With new World Cup fervor surrounding the United States amid the announcement of a CONCACAF bid for the 2026 World Cup, there has been talk about what a successful bid could mean for the growth of US Soccer.
The United States hosted the 1994 World Cup, and many saw that as a coming out party for the USA on a global stage, and US head coach Bruce Arena echoed that sentiment. Then he said this time around, the United States could use home field advantage to achieve a much bigger triumph.
“In 1994, the U.S. was looked at as this emerging frontier in the game and FIFA wanted to bring the U.S. into the world’s game,” Arena said via a teleconference Thursday. “In 2026, we’re going to be fully emerged into the game and a big player. I think 2026 will be the time where we are going to start talking about winning the World Cup. It wasn’t going to be in 1994. It wasn’t going to be in 2010. But 2026 could be our time.”
Arena brought the United States to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, but the nation has not advanced past the Round of 16 since. 1994 brought the US out of the group stage as well, but they fell 1-0 to eventual champions Brazil in the first knockout stage.
Popularity for the game has grown exponentially in the United States, but that hasn’t exactly translated to tangible growth on the field in the last decade or two. The US achieved its highest-ever FIFA ranking in early 2006, rising to 4th in the world, but they fell off with an unsuccessful World Cup later that summer, ending a stretch of five years where they reached the top 10 at least once in every calendar year. They have not cracked the top 10 since.