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USMNT Picks Cold-Weather Sites for Next Two Home World Cup Qualifiers

The road to the 2022 World Cup will continue through the American Midwest, as the U.S. men’s national team will stick to the center of the country and play its next two qualifiers in familiar Columbus, Ohio, and then St. Paul, Minn.

Those games on Jan. 27 against El Salvador and Feb. 2 against Honduras, respectively, will bracket a match at Canada on Jan. 30. The U.S. Soccer Federation was waiting on the Canadians to decide where to stage that middle game before confirming and announcing its home venues. At one point, Vancouver was rumored to be the site, meaning the U.S. would seek stadiums located further west in order to minimize travel. But as Canada reportedly appears to have settled on Hamilton, Ontario, as its choice for the U.S. showdown, Columbus and St. Paul have been locked in.

The U.S. (4-1-3) is in second place in Concacaf’s eight-nation qualifying competition, which will send the top three finishers to next year’s World Cup and a fourth team to an intercontinental playoff. Although there’s now a bit of separation between the top and bottom halves of the table, the Americans are only one point above fourth. With arguably the three toughest matches still to play (at Canada, at Mexico and at Costa Rica), the U.S. now has no margin for error at home. The El Salvador and Honduras games, which are likely to be played in frigid conditions, are pretty much must-win.

“As we have seen throughout the qualifying process so far, great stadiums and great atmospheres provide a huge advantage to our team,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said as part of Wednesday’s venue announcement. “We’ve had fantastic experiences in Columbus and the Twin Cities and look forward to continuing our World Cup qualifying campaign in front of our fans.”

Columbus has become the national team’s very unofficial home. The U.S. has played at least one qualifier there during every World Cup cycle since 2002 and is 8-1-2 in those games overall. The Jan. 27 meeting with seventh-place El Salvador (1-4-3) will mark a return to the Crew’s new Field following last month’s 2–1 win over Costa Rica in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 20,100. Berhalter coached the Crew for five years before taking the U.S. job.

The USMNT will face El Salvador in Columbus

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It appears the U.S. will then travel from Columbus to Hamilton, which is about an hour southwest of Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario. The Washington Post reported last week that the Canadian Soccer Association was zeroing in on Tim Hortons Field, the 24,000-seat home of the CFL’s Tiger-Cats and Canadian Premier League champion Forge. The U.S. has never played there, while Canada hosted its four previous home Octagonal matches in Toronto (three) and Edmonton (one). The Americans’ last trip north of the border was a disaster, however. The emphatic 2–0 Concacaf Nations League defeat at Toronto’s BMO Field in November, 2019, probably was the poorest performance of Berhalter’s tenure.

From Hamilton, the U.S. will fly west to the Twin Cities, where it will face eighth-place Honduras (0-5-3) on Feb. 2 at Minnesota United’s Allianz Field. It will be the U.S.’s second visit to the arena—and the state of Minnesota—following a 4–0 Gold Cup win over Guyana in 2019.

The U.S.’s home qualifying campaign has been concentrated toward the middle of the country, with games played in Nashville, Austin and Cincinnati in addition to Columbus. Apart from the September match against Canada at the Titans’ stadium in Nashville, U.S. Soccer has been opting for newer MLS venues in markets where it anticipates more of a pro-U.S. crowd. Tickets are distributed via a lottery system that grants access to registered U.S. fans and supporters groups.

The Americans will close out the Octagonal in late March with the visits to Mexico and Costa Rica surrounding a home game against Panama at a site to be announced.

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