Houston Chronicle

North America confident about hosting in ’26

- By Steven Goff

MOSCOW — Carlos Cordeiro, the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, says he has lost track of the countries he’s visited and people he’s lobbied the past four months as part of an exhaustive effort to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada.

London one day, Bratislava the next, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesbu­rg …

“We end up in these godforsake­n airport hotels,” he said of three well-traveled delegation­s on separate whirlwind tours. “We tease each other about the shirt that wasn’t washed.”

The campaign is almost over, the final step coming Wednesday when, on the eve of the 2018 World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium, 200-plus national federation­s in the FIFA family will choose North America or Morocco to stage soccer’s quadrennia­l tournament in eight years.

The World Cup was last held in North America in 1994, a U.S.hosted competitio­n that smashed attendance records.

On paper, the United Bid, as the three-pronged effort is known, should breeze to victory with a portfolio of existing stadiums and infrastruc­ture, experience hosting major sporting events and the promise of sellout crowds and billions in revenue.

Morocco remains dark horse

But FIFA is an unpredicta­ble organizati­on, one that eight years ago rejected a solo U.S. bid and awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a small but wealthy Persian Gulf state. Morocco’s bid seemed to gain momentum this year, but since embarking on their world tour, United Bid officials are confident.

Asked if their chances have improved since late last year, Cordeiro said in an interview Sunday with several U.S. reporters: “One-hundred percent. We were maybe behind when I think back to where we were in February, but I think we’ve changed the whole face of the bid.”

With co-chairs Decio de Maria (Mexico) and Steven Reed (Canada) making their own trips around the world, Cordeiro said he believes the group has secured support from a growing number of countries.

“We have a path to victory,” he said. “We know where our support is. We are very confident, but a lot can happen in 48 hours. You saw what happened in 2010.”

What has changed since 2010 is the winner will not be decided by a 22-member executive committee but by all eligible federation­s. The vote is no longer by secret ballot, either. Soon after the results flash on a video screen at Moscow’s expo center, FIFA plans to release the list of how countries voted. Even with a democratic process and greater transparen­cy, the United Bid has had its work cut out for it.

To help prevent another upset, the first order of business was shoring up support in the Americas. The South American confederat­ion and Central American cluster have said they are on board. Some in the Caribbean have wavered, but Cordeiro said most, if not all, will end up supporting the bid. (As bidding countries, the United States, Mexico and Canada are ineligible to vote.)

The group then targeted Asia, which has close to 50 votes and doesn’t have strong historical soccer ties to either contender.

“An opportunit­y for us,” Cordeiro said.

Spanning the globe

Next was Europe. To ease travel, the group establishe­d a base of operations in London this spring. Several staff members from the respective federation­s relocated; Cordeiro spent little time at his home in Miami.

Although France committed early to Morocco — there are deep cultural and economic ties between the countries — Cordeiro implied this week that Europe is turning in North America’s favor.

“France aside, (Europe has been) open-minded, and for the last six weeks, we’ve seen everyone,” he said. “The European vote will speak for itself.”

Although Morocco has garnered predictabl­y strong African support, the United Bid has aimed to pick off countries on the continent, such as South Africa. It lobbied Oceania countries this week.

Cordeiro and his co-chairs are making the case to voters that a hugely profitable World Cup in North America would benefit everyone because millions of the revenue generated by the tournament is distribute­d to all federation­s. In a perfect world, responsibl­e federation­s would apply those funds toward grassroots programs and facilities.

On Wednesday, the competing bids will make 15-minute presentati­ons to the FIFA membership. Voters will also have the option of choosing neither entry, an unlikely scenario that would open the race to other countries and extend the process for up to two more years.

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