By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
4:36 PM PST, January 23, 2013
Baltimore might have missed out on hosting World Cup matches when the U.S. lost its bid for the quadrennial event in 2022, but M&T Stadium will be part of another prestigious international soccer tournament when the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup comes to the city in July.
M&T Bank Stadium is one of 13 venues that were announced Wednesday as hosts for the regional championship event. CONCACAF is the governing body for association soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The tournament will run from July 7 through July 28, but the schedule of games has yet to be determined.
While it doesn't have the cachet of the World Cup, the biennial 12-nation Gold Cup drew more than 600,000 fans in 2011, averaged more than 45,000 per match (including nine sellouts) and attracted a crowd of 93,000 to the Rose Bowl for a final match won by Mexico over the U.S.
It marked the third straight time that those countries have faced off in the Gold Cup final, and it was the second straight victory for Mexico. The two nations are among 11 to have qualified so far, along with Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique and Trinidad & Tobago.
A playoff for the last spot will be contested Friday between Guatemala and Panama, with the match being played in Costa Rica.
Unlike the recent soccer "friendlies" between European clubs at M&T Bank Stadium — primarily drawing teams from the English Premier League — this summer's match will have more at stake.
Willy Dely, marketing director for the soccer-crazed Slainte Restaurant in Fells Point, said the GoldCup could be a big draw if the U.S. team is playing in Baltimore.
"For a friendly, if you're not a fan of the team and just a regular fan, you might not know a Totteham or a Liverpool," Dely said. "Here you're talking about the national team. We sent a bus down to Landover for the U.S. game last summer [against Brazil] and it was crazy."
Soccer fans in Baltimore have been treated to three friendlies at M&T Bank Stadium in the past four years.
After the initial matchup between Chelsea and AC Milan was a sellout in 2009, there has been a lot less buzz surrounding the games. The last two — Manchester City vs. Inter Milan in 2010 and Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool last summer — drew announced crowds of 35,000 and 42,000, respectively.
It isn't clear whether M&T Bank Stadium will host another international friendly this year. Officials from the Ravens, who are hosting the event, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Other first-time venues for this year's Gold Cup include the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Sports Authority Field in Denver. The event will return to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Soldier Field in Chicago, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
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