Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Union, Eagles line up joint bid to host World Cup qualifier

Even though the U.S.-Panama third-place game at PPL Park didn't sell out, Philadelphia put on a great show Sunday night hosting the final. The biggest crowd for a soccer game in city history - 68,930 fans - packed Lincoln Financial Field to the rafters, and rightly left Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz - who played a big role in bringing the games here - beaming.

"It's a great testament to what the power of soccer can be in this city," he told me.

The next challenge for Sakiewicz and his fellow local power brokers is landing one of American soccer's ultimate prizes: hosting rights to one of up to eight home World Cup qualifiers that the United States will play on the road to Russia.

Three of those games will be in the first group stage. Jurgen Klinsmann's squad was drawn with Trinidad & Tobago and the winners of two playoff series: Aruba vs. St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Guatemala vs. Antigua & Barbuda. Those games will be contested on November 13 and 17 of this year and on four dates in 2016: March 25 and 29 and September 2 and 6.

It's a spectacularly easy group that all but guarantees a place in the six-team final round. The 10-game "Hexagonal" slugfest will begin in November of 2016, quite a bit earlier in the cycle than has been the case in past years.

Sakiewicz told me that the Union and Eagles will work together to assemble a bid package that will use both Lincoln Financial Field and PPL Park as potential venues. The Philadelphia region has never hosted a World Cup qualifying game

He said that the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau's Sports Congress - on whose board he sits - "couldn't be more accommodating to helping us win these bids… and the NFL team and the MLS team are partners in this business."

Which venue would ultimately end up hosting a game would depend on the opponent.

"If it's Guatemala or Honduras or Panama, I think it would be well-fitted for PPL Park," he said. "If it's Mexico, it's here [at the Linc]. A Mexico-U.S. qualifier here would sell out in, I believe, hours."

Deep down, I'm sure Sakiewicz knows that there's no way the U.S.-Mexico game is leaving Columbus, at least until Mexico wins there. There's also no question that Sporting Park in Kansas City will get a game too. And we already know that Busch Stadium in St. Louis will host the first qualifier of the cycle, against the Aruba-St. Vincent/Grenadines playoff winner on November 13.

Sakiewicz's confirmation of a two-venue joint bid should help improve Philadelphia's odds. There's no question that PPL Park would sell out in a flash, but the U.S. Soccer Federation always puts at least one game per cycle in a large-capacity venue. The Linc would draw a huge and pro-American crowd for almost any opponent.

It's something to keep in mind as the bidding process heats up over the next few months.

Here is the full schedule of U.S. games in the first group stage of 2018 World Cup qualifying:

Friday, November 13: vs. Aruba or St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Tuesday, November 17: at Trinidad & Tobago
Friday, March 25: at Guatemala or Antigua & Barbuda
Tuesday, March 29: vs. Guatemala or Antigua & Barbuda
Friday, September 2: at Aruba or St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Tuesday, Septepber 6: vs. Trinidad & Tobago