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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.”

Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.

Morocco jibes at North American cash pledges for 2026 World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) In a FIFA election where money could be key, Morocco tried to heap doubt on North American promises of multi-billion dollar 2026 World Cup profits on Monday.

Moroccan jibes at projections from the United States-Canada-Mexico bid came when leaders of the rival campaigns met voters from five of FIFA’s six continental groups.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

“There is lots of uncertainty,” Morocco Football Federation president Fouzi Lekjaa said of the detail in North American pledges of $14.3 billion revenue for FIFA.

“That doesn’t correspond either to historical facts or future extrapolation, it’s an exercise that goes beyond that,” Lekjaa said in French.

Money will not be the only factor on the minds of up to 206 expected FIFA member federations who can vote on Wednesday in Moscow.

Still, a FIFA-appointed panel assessing the two candidates already noted the “significantly higher” number than Morocco’s projected income of $7.2 billion for football’s governing body from a 48-team tournament.

Morocco’s counterattack is that $5 billion pure profit for FIFA would be a World Cup record.

“We do not blush when we propose that,” Morocco tourism minister Lamia Boutaleb said in an impassioned speech to 53 African voters in a Moscow hotel conference center.

The Moroccan bid team took to the stage at a Confederation for African Football (CAF) meeting minutes after the North Americans presented their plan to what shaped as its most hostile audience of the day.

“We have shown the best we have to offer to all the FIFA members,” Decio de Maria, the Mexico federation president, said.

Though the American team was met with just polite applause, and no follow-up questions, it still hopes for African votes on Wednesday.

Liberia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe pledged support before arriving in Russia, and the North Americans have targeted voters in the southern African group known as COSAFA.

It was perhaps telling that CAF President Ahmad stressed the need to “show cohesion within our continent” in a contest where FIFA will publish each member’s choice soon after the ballot.

“There is an obligation to remain within our family,” the Madagascar official said “But of course it is an individual choice.”

The African meeting began with Ahmad announcing his first vice president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, resigned from CAF and FIFA’s ruling council while facing a corruption investigation in his native Ghana.

A television documentary last week showed Nyantakyi taking $65,000 in cash from undercover reporters posing as businessmen to secure favor with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo and other government officials.

Ghana can vote on Wednesday, though Moroccan attempts to pressure FIFA into acting against four American territories seem sure to fail.

FIFA election rules suggested American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could be barred from voting by a potential conflict of interest.

“Our voting delegate has a New Zealand passport,” American Samoan official Sandra Fruean, a FIFA Council member, told The Associated Press.

The last-minute lobbying continues on Tuesday morning at another central Moscow hotel, where the rival bid teams make presentations to 54 European voters.

Stewart the right man at the right time for USMNT

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Earnie Stewart is the new United States men’s national team general manager, the man charged with hiring, er, recommending the hiring of the manager tasked with leading the nation back into international prominence following a horrible World Cup qualifying failure.

On the surface, he ticks a lot of boxes. Domestic success and international acclaim, a sense of the past and present. And, perhaps most importantly, the Dutch-born son of an U.S. Air Force airman and his Dutch wife, he knows that USMNT players can come from anywhere.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

And, unlike anyone in recent memory to hold such a coaching or management position with the team, he’s put on the USMNT shirt more than 100 times.

I reached out to a friend who’s worked alongside Stewart to see if I should be excited, nervous, or both about his hiring. Here’s what I was told:

“I’ll tell you this about Earnie. I’m a really big fan in terms of professionalism, order, hierarchy. Consummate pro. There will be more transparency with him as well.”

Andrew Helms’ and Matt Pentz’s story on the USMNT’s 2018 qualifying failure details how the order wasn’t there with Jurgen Klinsmann, and the professionalism at times was clearly as issue under Bruce Arena (see the Trinidad training field saga).

What the USMNT needs now, more than ever, is a man who can bridge the divide between administration and players, between the team and supporters.

There are so many reasons to be concerned about the status of U.S. Soccer. Whether Stewart understands what it means to grow the American game here and abroad is not one of them.

Stewart scored more than 100 goals in the Netherlands before playing a pair of MLS seasons and building the nascent league’s reputation.

He’s played in three World Cups for three different managers, with three very different results. There was the U.S. based tournament that built MLS in 1994, the disastrous run at France 1998, and the glorious if fortunate run to the quarterfinals (which could’ve met the semifinals, TORSTEN FRINGS) in 2002.

Along the way, he’s dealt with the hype of that first tournament, then monumentally awful intra-squad strife in 1998 before that wonderful ’02 run. He has seen it all.

There’s no guarantee he’ll hire the right guy. There’s no guarantee he’ll win over talented dual citizens.

But there’s little doubt he’ll be a proper sounding board for the man he hires, and that he’ll be invigorated to work with a wealth of talent and resources having been hamstrung in Philadelphia.

For everything that needs to be fixed in American soccer, and the uncertainty over whether anything’s really changed with the men and women who are tasked with fixing it, this hire means U.S. Soccer has taken a step forward with a sound decision.

Infantino says FIFA can afford Morocco to host 2026 WCup

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says it can afford to have Morocco host the 2026 World Cup, even if the rival North American bid promises billions of dollars more in revenue.

Ahead of next week’s vote by FIFA member federations, Infantino says: “FIFA can afford whatever the congress decides.”

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He adds: “We have to live with that and to make the best of any decision which is taken.”

In a FIFA panel’s evaluation of the candidates, the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid got the only maximum mark for its tickets and corporate hospitality sales plan.

The report noted “significantly higher” forecast revenue of $14.3 billion from the North Americans and $7.2 billion from Morocco.

Still, Infantino says “money is one element (but) not the only element” in the evaluation.