As a big soccer fan, it was wonderful this past week to hear FirstEnergy Stadium will play host to a United States men's national team friendly May 29 against Belgium.
Quoting from the news release sent out about the event:
“We are extremely excited that FirstEnergy Stadium was selected as
the site for an event which will have a tremendous amount of national and
international interest,” said Browns CEO Joe Banner. “The opportunity to
host a match like this will give soccer fans who make the trip to Cleveland a
chance to see all of the great things that our city has to offer.”
Obviously, no national team event can be successful without the traveling Sam's Army lending their spirit to the occasion. But the wording there from Banner is interesting, emphasizing soccer fans who will be traveling to Cleveland as opposed to those who are already here.
Perhaps that in a way is because of lessons learned from previous experiences hosting large-scale international soccer. This will mark the second time the USMNT has traveled to the North Coast, the last coming May 26, 2006 for a 2-0 win over Venezuela. FirstEnergy Stadium, formerly known as Cleveland Browns Stadium, has also played host to U.S. women's and high-profile club matches, including a Celtic-Boca Juniors match in 2003 that I had the privilege of covering.
Let's be clear: It's great to have big-time soccer back in Cleveland, and it will continue to be in the future.
The only issue is attendance.
That 2006 USMNT match drew 29,745. That 2003 match, won by Celtic, 1-0, drew an announced crowd - emphasis on announced if memory serves - of 20,842. It creates an unfortunate sight in an NFL stadium of a lot of empty seats.
Here's to hoping this chance - against a Belgium side 19th in the latest FIFA world rankings - just draws a lot better, especially among the locals.
If the locals want to show the powers that be that Cleveland can be a host for these kinds of events, the locals need to show up.