USA aims to rebound in House that Hunt Built

I'd like to say my favorite memory of Columbus Crew Stadium comes from one of the many memorable games that have been played there since it opened in May 1999.

I remember Steve Ralston's joyous sprint after scoring the first goal of a 2-0 defeat of Mexico that clinched the U.S. spot in the 2006 World Cup. I remember Dwayne De Rosario's overtime winner in the 2001 MLS Cup final played in a somber atmosphere cast by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I remember shivering from the cold yet warmed by the faces of Columbus players, coaches and staff members celebrating the team's first trophy, which it captured by beating the Galaxy on its home field in the 2002 U.S. Open Cup final.

The trophy of that tournament now bears the name of the Lamar Hunt, who on that night downplayed any notion of personal accomplishment despite plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into soccer going back to his North American Soccer League days, and driving the effort to build the first MLS soccer-specific stadium.

"This isn't about me or the Hunt family, though of course we're delighted," he said, gesturing to his son, Clark, wearing a Crew scarf and beaming a broad smile. "This is for all of the people on our staff, and all the fans who have stuck with us. It's our home, and a home for U.S. Soccer as well."

The day before the stadium officially opened in 1999 with an MLS game against New England, Hunt personally led a tour for media members and special guests. He wasn't a man to dwell on pride, but he relished explaining every nuance and detail of this visionary accomplishment. He saw it, correctly, as the precursor to many such facilities, and once the Galaxy opened Home Depot Center four years later, the rush began to construct stadiums of the right size and the right "feel" for the game in America.

When I think of Columbus Crew Stadium, I think of that tour and Lamar Hunt, one of the most powerful men in professional sport giving his creation a topping of the personal touch. He died in 2006, and two years ago a Lamar Hunt statue was unveiled on the site. (There are also statues at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, and FC Dallas Stadium.)

As corny as it is to say it, Lamar liked to keep an eye on things personally and in some way he still does.

The USA has a great track record in the Columbus stadium, including three consecutive qualifying wins over Mexico, starting with La Guerra Fria -- "The Cold War" -- and a 2-0 victory in February, 2001. Yet the record isn't perfect.

A rather ugly 0-0 tie with Costa Rica in 2000 was marred by some fans abusing the Costa Ricans and throwing objects onto the field. The final match of the semifinal round for 2006 qualification was played in Crew Stadium, and with the USA already qualified for the final round, it eliminated Jamaica from advancing to the Hexagonal with a 1-1 tie on a goal by Eddie Johnson.

Nearly eight years have elapsed since that game and great change has been wrought for Johnson and U.S. Soccer. So, too, for Jamaica, which on Tuesday has the opportunity for payback of a sort. By beating the USA for the first time, 2-1, in Kingston last Friday, it has taken over the group lead with seven points and dropped the Americans into a tie for second with Guatemala, which also has four points.

The Americans can't be eliminated from reaching the Hexagonal if they lose, but would need two wins in their last two matches and a lot of luck to advance. A tie will harm their chances as well. They really have to win to restore their place in the standings as well as their confidence, and they are in the right place to do it. In eight games at Crew Stadium, the Americans have conceded just that one goal to Jamaica.

At a public training session Sunday the players worked on a smooth, flat field quite different than the bumpy surface on which they struggled in Kingston. They took heart from the support of the 3,000 fans in attendance and Tuesday will feed on the energy of a sellout crowd, the fifth national-team match in the stadium to fill it. About 24,000 fans will be on hand, ESPN and Galavision will handle the national telecast, and one of the staunchest supporters the game has ever known in this country will be present as well.

9 comments about "USA aims to rebound in House that Hunt Built".
  1. JP Nichols, September 10, 2012 at 4:07 p.m.

    I cannot wait for this game! USMNT really put the pressure on themselves from the away loss, but it should be a great atmosphere.

  2. Scott O'Connor, September 10, 2012 at 6:59 p.m.

    It'll be nice to see a USMNT home game with a true home field feel to it. I'm so sick of seeing home games with more fans from the other country than ours. That's what happens when you put the games in big cities with huge immigrant populations. I'd like to see the games in the smaller markets like Columbus, Kansas City, Portland, Salt Lake, etc.. Those fans can fill their stadium with Red, White, and Blue giving our team the home field lift they deserve. When US Soccer is more concerned about that than making money at the gate, perhaps we can have a true home field edge.

  3. Pat Ervin, September 10, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.

    We are looking forward to in Kansas City as well. American Outlaws are a passionate, and viable fan group here...but our other fan groups...Cauldron, Trenches of SKC aka

  4. Walt Pericciuoli, September 10, 2012 at 9:31 p.m.

    Can't believe we have come to this.Do or die situations just to get to the final qualifying rounds in CONCACAF.What is going on?????Does anyone at US Soccer have have any concern with how our development programs have so deteriorated?Why have they been so silent?And I don't blame the coach.He has not had enough time to influence youth development to have made an impact.He is relying on the talent that has been left to him.We may still squeak through,and all will be relived with qualifying,but the proof is in,the system has failed.

  5. Bruce Moorhead, September 10, 2012 at 11:42 p.m.

    Really nice article, Ridge. Lamar Hunt was a great and generous man.

  6. Luis Arreola, September 11, 2012 at 9:02 a.m.

    Walt, I agree with you but I think the first step is in scouting because we do have better players we just don't look for them in the right places. The Academies and or top clubs in Illinois do not have all or even most of the top 99/98 talent yet this is the only place USSF scouts look. They are missing out on too many. It seems that if you want a shot at the USSF pool at this age you have to noon an Academy who will charge you $2500+. How can this system be successful in attracting the very best? That fee is aside from travel costs because these Academies travel a lot at this age, mainly regionally for Npl new top league under us club soccer. The USSF is giving these Academies full support by mainly and only scouting there. They are hoping to filter the best through them sending this sublime message but it will never work unless Academies are free at these ages.

  7. Walt Pericciuoli, September 11, 2012 at 10:09 a.m.

    Luis I agree.Only the MLS teams should have academies.All other US soccer should feed into them.Academies should be fully supported by the MLS clubs and US soccer. All academy players should be free and all the academies should be residency programs.Youth development programs nationwide should be revamped with the emphasis on technical(skill with the ball) training, starting at the youngest ages. All US club coaches should be able to recommend players to the academy programs, and clubs that send player to the academies should be compnsated fin .

  8. Walt Pericciuoli, September 11, 2012 at 10:13 a.m.

    let me finish. Clubs that send players to the academy programs should be compensated
    financially.Then we all have a stake in the successful development of players and the scouting and pool of players includes everyone in US Soccer.

  9. Luis Arreola, September 11, 2012 at 2:37 p.m.

    Walt, what? You mean like most in the world do!!?? That sounds crazy!! Lol. MLS would have to match al that money that these clubs get from the parents themselves. That's a lot. Also, too many parents want to win not develop. Winning is the best formula to get parents money Max. No question. It will take a lot for MLS Ussf to change this system.

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