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What will hosting 2026 World Cup mean for USA?

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When it was announced that the United States of America, Canada and Mexico will co-host the 2026 World Cup, there was jubilation among the soccer communities in each nation.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

For the first time in 32 years the World Cup would be coming to North America and there is euphoria that a new generation of soccer fans will appear across the three countries.

But focusing solely on the U.S. (which will host 60 of the 80 games in the expanded 48-team format), what will this mean?

A man who knows about the impact of the last World Cup on home soil better than most is Cobi Jones, the all-time appearance leader for the U.S. men’s national team with 164 caps from 1992-2004 and he played for the USMNT in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

There is no doubt in his mind as to how significant this moment is for the soccer landscape in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

“It is a historic event,” Jones said. “For a nation to be able to host two World Cups. I understand it is a United bid with the U.S. being part of it having hosted in 1994 and now again in 2026, there are very few countries who are able to say they’ve hosted two World Cups. And for someone like me who grew up in the early 70s and 80s when soccer really was relevant in the United States, I didn’t think I’d see one World Cup, let alone two. It is pretty special.”

[ MORE: Where will the 2026 World Cup games be? ]

Jones, now 47, was 24 years old when the last World Cup in the U.S. kicked off.

He fondly remembers stepping out in front of over 84,000 fans to play for the U.S. against Brazil in the last 16 and wants that buzz to return in eight years time.

“It was pride,” Jones reflected. “The moment I was able to walk out on July 4 into Stanford Stadium, walking out against Brazil and seeing them walk out right next to me as a young man and I’ve got Romario and Bebeto doing their holding hands walk out into the center of the field… then looking up at that moment and seeing a full stadium with the majority being American fans. That was a moment of pride for a sport no-one thought would be successful in the United States. People from all around the world looked down on soccer in the United States. And to see that, it gave incentive to soccer to continue to move forward and grow.”

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Many still look back to the 1994 World Cup as the seminal moment for the domestic game in the U.S. as it launched not only Major League Soccer but whole industries around the sport when it came to media, business and infrastructure.

It was the moment the world seemed to realize that soccer in the U.S. had potential.

“That World Cup impacted me the same way it impacted so many more. It was a wonderful surprise,” Jones explained. “It was an inspiration for more investment in the sport in the United States and maybe a little more respect form overseas. I think as well we saw the legacy that it left behind and you have the United States, basically the 1994 World Cup built from the top down. You had the establishment of MLS and that top down development and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m hoping that with such a long run-up we see the investment from the ground up. More investment into infrastructure into that side of things where we see a grow into youth levels. That would be a logical use of money in my mind.”

The landscape of soccer in the U.S. is very different now compared to 1994.

MLS has grown to 26 teams. Every major league across the world is available to watch on television or online, plus huge summer friendly tournaments pack out stadiums as well as the rapid growth in popularity of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.

What’s the next step?

“I would say now soccer has got the full acceptance. I still think we are in a little bit of a transition and everyone is still trying to get a grasp of where soccer is at in this country,” Jones said. “When I was growing up nobody gave soccer any kind of respect and you were an outsider if you were into the sport. It grew into the fact where you got the development that now it’s like ‘okay, you’re cool and hip’ if you like soccer because it’s a little different. Now I think we’re at a point where we are just on the cusp of where it is starting to turn and on the edge of where it could be mainstream. We are seeing full stadiums, MLS is growing soccer-specific stadiums non-stop. But I still think there needs to be a transition where it is a day-to-day topic amongst the general population.

“We have it already if you ask people ‘do you watch MLS or such and such team?’ and people will say ‘oh no, I don’t, I’m not a fan of that’ or ‘oh yeah, I’m a fan.'” Just the fact that it’s not ‘oh, what’s that?’ is a massive change in this country!” Jones chuckled. “People know now. You could say ‘LAFC’ and people will say, ‘that new team in LA!’ and that’s a change. That’s big. Now we have to get it to the point where it’s on a daily basis where people are talking and there’s no hesitation at all about saying ‘did you see the game today?’ and that’s the next big step for soccer in the U.S.”

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Whether or not the 2026 World Cup will bring the sport into the mainstream conversation on a permanent basis remains to be seen, but one area Jones believes cannot be neglected is attracting players and interest from communities which have previously been left out.

With kids currently at the age of nine or ten possibly able to play for the USMNT at the 2026 World Cup as a teenage star a la Christian Pulisic, no community in the U.S. should left out of what promises to be an exhilarating eight-year journey.

“Off the field, we have got a long runway [until 2026] and as resources are put towards the growth for the game, I’d like to see more in the youth game but particularly into those undeserved communities or whatever you’d like to call it. The urban population. Just to expand the reach of soccer into those communities and possibly bring others who don’t have the chance to even just play the game or even just to build the sport more,” Jones said. “Let’s not forget, what we are starting to see in this day and age, a perfect example is someone like Pulisic, going into the national team at aged 17 or 18, and showing that they can play well. If that happens and the timing happens to be just right, basically a nine-year-old today will be able to play in the 2026 World Cup.

“We need to make sure our reach, our coaching, our philosophy, it’s the youth today and along that whole runaway up to 2026. The journey starts now and don’t leave people behind. Don’t leave those underserved communities behind. Let’s make sure the diversity is there. And by diversity I mean making a concerted effort to get into areas where people wouldn’t normally reached by U.S. Soccer because the thought of ‘oh, they’ll find us’ that isn’t working anymore. You’ve got to go out and find those players and show them what they need to do and where they need to go.”

Although there is plenty of focus on 2026 and having a U.S. team able to compete and do well, Jones is eager to remind everyone that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar comes before that.

Jones believes the USMNT cannot afford to miss a second-straight World Cup and expects his former teammate Earnie Stewart to focus on the here and now as well as the future in his new role as General Manager.

“There is going to be a lot of excitement about it being here in the United States [in 2026] but we have to remember that 2022 is right around the corner. There will be a focus on the players and the general plan going forward. That entails the next 18 months. The next World Cup doesn’t start four years from now. It starts two years from now,” Jones said. “We do not want to skip over this World Cup. The last thing the United States needs is the disappointment of not being at two World Cups. We need to start the focus now on the short-term and the long-term, and that’s part of the reason why the addition of a GM and Earnie Stewart being hired in that new job, he can keep the focus on both.”

What should USMNT fans being hope for from their team in 2026?

Jones was part of the 2002 World Cup squad which reached the quarterfinals before being harshly knocked out by Germany. In the modern era that is the USA’s best-ever finish in a tournament.

If the future USMNT replicate that finish, then surely the fans from all over the U.S. who are attracted to watching a team on home soil will stick around for a lot longer.

“On the pitch I’d like to see the U.S. do well and at that point if they can get beyond the quarterfinal stage and get into the semis,” Jones said. “We have a great crop of talent who are actually playing on a consistent basis in Europe and in the U.S. with the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, all of these type of players who I feel can contribute on the pitch in the future along with some of the older players you see now. You will see a good U.S. side that won’t disappoint. I would like to see them go beyond the quarterfinals. That would be a success.”

Winding paths: Ronaldo, Rooney match history on same day

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Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have accomplished much, both together and apart.

There’s something about reading their names together that still calls forth dominant memories of red blurs dancing across the pitch at Old Trafford.

[ WATCH: Rooney’s record-tying goal ]

Ronaldo arrived at Manchester United in Summer 2004, and Rooney followed one year later. By the time they hit their prime, the Red Devils not only reclaimed the Premier League crown but won three-straight titles. There was a League Cup, a Club World Cup, and a Champions League title as well.

This is Ronaldo’s seventh year at Real Madrid, which seems almost forever ago, like we should be watching their video in black-and-white.

Rooney has further etched his name in United history, matching Bobby Charlton with his 249th goal for the club on Saturday.

[ MORE: Analyzing the USMNT roster ]

This on the same day Ronaldo scored in helping Real Madrid to a 39th-straight match without a loss, one shy of Barcelona. He’s played in 28 of those, and in an odd twist of fate, he’s unbeaten in 11 more with Portugal. He, too, is on 39.

Rooney. Ronaldo. Charlton. Barcelona. Manchester United. Real Madrid.

That’s quite a list.

Since parting, both players have done alright for themselves. Ronaldo has three of his four Ballons d’Or, a league title, two Champions League crowns, and this summer’s EURO win. Rooney’s accolades are as strong as one of the world’s greatest players of all-time, but still impressive: two PL wins, three England Player of the Year awards, and the most goals in England history.

At times, it begs the thought of what would’ve happened should they have stayed together? It’s impossible to replace Ronaldo, but who knows how many fewer miles would be on Rooney’s engine had he shared the burden with an Ronaldo or an adequate replacement.

United brought in Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan, and Mame Diouf that window. The next year, it was Bebe and Chicharito. In 2011-12, United added Ashley Young. United only added one more PL title, and managed a UCL final loss. What could’ve been.

Rooney’s going to pass Charlton soon. Real has a tough test from a wounded Sevilla in the second leg of their Copa del Rey matchup.

But it feels fitting to recall both Ronaldo and Rooney on a day where both continued their legacy-printing careers.

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Transfer rumor roundup: Digne to Barcelona, Costa to Atleti

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Diego Simeone’s push to lift Atletico Madrid into the thrones of both Europe and Spain includes a reunion with Diego Costa.

That’s one of the top stories from the world of transfer gossip. Costa is with Chelsea for preseason but Simeone is reportedly quite anxious to pair the big striker with Antoine Griezmann.

[ MORE: Higuain to West Ham? | Pelle to China ]

Marca claims that the arrival of Michy Batshuayi at Chelsea is enough to allow Antonio Conte to sell Costa, leaving the Premier Leagued devoid of one of its biggest villains.

Barcelona is set to strengthen and lower the age of its defense, with Paris Saint-Germain left back Lucas Digne moving to the Camp Nou. Digne was with AS Roma last season, and the 22-year-old would join French center back Samuel Umtiti as new Barca backs.

Georginio Wijnaldum would throttle Championship defenses, but it seems unlikelt that the Dutchman will stick around St. James Park for next season. The Express claims that Wijnaldum is literally “begging” to leave, and that the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur would be his preference… but that Spurs don’t want to meet the Magpies’ asking price.

Remember Bebe? The former Manchester United man has apparently made a move from Benfica into La Liga, and this one’s permanent.

Europa League roundup: Final eight set as Manchester United, Spurs, Lazio exit

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the star man of Thursday’s Europa League Round of 16 second legs, scoring a pair of goals at White Hart Lane as Borussia Dortmund knocked Tottenham Hotspur out of the competition.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer rolls out new uniforms ]

That wasn’t the only decisive tie, as Sparta Prague and Braga also cruised into the quarterfinals.

Manchester United 1-1 (1-3 agg.) LiverpoolRECAP

A lively Old Trafford only got more electric when Anthony Martial won and converted a first half penalty, but the noise was almost all Anfield when Philippe Coutinho dazzled his way to an impactful road goal. Jurgen Klopp became the first Liverpool manager to win his first visit to Old Trafford as Reds boss.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 (1-5 agg.) Borussia Dortmund

With apologies to reigning champion Sevilla and exciting Shakhtar Donetsk, BVB joins Liverpool as the favorites of the tournament after thoroughly dismantling Spurs over two legs. It was decided before kickoff, really, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the first of his two in the 24th minute to give Dortmund a powerful road goal. Son Heung-Min nabbed Spurs’ only marker.

during the UEFA Europa League round of 16, second leg match between Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund at White Hart Lane on March 17, 2016 in London, England.
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Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 (0-2 agg.) Villarreal

There was neither magic from Javier Hernandez nor Admir Mehmedi as Bayer couldn’t find the net at home, giving El Submarino Amarillo a spot in the next round.

Lazio 0-3 (1-4 agg.) Sparta Prague

After an even first leg in the Czech Republic, Sparta exploded for a trio of road goals in the first half at the Stadio Olimpico. Borek Dockal, Ladislav Krejci and Lukas Julis scored for the visitors.

Valencia 2-1 (2-2 agg.) Athletic Bilbao

Hard-luck Gary Neville entered the second leg with his Valencia side down a goal, and got goals from Santi Mina and Santos to put his side within 53 minutes of advancing to the quarters. But a controversial goal from Aritz Aduriz not only sent Neville to the stands, it sent Valencia out of the tournament. Oscar de Marcos handled the ball, with no call, just before the deciding goal.

Anderlecht 0-1 (1-4 agg.) Shakhtar Donetsk

Eduardo’s stoppage time goal meant very little to the tie, as Shakhtar cruised past an Anderlecht side that didn’t manage a single shot on target. Serigne Mbodji took a 86th minute red card for the hosts, two minutes after Olexandr Kucher took a second yellow card for Shakhtar.

Fenerbahce’s Alper Potuk, left, is shown a red card by referee Ivan Bebek during the Europa League Round of 16, Second leg soccer match between SC Braga and Fenerbahce at the Municipal stadium in Braga, Portugal, Thursday, March 17, 2016.(AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)
(AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Braga 4-1 (4-2 agg.) Fenerbahce

The Turkish powers did not bow out in style, taking three red cards in the final 24 minutes of the match. Braga entered with a 1-0 lead and doubled it through Ahmed Hassan in the 11th minute. Alper Potuk (above) scored before halftime to set the stage for the second half, but Braga netted three times in the frame to advance to the quarterfinals.

Sevilla 3-0 (3-0 agg.) Basel

The reigning champs didn’t need to worry about away goals after Adil Rami scored in the 35th minute and Kevin Gameiro added two goals in two minutes before halftime to salt it away for Sevilla.

La Liga roundup: Barca win without injured Messi

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight:

Barcelona 2-1 Las Palmas

Lionel Messi has a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) and will miss 7-8 weeks of action. There, that’s the bad news for Barcelona fans. Here’s the good news: Neymar and Luis Suarez are still pretty freaking good, as are Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta from deeper in midfield, so they’ll be just fine. In reality, Messi missing two months at this point of the season means he’ll be healthy and fresh for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League, so Barca will probably win that again this year.

On Saturday, though, the Blaugrana got on just fine for 80 Messi-less minutes. Suarez chipped in with a brace, goals coming either side of halftime (25th and 54th minutes), to give him three league goals on the season. Expect that number to rise quickly and frequently in Messi’s absence. Jonathan Viera pulled one back for Las Palmas, but with just two minutes of regular time to be played, it was too little too late.

[ RELATED: With Messi out two months, it’s Neymar’s time to shine ]

Real Madrid 0-0 Malaga

Sure, it’s only the sixth week of the season, but it’s never a good idea to drop points when you’re in a theoretical title race with Barcelona. Ever. With a 0-0 home draw against Malaga on Saturday, that’s exactly what Real Madrid did. Los Blancos completely controlled the game and on another could/would have scored three or four, but all 31 shots (nine on goal), including an astonishing 14 by Cristiano Ronaldo, proved futile.

[ MORE: PL roundup — City lose; Chelsea draw; Arsenal, Liverpool win ]

Sevilla 3-2 Rayo Vallecano

Bebe scored. Remember that guy? You know, the Portuguese kid no one had ever heard of before Manchester United paid $11 million for him in 2010? Well, shockingly, it never worked out at Old Trafford, but now, at age 25, he’s on loan at Rayo Vallecano (from Benfica) and he scored against Sevilla on Saturday. Of course, it wasn’t enough to secure any points against Sevilla, but noteworthy nonetheless.

Kevin Gameiro (23rd minute), Steven N’Zonzi (46th) put the two-time defending UEFA Europa League champions comfortably ahead, only to see that lead disappear after Bebe (51st) and Javi Guerra (68th) each scored. Yevhen Konoplyanka (86th) scored the late winner to pull Sevilla out of the relegation zone and put them on five points from six games, eight points off the pace of Celta Vigo for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League place.

Elsewhere in La Liga action

Villarreal 1-0 Atletico Madrid

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sporting Gijon vs. Real Betis (6 a.m. ET)
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Espanyol (10 a.m. ET)
Getafe vs. Levante (12:15 p.m. ET)
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao (2:30 p.m. ET)