New England Soccer Today

Coming to America?

Sixteen years ago, the United States staged one of the most successful FIFA World Cup tournaments to date. It had everything – huge stadiums, five-star hotels, not to mention a few memorable games. Not bad for a country that allegedly didn’t like soccer.

Members of the FIFA Inspection Delegation and USA Bid Committee leave the White House following a breakfast meeting with U.S. officials Wednesday. From left, Juergen Mueller, head of FIFA event management; Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of the inspection delegation; Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer president and chairman of the USA Bid Committee; and Dr. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World CupTM local organizing committee in South Africa. Photo by Jose Argueta, ISI. Courtesy U.S. Soccer.

Today, the FIFA Inspection Group, headed by Harold Mayne-Nicholls, wrapped up its four-day American tour in Dallas, before exiting a nation that has since proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it loves the global game.

Unlike the previous American bid back in 1986 – which was, by many accounts, one of the biggest volunteer efforts ever orchestrated by any sanctioning body  – the Federation has, this time around, almost assuredly submitted one of the strongest bids ever delivered to FIFA. So with that thought in mind, has the Federation done enough to compel FIFA to bring the tournament back?

“I think we’ve done everything we can to date on the technical bid preparation,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “The second part…is convincing 24 people that the technical bid and everything that the United States offers is what they want.”

That second part, as referenced by Gulati, included bringing the Inspection Group to five critical cities included in the Federation’s bid: New York, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Houston, all of which have the necessary stadiums and infrastructure to host the largest sports showcase known to man.

With the arduous cross-country travel that many teams had to undertake during USA ’94, Gulati quickly skirted around the idea of a possible East Coast-exclusive Cup.

“We decided on an East Coast swing because a couple of the newest stadiums we have, obviously the one here in the New York area and one is in Dallas,” said Gulati. “We wanted to make sure those were part of the process.”

Of course, with only four days to showcase the Federation’s bid, it made little sense to jet set them across the country, even if Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco provided more supporting evidence for the bid.

“In an ideal world there would have been a longer trip,” said Gulati. “We would have loved to have taken them to a game, for example in Seattle, an MLS game, and seen some other venues on the West Coast, but that wasn’t possible.”

Instead, the Federation’s primary focus was to highlight the most important prongs of its bid: the locale for the Final, and a site for the International Broadcast Center.

“It was about trying to make sure they saw three or four things,” said Gulati. “They wanted to see potential stadiums for the opening and Final.”

One of those “three or four things” included the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, a state-of-the-art stadium which opened earlier this year. Given the Stadium’s location, which sits within kicking distance of New York City, the broadcast capital of the world, it makes all the sense in world to give the guests a quick tour of the stadium and its surroundings.

“They wanted to see potential sites for the international broadcast center…training sites and hotels and so on,” said Gulati.

All of which presumably gives U.S. Soccer the leg up in the bidding process, as there are not many “ifs” or “whens” sprinkled into the terms of the bid. The grand ambitions and proposals contained in other country’s bids are already reality here in the States.

With most of the infrastructure firmly in place and the booming success of soccer on this side of the Atlantic, Gulati sees another World Cup in the States as a rare opportunity to further that success.

“When we start talking about the landscape in the U.S. they’re surprised by it,” said Gulati. ” They are surprised that we have 16 teams and are growing in MLS. They are surprised that Americans were the No. 1 ticket buyers for the World Cup. They’re surprised that the TV rights for the World Cup were the single largest in the world.”

“When you look at all those things happening in a relatively short time since the 1994 World Cup, you can see the extraordinary success story. It’s important that we continue to get that message across.”

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders support the spirit of the U.S. bid to play host to the FIFA World Cup in 2018 or 2022 during a tour by FIFA of Cowboys Stadium on Thursday. Photo by Rick Yeatts, ISI. Courtesy U.S. Soccer.

That message: The Game is in US, to official slogan of the Federation’s bid. Although it’s a cute double entendre – “us” as in both “us as Americans” and us as in the acronym for the United States – it’s meant quite literally. The game here is thriving, and more successful now than ever before. While the nation may have been curious and somewhat apprehensive about hosting a World Cup in 1994, this time around, it’s antsy to fully welcome, with open arms, the World Cup.

So, with no extensive stadium or highway construction required to host the tournament, whether it occurs in 2018 or 2022, the only other question that remains is, “why not US?”

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