When the US Women’s National Team takes to Heinz Field under head coach Jill Ellis on August 16, the match won’t mean anything.
The international friendly against Costa Rica isn’t likely to be competitive. Las Ticas, as the Costa Rican women are known, just participated in their first World Cup. In a match that mattered last October, the U.S. cruised to a 6-0 victory. Even if it suddenly becomes something of a match, the outcome means little to the American squad.
Mostly, it will be a celebration of the 23 players that came back from Canada having captured the hearts of the county and with a third star over their crest. For Ellis, just signed to a lengthy contract extension, this friendly will be just one of dozens that she’ll use to evaluate talent and tinker with her lineup in the run up to next year’s Olympic Games.
So by many accounts, next Saturday’s match will be meaningless, but at the same time, this match means everything for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh as a city has always flirted with soccer, but never fully embraced it. The success of the Spirit in the early 1980’s faded along with indoor soccer. The lack of a stadium for the local side hurt the Riverhounds during soccer’s early 2000’s renaissance in America.
As a result, Pittsburgh has never hosted a competitive national team match, men’s or women’s, while nearby Columbus, Ohio has become something of a regular home ground for the men’s team.
Columbus became a mecca for U.S. soccer because of a happy accident. With the men’s team looking for a home for an important qualifier against Mexico in 2001, Columbus’ spartan 25,000-seat Crew Stadium wasn’t chosen because of its amenities or storied history, it just happened to be far away from the Mexican fans that routinely had invaded such matches in the 1990’s.
It also so happened that the match would take place in February, and Columbus’ winter weather would certainly affect the Mexican visitors more than the hosts.
Whatever the reason for the first match there, it’s been the passion of the Columbus fanbase – along with some important victories – that has kept the national team coming back.
Pittsburghers know a few things about passionate sporting crowds, whether it’s 70,000-plus braving the elements for a January Steelers game, the Penguins’ 377-game sellout streak or a sea fans dressed in black for an October Pirates playoff game. A rousing welcome from the Pittsburgh faithful should go a long way.
With ticket sales surpassing 40,000 this week – a figure that is rapidly approaching record-breaking territory – Pittsburgh has a chance to earn a match that will mean something in the very near future. If things work out according to plan, perhaps Pittsburgh can become the same type of home for the women’s team that Columbus has become for the men’s team.
USWNT Notes: The team will hold a training session on Saturday, August 15 at Heinz Field that will be free and open to the public. Parking will be $7 and fans should enter through Gate B. Tickets are still available through ussoccer.com, at Pittsburgh-area Ticketmaster locations, and will be sold at the Heinz Field box office on the day of the game. Forward Sidney Leroux will miss the match against Costa Rica as she recovers from ankle surgery. The status of fellow forward Alex Morgan, who underwent a minor knee procedure in July, is still uncertain.
Photo credit: soccer.com