With the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums around the country, U.S. Soccer has more options than ever when it comes to hosting important matches on American soil. Today's announcement from U.S. Soccer that Rio Tinto Stadium will host the USA vs. Honduras in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying match - on top of another U.S. Men's National Team appearance during the Gold Cup - solidifies the notion that Sandy is one of the most coveted destinations for our national team.
So why does U.S. Soccer smile so brightly upon Utah, which is the country's smallest soccer market? Quite simply, it's about one thing: Home field advantage.
Historically, the Salt Lake area has shown some of the most pro-U.S. crowds anywhere - this is key when it comes to putting opponents at a disadvantage. We all hear the stories of the kinds of partisan crowds the U.S. faces when they go on the road in CONCACAF, and the crowd at Rio Tinto is the closest we in the U.S. come to paying back the favor. "When we ask the question 'where is the biggest support for us throughout the country?,' Salt Lake always comes up in that discussion," said U.S. men's head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "It has been proven in the past that this is another venue where we can rock the boat."
The results bear out Klinsmann's sentiments. The U.S. National Teams - all ages and genders - are a combined 4-0-0 in Salt Lake City, including two victories for the men in two previous World Cup Qualifiers. They beat Costa Rica 3-0 in 2005 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and El Salvador 2-1 at Rio Tinto in 2009.
On top of the crowd support, the 4400-foot altitude tends to work in the U.S.'s favor, and it should again in June when they face a Honduras team that plays its home games at 250 feet above sea level. If the U.S. can get an early lead and force Honduras to chase the ball, the visitors will be at the mercy of Sandy's thin air.
Of the World Cup Qualifiers we've hosted here in Utah, this one is shaping up to be the most crucial to the U.S. Honduras currently sits at the top of the table in the hexagonal, having just beaten the U.S. in Honduras, and they are one of the favorites to qualify for next year's World Cup. Depending on what happens between now and then, the match at Rio Tinto could be a make-or-break game for the U.S. if they want to qualify for Brazil 2014.
If the past is any indication, if you're the U.S. and you're facing a must-win game, then this really is the place.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.