World Cup re­turns to U.S., and Hous­ton may be in play

Canada and Mex­ico join as host na­tions, mak­ing the 2026 event a first-ever af­fair

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By David Bar­ron

Cobi Jones doesn’t re­call what he was do­ing as an 18year-old on July 4, 1988, the day it was an­nounced the United States would host the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer tour­na­ment.

But Jones will never for­get the thrill of walk­ing into Stan­ford Sta­dium on July 4, 1994, wear­ing his coun­try’s col­ors as a mem­ber of the U.S. team, play­ing against even­tual cham­pion Brazil in the first World Cup held on U.S. soil.

In 2026, a new gen­er­a­tion of U.S. soccer play­ers will have a chance to stand in Jones’ shoes.

Along with Canada and Mex­ico, the United States was se­lected Wed­nes­day by FIFA, the gov­ern­ing body of world soccer, to host the 2026 World Cup. It will be the first World Cup played in North Amer­ica since 1994 and the first to be hosted by more than one na­tion.

FIFA will se­lect 16 host cities by 2020, and Hous­ton is among 23 can­di­dates. It also could be in the run­ning as a hub for ref­er­ees and game of­fi­cials servicing the three-na­tion bid group.

Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment came on the eve of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. There will be no team rep­re­sent­ing the United States, which failed to qual­ify for the first time since 1986.

Jones, who holds the record for most in­ter­na­tional games as a U.S. player, is now fo­cused on his job as a World Cup an­a­lyst for Fox Sports but said his mind flashes back to the progress that U.S. soccer has taken in the last three decades and steps still to come.

When Jones was a teenager in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the midto-late 1980s, “Soccer wasn’t even a se­condary sport in the United States. It was third- or fourth-level,” he said. “For us to host a World Cup (in 1994) was a shock to me.

“It has taken a lot of lit­tle steps by many peo­ple and many groups and many or­ga­ni­za­tions to get to the point that we can con­fi­dently go into a bid with two other coun­tries and pick up a sec­ond World Cup in the U.S.”

The North Amer­i­can bid was ap­proved on a 134-65 vote over Morocco by del­e­gates to the FIFA Congress meet­ing in Moscow. Cur­rent plans call for the U.S. to host 60 of 80 games to be played in the first 48-na­tion World Cup, with 10 games each to be played in Canada and Mex­ico.

“I would say about 10 days ago we had a sense this was break­ing our way,” Car­los Cordeiro, pres­i­dent of U.S. Soccer, said after the vote. “… We’re very, very pleased in the end with the re­sult and are de­lighted that it was quite the re­sult it was.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted: “Con­grat­u­la­tions, — a great deal of hard work!”

No new sta­dium

Un­like re­cent World Cup and Olympic host coun­tries, no new sta­dium con­struc­tion will be re­quired, and bid or­ga­niz­ers an­tic­i­pate that rev­enue could top $14 bil­lion. Still to be de­ter­mined are such is­sues as whether all three host na­tions will re­ceive au­to­matic World Cup bids, as has been the case for host na­tions in the past.

In Hous­ton, of­fi­cials with the Har­ris County Hous­ton Sports Au­thor­ity and Hous­ton Dy­namo ral­lied to cel­e­brate the vote and look for­ward to the pos­si­bil­ity that NRG Sta­dium could be a pre­lim­i­nary round host city.

“We were con­tacted by U.S. Soccer so that they could pitch us as a pos­si­ble site for of­fi­cials and ref­er­ees,” Ja­nis Burke, the sports au­thor­ity’s CEO, said in an email. “That’s a re­ally good sign.

“We feel strongly that Hous­ton will be a site to host five to six matches over a 30-day pe­riod due to our great suc­cess in host­ing other mar­quee soccer events.”

Semi­fi­nals are pro­jected to be in At­lanta and at AT&T Sta­dium in Ar­ling­ton, and the fi­nal match is ex­pected to be at MetLife Sta­dium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Hous­ton has hosted sev­eral in­ter­na­tional matches since 2003, in­clud­ing the Gold Cup and Copa Amer­ica events, and since 2006 has boasted the Dy­namo as a part of Ma­jor League Soccer, which was es­tab­lished in the wake of the 1994 World Cup and now in­cludes 23 fran­chises.

“We’ve ce­mented this city as a great soccer mar­ket, and as we move for­ward we look to se­cure Hous­ton as a bid city for 2026,” said Dy­namo pres­i­dent Chris Canetti. “We’ve got a lot to stand on.”

Win-win sit­u­a­tion

Mayor Sylvester Turner said a World Cup host slot would sur­pass Hous­ton’s two re­cent Su­per Bowls in terms of attention and fi­nan­cial im­pact.

“As long as Hous­ton is in the con­ver­sa­tion, we win, be­cause you can’t talk about football and 2026 with­out talk­ing about Hous­ton and its di­ver­sity,” Turner said.

At­tor­ney Ir­win Raij, co-chair of the sports in­dus­try group at the Los An­ge­les law firm O’Mel­veny & My­ers and a mi­nor­ity owner in the MLS team Los An­ge­les FC, said the 2026 World Cup gives U.S. soccer “a nar­ra­tive around which it can build.”

“It’s an in­spi­ra­tional moment,” Raij said. “We tried to host (in 2018 and 2022) but didn’t make it, and our team didn’t make it into the field this year. But now we have a story to tell that will be tremen­dous for youth soccer and for am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional soccer.”

The Dy­namo op­er­ates a youth academy that has pro­duced such play­ers as mid­fielder Marcelo Palomino, a mem­ber of U.S. Soccer’s un­der-18 na­tional team, and re­flects the in­vest­ment that the fed­er­a­tion and MLS is mak­ing in the sport’s fu­ture.

“Even Euro­pean teams want to build acad­e­mies in the U.S. to find and de­velop and grow tal­ent,” Raij said. “We are mov­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion to reach ath­letes at an early age.”

Jones, 47, said Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment means the clock is tick­ing for hun­dreds of play­ers who could have a re­al­is­tic goal of com­pet­ing for a slot on the na­tional team for 2026.

“I want to see play­ers, young men, ded­i­cate them­selves to the po­ten­tial of not only the 2022 World Cup but for 2026,” he said. “Some may be on the na­tional team now. Some will be in the next gen­er­a­tion. There may be a chance for some­one who is 9 or 10 years old now to be on the team.”

For any player of any age, Jones said, “To have a chance to play in your coun­try for your coun­try is spe­cial.”

Hec­tor Vi­vas / Getty Im­ages

Mex­i­can fans in Moscow cel­e­brate after FIFA an­nounced that the 2026 World Cup host na­tions will be in North Amer­ica.

Cather­ine Ivill / Getty Im­ages

Hous­ton is among 23 cities vy­ing to host games.

Richard Drew / AP

Cobi Jones, right, joins Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer Fed­er­a­tion CEO, for the 2026 an­nounce­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.