When the United States men’s team missed out on this World Cup it was lamentable, embarrassing and a huge lost opportunity. But it wasn’t catastrophic to soccer in America. Things already have come too far for that.
Wednesday’s vote to determine whether a U.S.-led United Bid that also comprises Mexico and Canada will be granted the honor of hosting the World Cup in 2026 can be seen in much the same way.
If a majority of FIFA member nations support the bid, it would be a major lift for the game in the U.S., and go a significant way toward off-setting the dampening effect of that qualification failure.
Losing the bid isn’t going to send the soccer train into reverse, yet the benefits of welcoming the world’s biggest sports event to American soil are multiple and obvious.
The United Bid is rock-solid, with a forceful, persuasive arsenal that guarantees state-of-the-art stadiums, flawless infrastructure and, for the salivating cronies at FIFA, the certainty of ground-breaking revenue heights.
What should make American fans nervous, and which gives the only other bidder – Morocco – a chance of success, is that such things within soccer’s global political jungle are never as they seem.
The governing body may have cleaned out the worst of its corrupt elements, yet it remains as susceptible as ever to the whims of bureaucrats and the cronyism of a minority.
Thankfully, due to a rule change, World Cup hosts now are no longer decided by a committee of 22 whose choices remain secret, but by more than 200 voters, one representing each of FIFA’s members. Soon after the ballots are tallied at Moscow’s expo center, results will be released showing who voted for whom.
The broader voting base has mixed benefits for the United campaign. Steven Reed of Canada, Mexico’s Decio de Maria and recently appointed U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, co-chairs of the bid, were able to spread themselves thin enough to get to around three-quarters of the delegates.
Yet it also plays into Morocco’s strength. The continent of Africa holds FIFA’s largest confederation. If they act as a bloc, Morocco already will be more than halfway to the finishing line.
Cordeiro has focused on areas such as Europe and Asia and there are different factors at play. Some in Europe will be enamored with timing. Morocco has based its bid on being what the U.S. is not. While the North American campaign has been built off touting its major cities and big stadiums, Morocco has emphasized the beauty of being compact, with little difficulty in traveling among sites by road or rail instead of time-zone busting flights.
Morocco also has highlighted its safety record, painting a none-too-subtle view of U.S. mass shootings and Mexico’s homicide rates and drug wars.
FIFA evaluators scored each bid on a number of criteria, with the United bid scoring 4.0 and Morocco 2.7. With 2026 the first World Cup since expansion from 32 to 48 teams, that may play in for some voters.
However, there also are many political factors. American popularity abroad continues to wane and President Trump’s ill-advised tweet that appeared to threaten sanctions against nations refusing to support the bid gave Morocco extra hope.
Over the past months, the United effort has gone to pains to show this is a combined effort and a true multinational project, rather than just the U.S. roping in a couple of neighbors to increase its odds of winning.
However, at least 10 of the 16 cities that eventually would be chosen to host games would be in the U.S., and the plan is for Mexico and Canada to be overlooked for all of the quarterfinals, semis and the final.
It will all shake out Wednesday following a 15-minute presentation from each delegation and most of America will wake up to news of whether this truly is an empty summer for American soccer, or the start of an impatient eight-year wait.