2026 World Cup

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Former U.S. TV execs indicted on charges of World Cup bribery

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NEW YORK (AP) A pair of former sports marketing executives of 21st Century Fox have been indicted on charges they paid bribes to soccer officials to obtain confidential bidding information during FIFA’s sale of U.S. television rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

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Charges were unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn against former 21st Century Fox Inc. executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez. They are accused of making payments to officials of the CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body.

ESPN had U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but Fox in 2011 gained the rights for 2018 and 2022 tournaments. After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was shifted from summer to late autumn, a time when it is likely to get less attention in the U.S., FIFA awarded Fox rights for 2026 without competitive bidding.

Also charged in the indictment, handed up by a grand jury on March 18, are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy; and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA. The Justice Department said the indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play allege racketeering conspiracy.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

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Lopez and Martinez are accused of joining with Full Play to pay million of dollars in bribes to executives of CONMEBOL in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s annual club championship.

“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email. “The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial.”

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: “We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction.”

Lawyers for Romy and Full Play did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fox Sports also did not respond to a request for comment.

Romy is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to Jeffrey Webb, the former president of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body CONCACAF, for media and marketing rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty on Nov. 23, 2015, to several counts and awaits sentencing.

Burning question: How will the USMNT perform as World Cup hosts?

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We know the question is fraught with variables, but let’s consider this question during this dead period in world soccer: What should we expect from the United States men’s national team at the home World Cup.

The USMNT will presumably have a ninth World Cup under its belt when it joins Canada and Mexico in hosting the 2026 World Cup.

Expectations will be sky-high for the Yanks, eight years removed from failure to qualify for the 2018 tournament and 22 years after hosting the World Cup that would jumpstart soccer in this country.

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It’s wild to think about a 27-year-old Christian Pulisic leading the Yanks as presumed captain. Health-willing, the winger will be somewhere in the 80-cap range and potentially have a resume as decorated as any in history at his age.

Let’s begin by talking about who will be on the roster, considering we cannot know the identity of the coach or which players will explode onto the scene. Maybe Keegan Rosenberry or Donovan Pines get chances and grasp them. Maybe both disappear from the picture. Six years is a long time, so we’ll stick with the familiar.

Given the tremendous changes at the top of U.S. Soccer and a spirit amongst fans which has been downright venomous, it may be difficult to imagine Gregg Berhalter will still be at the helm unless his side has a remarkable tournament in Qatar, but it’s possible (For what it’s worth, Berhalter’s USMNT playing career happened alongside new USMNT general manager Brian McBride).

So let’s look at the class of players who are in the picture now and would also still be in their primes, assuming health.

Near certainties

We’re lending some leeway to Dest, Weah, and Reyna given their early and impressive starts to careers at elite European clubs, and a little bit to Steffen, too; Whether the Fortuna Dussseldorf loan man is the No. 1 is a conversation to be had, but his experience gives him a foothold as a member of the corps.

  • Pulisic, 27
  • Weston McKennie, 27
  • Tyler Adams, 27
  • Zack Steffen, 31
  • Giovanni Reyna, 23
  • Tim Weah, 26
  • Sergino Dest, 25

The wily vets: We know there will be late bloomers and those that play deep into their 30s — Gyasi Zardes may become the USMNT’s new Chris Wondolowski if he hasn’t already — but these five names are well-established now and well-liked by the hierarchy.

  • Jordan Morris, 31
  • John Brooks, 33
  • DeAndre Yedlin, 32
  • Walker Zimmerman, 33
  • Cristian Roldan, 31

Young, experienced, but with questions: It’s a touch harsh to have Sargent here, as recency bias is the challenge (He’s struggled of late but has a very strong resume at Werder Bremen and with the USMNT). He also will have to contend with a pool of very deep and young attackers.  Miazga and Horvath also possess the resume and acumen, but there are enough minor questions about playing time — getting it and keeping it — at the very top levels of Europe.

  • Josh Sargent, 26
  • Matt Miazga, 30
  • Ethan Horvath,  30

How will they fare with a step up? There’s nothing to dislike about this crew apart from where they are playing now. Cannon, Miles Robinson, and Yueill are in a strengthened MLS but that is still not a guarantee on the international stage. Antonee Robinson was denied a January move to AC Milan, and the Wigan Athletic man is going to get a big look from someone soon since he plays left back. Cannon and he will get a chance almost as soon as the transfer window opens again.

  • Reggie Cannon, 28
  • Antonee Robinson, 28
  • Miles Robinson, 29
  • Jackson Yueill, 29

Oh, we sure do hope so: Whether playing on second sides of German powers, dipping their toes in the Premier League like Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev, or in a sea of MLS or Eredivisie hopefuls, there are a ton of buoyant young players waiting for their turn on the stage.

We include older Cameron Carter-Vickers due to his loan experience in the Championship, and two names on here are the wildest of wild cards. Folarin Balogun is lighting up the PL2 for Arsenal but has repped England youth since playing for the Americans, while Konrad de la Fuente is training with Barcelona’s first team but there’s a looooong road from Barcelona B to first team playing time.

Even this list leaves off Brandon Servania, James Sands, Charlie Kellman, and a host of others with seemingly effervescent futures.

  • Chris Richards, 26
  • Indiana Vassilev, 25
  • Ulysses Llanez, 25
  • Jesus Ferreira, 25
  • Konrad de la Fuente, 24
  • Paxton Pomykal, 26
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers, 28
  • Richie Ledezma, 25
  • Chris Gloster, 25
  • Alex Mendez, 25
  • Mason Toye, 27
  • Sebastian Soto, 25
  • Folarin Balogun*, 24

So what does it mean?

Having already qualified and playing on home soil, the Yanks will be playing in an expanded field. Unless the nation experiences unparalleled drop-offs in form and development, the side will enter the tournament with high expectations at home.

A perceived group of death will no longer be met by “Well, maybe next time.” Questions will be more on defenders than anything else, although the U.S. men have yet to find the latest from the Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller time line of elite backstops (Honorable mention to Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando).

Admitting that the exercise of, “What’s gonna happen in six years?” is rooting deeply in our current soccer landscape’s dormant state, we project the Yanks to be in the knockout rounds with a chance — however small or large — to get past whoever gets in their way.

Ranking which U.S. cities should host 2026 World Cup

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The 2026 World Cup is still a long way out but that doesn’t mean cities across the United States of America aren’t battling it out to host games.

Let the battle begin.

A report from Yahoo’s Doug McIntyre pointed out that host venues have been sent letters by U.S. Soccer as site visits will take place this year to the 17 cities vying to host games. The 10 U.S. venues which will host World Cup games will then be announced early in 2021, as three venues will be selected in both Canada (Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal) and Mexico (Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City) with 16 stadiums overall picked by FIFA, who have the final say.

The 2026 World Cup will be the largest in history with 80 games played overall, 60 of which will be in the USA and the entire tournament from the quarterfinal stage onwards will be in the U.S.

As far as the next step for potential host cities, according to the letter U.S. Soccer sent to officials from each host city, they are as follows via Yahoo:

  • Former U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, who retired from that role last year, has been charged with leading the process and will be the main point of contact for the bidding cities.
  • Each stadium site will be visited twice by the selection committee between March and November 2020. The cities will also participate in “workshops” with Dan Flynn’s team next month, then make final proposals for inclusion before the list is whittled down.
  • Specific details regarding the selection process, including “structure, timeline, delegation, methodology, etc.” will be presented during the workshops, the letter said.

This has got us thinking: How have things moved on for potential host cities since the announcement in 2018 that the U.S., Mexico and Canada would be hosting the expanded 48-team tournament?

With that in mind we rank the 17 venues vying for the 10 host stadium spots in the U.S. below, and share our thoughts on who we think deserves to have 2026 World Cup games.


Ranking potential 2026 World Cup venues

Host cities

1. New York/New Jersey
2. Los Angeles (Rose Bowl Stadium or new Inglewood NFL stadium)
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Miami
5. Seattle
6. Atlanta
7. San Francisco/Bay Area
8. Dallas
9. Boston
10. Denver

Missing out
11. Kansas City
12. Philadelphia
13. Houston
14. Nashville
15. Orlando
16. Baltimore
17. Cincinnati


Analysis

The first six cities on this list pick themselves. New York, LA, Washington D.C., Miami and Seattle are all cities entrenched with rich soccer culture and they are spread in all four corners of the U.S. But then it starts to get tricky, Atlanta has jumped to the top of the list due to the success of Atlanta United in MLS, while logistically it makes sense to have games in the Bay Area, Dallas and Denver to link up the west coast and midwest respectively, while Boston’s rich sporting heritage has to be factored in. The likes of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Nashville seem like outsiders and even Orlando can be put in that category as Miami will likely get the nod in Florida. So that leaves Houston, Philly and Kansas City as the three cities who could be interchangeable with Denver, Dallas and Boston, depending on how their site visits shake out. Remember: the location of venues as well as transport, hotels and other local infrastructure all plays a big part in picking host cities. Tens of thousands of extra fans will flock to the city where the game is being played without tickets just to be there.

It is so tough to whittle down this list to just 10 because we all know the U.S. is able to host the World Cup on its own and the fact that three cities are expected to host games from both Mexico and Canada makes the competition for stadiums in the USA even stronger. With neither Chicago (who pulled out of the bidding due to concerns over taxpayers after FIFA didn’t negotiate) or Vancouver currently in the running as host cities as they missed the initial deadline for host cities to bid, it is worth nothing that FIFA has the final say and they could demand either one of those cities is included in the bid. Either way, the site visits in 2020 will be very interesting as cities across the U.S. roll out the red carpet for U.S. Soccer as they try and get a slice of the action as the biggest party on the planet comes to the USA in 2026.

Infantino: FIFA ‘discussing’ expedited WC expansion for 2022

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Expansion of the World Cup field, from 32 to 48 teams, is inevitable as FIFA has been exploring and not-so-subtly hinting at the idea for a number of years.

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From the outset, the 2026 tournament — which we now know will be hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada — has been earmarked as the target date for increasing the field of teams by 50 percent. It was confirmed by a vote in January 2017, more than nine years before the tournament kicks off.

Now, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, that timetable might just get moved up by four years for the 2022 tournament in Qatar. I mean, why not, right? In fact, that’s actually Infantino’s take on the matter: why not? — quotes from the BBC:

“If it is possible, why not?”

“We have to see if it is possible, if it is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends, we are discussing with our many other friends in the region and we hope that this can happen.

“And, if not, we will have tried. We will have tried because we always have to try to do things in a better way.”

The change would require Qatar to share hosting duties with other countries in the region. Given that the tournament is scheduled to begin in just over four years (Nov. 21, 2022), such an alteration to plans would appear to be unwise and ill-advised.

On the other hand, it would almost certainly be an obscenely lucrative move for FIFA. Thus, it can’t be ruled out.

CONCACAF boss targets 2026 World Cup for better results

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MOSCOW (AP) The head of North American soccer says the region’s teams need until 2026 at a home World Cup to reach their full potential.

Mexico’s traditional round of 16 loss this week left the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) without the quarterfinals place it got four years ago from Costa Rica.

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“All in all, I think it’s par for the course,” CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said Tuesday of the region’s performance in Russia.

With just three teams at this World Cup compared to four in 2014, Costa Rica was last in a tough group and newcomer Panama lost all three games.

“I think you will see an improvement in four years,” Montagliani told The Associated Press in an interview, though suggesting “eight years is more realistic.”

Elected to lead CONCACAF in 2016, the Canadian official acknowledged the soccer body had too often let down its 35 FIFA member nations.

“Quite frankly, over the last 40 years CONCACAF as a confederation has not really done much to help the federations try to compete at a world level,” Montagliani said of an era tainted by corruption, and leaders indicted by the U.S. Justice Department.

Now moved from Manhattan to Miami, CONCACAF has reformed its business practices and revamped competitions for national and club teams.

A Nations League kicks off next year, designed to raise competitive standards by giving smaller national teams more fixtures and revenue in a two-year cycle.

Four places were added to the marquee Gold Cup, which the United States will host next year with 16 teams.

“Then we will see what we look like eight years from now when we host a World Cup in our backyard,” Montagliani said.

Though Mexico beat Germany 1-0 in a stunning group-stage opener in Moscow, CONCACAF had a bigger win in the Russian capital. Five days earlier, FIFA members picked the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid over Morocco to host the 2026 tournament.

That 48-team edition will give CONCACAF six guaranteed places – likely with automatic entry for all three hosts – plus two more chances in an intercontinental playoff round in November 2025. Two of six teams will advance, with Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America all sending one entry.

In Russia, CONCACAF was understrength after Honduras lost its intercontinental playoff last November, going down 3-1 in Australia after drawing 0-0 in the home leg.

“It’s really important we get a fourth team (in 2022),” Montagliani said. “I think this year it was disappointing Honduras didn’t take advantage of their home field advantage.”

Four years ago, Mexico grabbed a fourth place for the region when it surprisingly fell into the playoffs as Honduras advanced directly with the U.S. and Costa Rica.

This time, the U.S. slumped in the final qualifying group, letting in Panama which was overmatched in Russia.

“Like most debutants they saw how tough it is at this level,” Montagliani said. “The team that probably should have qualified four years ago was here this year and a little bit old in the tooth. You’re going to see a different Panama now in the next four years.”

So too will CONCACAF on and off the field, the FIFA vice president insisted.

“Our confederation will look differently by the time we get to ’22 and definitely look different by the time we host in ’26.”

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup