2026 CUP

Yuma Sun - - SUNSPORTS -

Francisco, and spent his early el­e­men­tary-age days in Ger­many, where he first picked up the game of soc­cer.

“I’m still a Ger­man fan,” he said. “I’m hoping they win the World Cup. Of course I wanted the United States there, but our sys­tem of de­vel­op­ment isn’t what it needs to be — another long story there.”

He knew not to go off on that tan­gent, be­cause I’d al­ready told him I needed him to stay on topic. My big­gest chal­lenge on this day would be keep­ing up on my notepad with what Nice­wan­der was say­ing, be­cause he — per­haps more so than any other coach in the area — can re­ally talk.

Af­ter a few years in Ger­many, Nice­wan­der moved back to the U.S., first to Ari­zona and then Alaska and then Al­tus, Okla., where he spent his fresh­man-ju­nior years of high school.

“They didn’t even have city-league soc­cer there,” he said. “It was one of those places where the town shuts down on Fri­day nights for foot­ball. In ju­nior high there, I did a year of wrestling and some track, but I don’t even re­mem­ber if I did sports in

high school.”

Prior to his se­nior year, his fam­ily moved to Yuma, and he en­rolled at Kofa — one year af­ter the Kings soc­cer team won the 1989 Class AAA-I state cham­pi­onship.

Nice­wan­der re­calls go­ing out for the soc­cer team ini­tially, but only last­ing about a week-and-a-half.

“I re­mem­ber the first day of train­ing they had us do 1,000 sit-ups,” he said. “That’s where I got that from. But I was tak­ing col­lege classes at night, so I couldn’t do both.”

He ad­mits he prob­a­bly ul­ti­mately would’ve been cut had he stuck around, though.

He most def­i­nitely would have been cut if he had tried to play goalie, judg­ing by his per­for­mance against me.

In our first penalty kick round, I con­verted all five of my at­tempts while Nice­wan­der missed off the left post on his sec­ond — ul­ti­mately prov­ing the dif­fer­ence in my 5-4 vic­tory.

Nice­wan­der says that as a coach, he rarely has his play­ers prac­tice penalty kicks — but a penalty kick shootout did pro­vide in his opin­ion the most mem­o­rable win of his 12-year Kofa boys soc­cer ten­ure to date. That came against ri­val San Luis in

the quar­ter­fi­nals of the 2016 AIA Di­vi­sion II state tour­na­ment, when keeper Max De­mara saved two Sidewinder at­tempts to send the Kings to the semis — one of three semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ances they’ve made un­der Nice­wan­der.

Pre­sented a hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario where Kofa was in the state cham­pi­onship and it came down to one penalty kick and Nice­wan­der had his pick of any of his for­mer play­ers in their prime, he told me he’d want Mar­cos Gar­cia (Class of 2010) tak­ing it or De­mara (2016) try­ing to save it.

In our sec­ond round of penalty kicks, Nice­wan­der put forth a bit more ef­fort on the goal­keep­ing end — un­suc­cess­fully div­ing for one ball, and com­ing up with a save on another.

But vic­tory would es­cape him, be­cause his sec­ond and third shots both clanked off the cross­bar — giv­ing me a 4-2 vic­tory in the round, and a two-round sweep of him in the com­pe­ti­tion. What went wrong? “I thought your re­ac­tion time would be quicker than it was,” Nice­wan­der ex­plained. So he went for per­fectly placed shots, when “I should have just put it on frame.”

Even in vic­tory, I still looked pretty pa­thetic. ma­jor con­struc­tion work re­quired on the 16 planned sta­di­ums, all of which al­ready ex­ist.

The U.S. pro­posed stag­ing 60 out of the 80 games in 2026, when 16 teams will be added to the tour­na­ment, leav­ing Canada and Mex­ico with 10 fix­tures each. But FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino sug­gested the split of games could change.

“They have made a de­ci­sion among them­selves but ul­ti­mately it will be up to FIFA to de­cide,” In­fantino said.

Morocco ap­peared too hazardous as a po­ten­tial host when all 14 venues had to be built or ren­o­vated as part of a $16 bil­lion in­vest­ment in new in­fra­struc­ture. The vote leaves Morocco reel­ing from a fifth fail­ure in a World Cup host­ing vote, with the con­ti­nent’s sole tour­na­ment com­ing in 2010 in South Africa.

Moroc­can Prime Min­is­ter Saad Ed­dine El Oth­mani shared the na­tional dis­ap­point­ment but tweeted his thanks to the bid or­ga­niz­ers for “this com­mon dream.”

Moroc­can sports jour­nal­ist Omar Chraybi ac­knowl­edged that “tech­ni­cally speak­ing, it’s un­der­stand­able - the U.S. bid ca­pac­ity sur­passes Morocco’s.” Yet he didn’t lose hope, say­ing, “The world still looks at Africa as an un­der­dog, but we can’t af­ford to give up.”

While Morocco’s com­bined tick­ets and hos­pi­tal­ity rev­enue pro­jected to be $1.07 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to FIFA anal­y­sis, North Amer­ica would gen­er­ate $2 bil­lion more.

Canada will host men’s World Cup matches for the first time, while Mex­ico gets its first taste of the event since 1986.

“To have a mes­sage com­ing from foot­ball that says ac­tu­ally Mex­ico, Canada and the United States to­gether can or­ga­nize the big­gest sport­ing and so­cial event to­gether,” In­fantino said. “It is a nice mes­sage.”

The 87,000-ca­pac­ity MetLife Sta­dium out­side New York — home of the NFL’s Gi­ants and Jets — is pro­posed for the fi­nal. It’s just miles from where fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors spear­headed an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into FIFA cor­rup­tion. More than 40 soc­cer of­fi­cials and busi­nesses in­dicted, con­victed or pleaded guilty.

The bribery scan­dal put the gov­ern­ing body on the brink, In­fantino told the congress ahead of Wed­nes­day’s vote.

“FIFA was clin­i­cally dead as an or­ga­ni­za­tion,” In­fantino said, re­flect­ing on his elec­tion in 2016 be­fore an­nounc­ing plans to another four-year term in 2019. “Two years later, FIFA is alive and well, full of joy and pas­sion and with a vi­sion for its fu­ture.”

The North Amer­i­can vic­tory sug­gests cur­rent FIFA lead­ers don’t hold grudges against a coun­try whose govern­ment has jailed cor­rupt sports lead­ers.

“When they help us fight against cor­rup­tion, of course, we are pleased,” In­fantino said.

The North Amer­ica bid also had to over­come con­cerns about the im­pact of poli­cies from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing at­tempts to im­ple­ment a ban on travel by res­i­dents of six ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries.

FIFA now has the fi­nal say on which cities are se­lected to host games and whether all three coun­tries are guar­an­teed a place at the tour­na­ment. Vic­tor Mon­tagliani, the Cana­dian who leads CONCACAF, wants them to take three of the seven guar­an­teed qual­i­fi­ca­tion slots re­served for the re­gion as host. Both the United States and Canada failed to qual­ify for this year’s World Cup.

There is also a chance to send an eighth team via an in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal play­off. North Amer­ica will host the six-team play­off tour­na­ment in Novem­ber 2025 to de­cide the last two places in the 48-team lineup.

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