It's been widely reported by this point that Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium is in contention for the rights to host the United States' March 22 World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica - with Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park and Colorado's Dick's Sporting Goods Park both offering strong arguments for the rights.
The U.S. Men's National Team last played at Rio Tinto Stadium in September 2009 when they faced El Salvador; the Americans ran out 2-1 winners with goals from strikers Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore on that occasion.
There seems to be a general consensus that this game is better played on grass than turf, ruling out the two highly considered stadiums in Seattle and Portland, along with their loud supporter culture. But after the substantial increase in the fan environment over 2012, what Portland and Seattle offer in support isn't so significantly different from what is on display at Rio Tinto Stadium on any given match day.
There's also the tricky (and, to my mind, slightly overblown) issue of altitude in the consideration of the match's location: It's long been an excuse rolled out by the opposition to explain lackluster performances at Rio Tinto's 4,500 feet, and while it certainly plays into things at least a little, it's not as if Salt Lake is in some energy-sapping geodesic dome here. Still, when Rio Tinto Stadium is listed as a contender, that's one of the speculated reasons.
Against a side like Costa Rica, I'm inclined to think it would only much a deciding factor were things so incredibly close that other factors - quality of play, perhaps - make a difference. And at any rate, at least one Costa Rican player is entirely used to the altitude by this point in his career: forward Alvaro Saborio.
Speaking of the Costa Rican striker, there's also the slightly tricky consideration of his nationality and club-allegiance with which we must wrestle. It brings to mind plenty of issues about nationality and "home crowds," which, to my mind, plague international match discussions in the U.S. to an untenable extent. But rather than launching into that headlong here - not the time, I suspect - let's just acknowledge that Salt Lake County doesn't present too much of a challenge in this regard when wondering about Costa Rica. Were we talking about Mexico, the decision may be different.
Saborio's nationality, really, becomes a footnote - the Rio Tinto faithful aren't likely to boo the player (creating problems at home, which is the first and most important consideration, I think), and they're not likely to will Costa Rica to a win simply by that fact.
Are they any convincing arguments against Rio Tinto Stadium as a host? It's hard to see many. It does lose out slightly in the technological battle with Livestrong Sporting Park, but is, at the very least, as rabidly supportive as their faithful. It beats out without much thought Dick's Sporting Good Park, which offers little promise in the way of support - at least in contrast to Salt Lake's crowd, and if the crowds there for Colorado Rapids matches are any indicator. Indeed, I suspect Colorado is largely in the running for altitude considerations.
Might it be a little cold? Well, perhaps: March in Salt Lake City can get chilly. The average historical temperature on March 22 is 45 F , but it's reached a recorded low of 17 F. Freeze out the Costa Ricans, perhaps? Kansas City and Denver are basically on the same page here. A non-issue, I suspect.
Does it really come down merely altitude and support? Surely not. There are other logistics to consider, most of which we are not particularly privy to. Still, Rio Tinto puts forward as compelling an argument as any venue, even if the city in which it would take place is decidedly smaller than the other options. A small matter, really: It'll fill up, and the television accommodations are top-notch.
An announcement on the hosting location is slated for this week.