I'm still laughing over that one.
That was United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati's explanation/justification for excluding the USSF's hometown Chicago from its list of 18 potential host cities for the 2018 World Cup. Should the U.S. win the rights to host the games, it will have to trim that list to about a dozen, but there's a lot angst in the midwest and Windy City over the snub.
Pitch Invasion has sources saying that Chicago's presentation to the USSF was weak and Gulati leapt the extra mile to say that was a result of all the wasted effort the city put into hosting the 2016 Obam-, er Olympic Games.
I think the real answer, however, lies in the number 61,500.
That's the capacity of Soldier Field, which was recently renovated. OK, I've been to Chicago many times and seen Soldier Field just about every time I've been to that city. Two things: aside from Boston and San Francisco, Chicago is THE BEST city in the United States. It just has a feel to it. Plenty of great restaurants and things to see. And Soldier Field, while ugly and apparently designed by a 9-year-old with a Lego fetish who likes to stack mismatched architectural elements together, is in a great location and easy to reach. It's in the middle of a bunch of great ethnic neighborhoods (let's hear it for Greektown) and a short cab ride from downtown. This is the essence of a no-brainer.
Only problem is, that pesky 61,500 number.
I'm guessing, and I bet I'm right, that the U.S., should it host the World Cup, wants to blow the doors off the thing with an average attendance exceeding 70,000. Imagine such a thing. It would be tremendous. But at the expense of one of its greatest cultural centers? C'mon Sunil, that's lame.
The 18 cities, in alphabetical order, are:
- Kansas City
- Los Angeles
- New York
- San Diego
- Washington, D.C
It's hard to argue with the list, especially from the stadia perspective. Most of them are modern, new and huge. The locations? Eh, not so much. Let's take Tampa, for example. The most recent Super Bowl host and former home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (do they still exist?), but why give Florida two cities? Miami works just fine, trust me. And Baltimore and Washington, D.C.? For those of you outside the U.S., you could spit from the Baltimore airport and get FedEx Stadium wet with snot. Baltimore has been a great venue for international tournaments and supported these phony summer Chelsea v. the World events, but so has D.C. (does any MLS team have better fan support--and isn't RFK the unofficial home of the U.S. men's national team?).
Which brings us to Phoenix, Atlanta, Kansas City and Indianapolis. Here's the proof in the pudding that it's all about the venues. Phoenix has the best stadium in America, I'd say. It's a retractable roof; the grass is real and on wheels and spends that day outside in the sun and comes in for games. Nice. But Phoenix? A football hotbed? Well, maybe, but not the kind of football we're talking about.
Atlanta? Oh My God. That city has had one of the most successful baseball franchies in the last 20 years, and consistently could not sell out playoff games. Imagine? It's generally considered the worst sports city in the country. Plus they're talking about a dome -- the massive Georgia Dome, plastic grass and all. No thanks.
KC, huge venue. Old venue. Loud venue. Great NFL fans. But a soccer city. Not sure about that one. Again, size counts here. Same goes for Indy and Lucas Oil Field. Another retractable roof. More plastic grass. More about the big venue.
Chicago has a beef. They've been done wrong by the USSF and it's not going to be righted apparently. Maybe the Windy City can get a few years' worth of good sleep and rid itself of its Olympic fatigue, and of course, tack on another 10,000 seats somewhere and maybe, just maybe, Sunil Gulati will reconsider. Somehow, I think not. Methinks he's a size queen.