Thirty years ago this summer, FIFA made the momentous decision to award its showpiece event — the World Cup — to the USA, which didn’t even have a stable professional soccer league. Fast-forward three decades and the USA, in a joint bid with Canada and Mexico, is bidding to host the 2026 tournament. But given FIFA’s taste for the new, luxurious and unnecessary, it’s hard to see how the North American countries can make a bid work.
The 1994 World Cup is often credited with jump-starting soccer in America. At the same time, it jump-started FIFA’s taste for soccer nation-building. FIFA gambled that American fans would fall in love with the sport, and the bet paid off. American fans set a World Cup attendance record that still stands. FIFA also required that US Soccer get its own professional league going. That led to the creation of Major League Soccer, which is still standing — and growing — more than 20 years later.
Heady with this success, FIFA began to vote in favor of increasingly bizarre, outlandish bids. Japan and South Korea set the trend in 2002, building more than a dozen stadiums. South Africa built five new stadiums and extensively renovated five others for the 2010 version. Brazil, already soccer-mad and with plenty of stadiums to host, still had to promise FIFA to build seven new stadiums for 2014, including one in Manaus that has barely been used since.
Russia has built five stadiums for this summer’s event. In 2022 host Qatar, under-construction stadiums are so surplus to its requirements that the country is already planning to partly disassemble them after the tournament is complete.
Minneapolis announced last week that it was pulling out of the running to host the World Cup in 2026 because of the potential costs of satisfying FIFA’s luxurious tastes. The city wasn’t alone. Chicago and Vancouver also decided that the costs of the World Cup outweighed the benefits. Twenty-three other cities across North America were still willing to get on board, but most have already built new stadiums for NFL teams or renovated existing stadiums for other soccer teams.
The only other country in the running for 2026 is Morocco. There are significant questions about the ability of the country’s infrastructure to host the World Cup. It has a middling domestic league that doesn’t have enough stadiums to meet FIFA’s requirements. In other words, it’s everything FIFA looks for in a World Cup host. True to form, Morocco’s bid includes nebulous plans to build between three and seven new stadiums.
At this point, given FIFA’s love for the shiny, new and eventually useless, Morocco has to be considered the favorite. Maybe the USA, Canada, and Mexico need to reconsider and promise something truly insane. Why not promise all-inflatable stadiums, say, or perhaps floating stadiums? North America needs something wild to catch FIFA’s eye. Given history, and the way FIFA works, it might be the only way America will ever host a World Cup game again.
SOCCER SHORT TAKES
• The National Women’s Soccer League kicks off its 2018 season this weekend after an extremely unsettled offseason. Two of the league’s founding members, FC Kansas City and the Boston Breakers, closed shop. The Utah Royals came in as a new expansion team, but even so, it’s worrisome to see franchises folding — something that’s been a hallmark of previous, failed women’s soccer leagues.
• Some of the NWSL’s best players have been on the move, too. Australian striker Sam Kerr, the league’s all-time top scorer, was traded from New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC to Chicago, with USA captain Carli Lloyd headed from Houston to Sky Blue to be closer to her New Jersey roots. The third part of the three-way trade sent USA striker Christen Press from Chicago to Houston, against Press’s wishes. She’s refusing to report to Houston, and considering overseas options.
• Manchester United announced this week that it will apply for a spot in the England women’s second division, a move that was so long overdue that the situation had become ridiculous. United has some catching up to do. Rivals Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City currently dominate English women’s soccer.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
MLS: New York City at New England, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, MLS Live (free online or through app). NYC has won all three games it has played and Patrick Vieira has his team playing a hard-pressing brand of soccer. New England is widely predicted to finish near the bottom, but new manager Brad Friedel is hoping to change the team’s fortunes.
NWSL: Portland at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime. The NWSL’s first TV game of the season is a rematch of last year’s championship game, in which Portland stole a 1-0 road victory to take home its second playoff title. Given both teams’ strong offseasons, this could potentially be a preview of this year’s playoffs, too.
MLS: Portland at Dallas, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, UniMas /Twitter.com. MLS has had a Spanish-language broadcast on Univision networks for several years, but is taking the extra step of showing the English-language broadcast of the same game on Twitter this year. Log on and see whether Dallas can top Portland, last year’s Western champs.
MLS: Sporting KC at Colorado, 8 p.m. Saturday, MLS Live. For years Kansas City has lived the same identity — hard to score against, but unable to finish chances. Through three games this year, it’s shed the lack of scoring and is leading MLS with seven goals. Unfortunately, it also now has the league’s worst defense (seven goals) as well.