Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nashville hosts Olympic soccer qualifiers tonight: USA v Canada, Guatemala v Honduras

Tonight at LP Field in Nashville, international soccer fans will watch Guatemala play Honduras and the U.S. play Canada for two Olympic openings up for grabs. The winner of each game will advance to the championship game on Sunday, March 23. Both teams in the championship game will compete in Beijing in August.

The qualifiers started in Tampa and Los Angeles have been conducted by the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) since 1964. The last time the final round of qualifying games was held in the U.S. was in 2000.

According to this article in the Tennessean, "[o]nly 28,000 of the stadium's almost 69,000 seats will be open for fans to watch the U.S. play Canada and Guatemala play Honduras, and officials aren't expecting anything close to a sellout. A good turnout from the area's international and youth soccer communities is expected, however, because they represent the groups that most closely follow the sport nationwide."

March Madness and the Easter holiday are expected to keep some locals away, according to the Tennessean.

The Tennessean spoke with the coach of the Nashville Metros soccer team about the likelihood of Central American turnout this weekend:
Metros Coach Rico Laise, a native of Costa Rica, said Mexico's failure to advance to Nashville out of the original eight-team field would hurt attendance tonight, but Middle Tennesseans with ties to Guatemala and Honduras are likely to jump at a chance to be at LP Field.

"When a taste of home is available, they come out in droves," Laise said. "They are just thirsty for a taste of home and a taste of their culture.
The Tennessean also points out previous times that a U.S. national team has competed in LP Field, formerly known as Adelphia Coliseum - the 2004 women's team and the 2006 men's team played Canada and Morocco, respectively.

Ticket sales are expected to fall short of 15,000, which accompanied skepticism about Nashville from a former U.S. captain, quoted by the Tennessean:
"My initial reaction was like, 'Why there?' " said John Harkes, a former U.S. captain. "There has to be some reason behind it. Obviously it's not going to be the most supported event. It's not a real soccer-savvy market when you first think of it, though U.S. Soccer must have some ideas for why they are there."

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