be expected with the vast majority of those being U.S. partisans. I'm not sure another stadium in the country can offer an atmosphere quite like that.
Is that enough to overcome the previously stated problems? Tough to say.
The easier problem to mitigate is about timezones. If Seattle were to host either the June 11 or 18 games, those would be during the European offseason and make the problem of multiple timezone hopping less of an issue.
That leaves grass as the one glaring issue, for which there really is no good solution. If Seattle hosts, we can bet it will be played on grass overlay. While U.S. Soccer has previously hosted games on that kind of surface, they've only recently done so for friendlies. There was a Gold Cup game played on grass overlay in Detroit recently, but that venue was not decided by U.S. Soccer and there were justifiable complaints about the quality.
Put it all together and I'd say the chances of Seattle hosting a World Cup qualifier somewhere in the 50 percent range, which is a lot better than I would have said a few weeks ago.