Buzz Lagos happened to be stopping in Chicago between Minnesota Thunder road games and caught a few World Cup matches in 1994, the only time the U.S. played host to the tournament.
Chicago, one of nine host cities, was the closest the Thunder coach could come to World Cup soccer. But more than 30 years later, the Minnesota soccer legend, who will be in his 80s come the 2026 FIFA World Cup, stands a chance of watching the most elite competition in the sport in his own backyard.
“The key thing now is the stadium,” Lagos said. “Back then, we really didn’t have a facility that could host a World Cup. The Metrodome wasn’t meant to be for a World Cup venue. U.S. Bank Stadium now puts it in a class where I think we have a great chance of getting it. Based on the history we have, the positive approach to soccer that we have in the Twin Cities, I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for it.”
The United Bid Committee of the United States, Mexico and Canada will know by June 2018 whether it will be the host of the 2026 tournament. If the three-nation effort prevails, Minneapolis likely won’t know its possible role for another two to three years after that.
Sports Minneapolis, a marketing arm of Meet Minneapolis, plans to pursue hosting the tournament after the bid committee announced Tuesday that U.S. Bank Stadium, the 63,000-seat home of the Vikings, is one of 49 stadiums in consideration.
The committee reached out to 44 cities — 34 in the U.S., seven in Canada and three in Mexico — with existing venues that fit at least 40,000, inquiring about their interest in hosting World Cup matches.
John Kristick, the bid committee’s executive director, said the group looked for places centered on large population areas that had a healthy base for the sport and existing facilities so there wouldn’t be a need to use public funding to build new stadiums. Minneapolis met all those standards.
Minneapolis’ proven history with attracting big events, from the MLB All-Star Game in 2014 to Super Bowl LII, also was a positive, Kristick said.
“The fact that you’ve hosted major events before, some of the biggest events that you can imagine in your city, we know you’ve been through this system,” Kristick said. “You’ve got an organized group of resources that know how to respond to these types of requests, and more importantly are able to execute. So that’s a major benefit.”
Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said that track record is an indication that the city is “ready now” for such a global event.
“This is really going to change the complexion of our community and really make us a viable destination for almost any major event that’s out there,” Tennant said. “I would certainly stand on our record of having fantastic facilities and having success hosting major events.”
The cities have until Sept. 5 to respond to the committee with information about transportation, experience playing host to major events, accommodations, environmental protection initiatives and potential venues. The committee will then narrow down its choices to about 30 cities by the end of September or early October, and those cities will make a final bid in January.
About 25 cities will be on the committee’s official bid to FIFA on March 16, with a decision between the United Bid Committee and Morocco coming next June.
If United Bid is chosen, it likely wouldn’t be until 2020 or 2021 that a total of 12 to 16 cities make the final cut as hosts for matches, Kristick said. He added that of the 80 matches, 60 would be in the U.S. and 10 each in Canada and Mexico, with probably two to three venues in those countries.
A potential downside to Minneapolis’ chances is that U.S. Bank Stadium has a fixed roof and turf surface and would need to install grass to host World Cup matches. The stadium brought in natural grass for its first sporting event last August, a friendly between AC Milan and Chelsea, and Tennant is confident it won’t be an issue.
As far as Minneapolis’ odds of becoming a World Cup city, Kristick said all 44 cities are “capable” of hosting, and he’s “thrilled” Minneapolis is a part of the discussion.
“You have a strong soccer community. It’s proven that you’ve hosted major events. You’ve got an enthusiastic host committee. And you’ve got an existing facility,” Kristick said. “So those are all good things.”