By Michael Lewis
Everyone’s hopeful right now, optimistic, fingers crossed.
The 17 candidates want to host the United States-based games at the 2026 World Cup are looking have high hopes of convincing FIFA that their cities and region should hosts games, but like it or not, come the spring of 2021, seven will be disappointed.
The math is simple” 17 doesn’t go into 10 very well. Seven venues/cities will be disappointed.
Complicating matters is the fact FIFA will want to spread out the World Cup from sea to shining sea and from the northern border to Texas.
And complicating matters even more, three venues/stadiums/cities are probably locks to host matches – MetLife Stadium (New York/New Jersey), Rose Bowl (Los Angeles) and AT&T Stadium (Dallas).
So, that cuts down the chances of the other bidders. That would be 14 going into seven. In many cases, it will pit cities in the same region against each other.
Yes, there are millions living in the northeast, which would be enticing to put as many as four venues along I-95. But with American transportation systems (assuming we are back to some sort of normal in six years’ time after the COVID-19 pandemic), moving from one venue to another will just follow World Cup tradition (excluding Qatar, of course). During earlier World Cups, teams many times would play their group matches in one city. Now, they move around because that means supporters will spend more money and spread the wealth among the cities. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life in the modern World Cup.
Take it from someone who has covered 13 World Cups – eight me and five women. It’s a lot more fun visiting cities, learning its culture and customs, eccentricities of an area or a region and eating food for which a city is famous.
During a conference call with the media Monday, FIFA chief tournaments and events officer Colin Smith said that the organization was sticking with 10 USA venues, adding that it was set in stone.
Well, the exact number of potential venues have been changed before. Let’s go back to October 1991, when officials from World Cup USA 1994 had said there would be from eight to 12 venues. But FIFA vice president Hermann Neuberger of Germany, president of the World Cup Organizing Committee, said on Oct. 29, 1991 that the cup will be played at 12 sites.
“We’re not going to vary,” Neuberger told USA TODAY. “As long as there are 24 countries, there will be 12 venues.”
That bit of information was confirmed by FIFA press and public relations director Guido Tognoni during an inspection of Giants Stadium the next day. “FIFA intends to have 12 cities if nothing dramatic happens,” he said. “It is a continent.”
Well, guess what happened slightly less than five months later; somebody changed their mind. When Alan I. Rothenberg announced the venues on March 23, 1992, nine were selected.
So, who knows what will happen either when push comes to shove next year?
For the 2026 World Cup, there essentially will be four regions from which to choose. They will average 2.5 venues per region. Translated: some will have two cities selected, others will have
FIFA wants to spread out the tournament and not have too many venues in any one corner of the country. We can narrow them down to the East, South, Midwest and Texas as one, and West.
This region has five candidates – Baltimore, Boston, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Most likely, three, perhaps four at the most (although the latter is a longshot). Since New York/New Jersey is considered a lock, it looks like there will be a battle between the nation’s capital and Baltimore because of how close those two cities are. Philadelphia and Boston don’t have the same proximity, but depending on how other prospective venues fare, one of those probably won’t make the cut.
We have four candidates – Atlanta, Nashville, Miami and Orlando. Given how close the Florida cities are and Atlanta and Nashville are, it could come down to a battle between them for two spots.
Out in the Central Time Zone, there’s four cities vying for World Cup venue fame – Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City. With so few berths available, it probably will come down to a Texas showdown between Dallas and Houston and farther up north, a battle between Cincy and Kansas City.
There are also four candidates – Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay and Seattle. If LA is considered a lock like NY/NJ, that would leave perhaps as few as two places. Placing a venue in the Mountain Time Zone in Denver might sound enticing to FIFA (having a World Cup in four time zones would be a first). And Seattle, which has for the past decade the most consistent supporters in Major League Soccer, could be the determining factor that could sway FIFA, even though the field would have to be converted to grass.
“There is nothing set in stone from our point of view,” Smith said. “We want to look at this as … the whole picture. We want to look at the clustering, the locations of the venues, the time zones. We also look at the climatic conditions in terms of the timing of matches, the heat in certain matches at certain times of the day. Ultimately, what we’re looking to do is to come up with together with U.S. Soccer the best list of stadiums for hosting this tournament.”