By Peter Schwartz
» More Columns
When it comes to the history of big-time soccer in the United States, the Meadowlands in New Jersey has seen its share of memorable matches.
From the explosion of the Cosmos in the late 1970s and early 1980s to seven matches during the 1994 World Cup, Giants Stadium will always be remembered as one of the premier soccer venues in the country.
The former home of the Cosmos, Giants and Jets was torn down after the 2009 NFL season and MetLife Stadium opened its doors a short time later just a few feet away in the parking lot. Just like its predecessor, MetLife Stadium has played host to a number of international matches since 2010, including last summer’s Gold Cup.
The venue is now getting ready to host three matches of the Copa America Centenario. MetLife Stadium will be the site of a quarterfinal on June 17, the final on June 26 and this Sunday’s Group B match between Ecuador and Haiti.
The planning began this past November when MetLife Stadium was chosen as one of 10 venues for the tournament. The Copa America is a godsend for soccer fans in this region and it could also serve as a catalyst to grow the popularity of the game throughout the tri-state area.
“We are all incredibly excited to host three matches of the Copa,” said Ron VanDeVeen, president and CEO of MetLife Stadium. “This special edition of the Copa America Centenario has brought great excitement to not only dedicated soccer fans in the region, but to the casual fan who may not always have the opportunity to see their home team.”
All three matches are a great fit for both the venue and our area. With such a diverse population and a hunger for top sporting events, large crowds are expected. Both the quarterfinal and the final are expected to be sold out, with over 60,000 tickets already sold for the championship game alone.
This Sunday’s Ecuador-Haiti match, which begins at 6:30 p.m., should be well attended as well.
“Having had Ecuador play here four times since the building opened in 2010, we know there’s a large local fan base which will be here to support their home team,” VanDeVeen said.
The quarterfinal match, which will be played at 8 p.m. on June 17, has the potential to be a very intriguing matchup. The contest will pit the winner of Group B against the second-place team from Group A. If the current standings hold through the end of the group stage, the Meadowlands will be the site of a final eight tilt between Brazil and the United States.
Ironically, it wouldn’t be the first time those two countries have met at MetLife Stadium. Brazil beat the USA 2-0 in a friendly at what was originally called New Meadowlands Stadium on Aug. 10, 2010, in front of a crowd of 77,223.
The United States can punch its ticket to the quarterfinals with a win against Paraguay on Saturday in Philadelphia. So is MetLife Stadium rooting for a chance to have the Americans as part of that quarterfinals?
“We always stand behind US Soccer and the United States Men’s National Team,” VanDeVeen said. “But our goal as a host venue/region is to provide a positive gameday experience for all participating teams and their respective fans.”
This certainly won’t be the last major soccer tournament to take place at MetLife Stadium. There are reports that the United States could become the permanent home of Copa America and there is always the possibility that the World Cup will return at some point down the road.
If that comes to be, a venue like MetLife Stadium, which has hosted big events like Super Bowl XLVIII and Wrestlemania 29, would certainly be in the mix for some matches.
“MetLife Stadium and the New York/New Jersey region are no stranger to hosting major international events,” VanDeVeen said. “This region has come together to successfully organize, and host, the biggest events in the world.”
If you have tickets to any of the games or you’re still planning on attending, there’s good news in terms of getting to MetLife Stadium.
Unlike for Jets and Giants games, you won’t need a parking permit if you intend to drive, but fans are encouraged to carpool or utilize public transportation, especially for the 8 p.m. final on June 26. Guests should visit http://www.metlifestadium.com for specific NJ Transit train and bus schedules for each of the three matches.
As for the final, the two countries that will battle it out for the Copa America Centernario title will not only be playing in front of what is expected to be a capacity crowd, but also in front of millions of people watching all over the world.
That means a lot of eyeballs will be fixated on the Meadowlands.
“MetLife Stadium is the number one stadium in the world — an honor that is not taken lightly by our team,” VanDeVeen said. “We are committed to hosting the world’s biggest events, on the world’s biggest stage.”
More than two decades after Giants Stadium played host to the World Cup, some of the best teams on the planet will be back at the Meadowlands later this month. Whether you’re a serious soccer fan or just a casual observer, these games should be something special and will have an atmosphere second to none.
For tickets to Copa America Centenario, please visit http://www.ca2016.com/tickets.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow Copa America @CA2016 and MetLife Stadium @MLStadium