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So a funny thing happened yesterday. The United Bid Committee for the United States, Canada and Mexico released a huge list of cities they’ve declared as candidates to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, all but guaranteed to be held in North America less than a decade from now.
The 44 cities listed in the three countries — 49 total stadiums — are now being asked to declare interest in taking part in the bid process. And so I wrote a story about this for our site in Pittsburgh, The Incline, telling the yinzers from across the state they’ve got no chance at hosting any games, despite being on the big list of possible cities.
And that’s when I realized…Philly might be getting screwed, too.
The committee is only planning to send a list of 20-25 venues as part of the final bid to FIFA, due by March 16, 2018, and just 12 cities will make the cut to host matches. This, from USSoccer.com:
The Bid Committee plans to include 20-25 venues in its final bid to FIFA. If selected to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup™, subject to FIFA’s determination, it is anticipated that at least 12 locations could ultimately serve as Official Host Cities. If a city is not selected to host matches, there may be other opportunities to be involved in the 2026 FIFA World Cup™. Those cities, as well as other cities not on the initial list, could be selected as the location for the International Broadcast Center, host Team Base Camps or host major events such as the Preliminary or Final Draw.
Philly is an absolute lock to be part of the group of 20 or so cities — the venues are more numerous than the cities because Los Angeles, for example, has three possible venues listed — but it’s hard to think in a joint bid with the United States and Mexico that Philadelphia is a lock to get actual World Cup action.
The 2026 World Cup will have 80 matches, with 60 being held in the United States and 10 each in Mexico and Canada. Those include both the group stage matches and potential knockout rounds, with the quarterfinals, semifinals and final taking place in the United States. The only other country to bid for the 2026 tournament by last week’s deadline was Morocco, so it’s all but a lock FIFA will quickly award the event to the Unified North American bid. In other years, multiple countries would bid, with rounds of voting to chose a host. For this tournament, it was just the two, and with Morocco not being nearly as viable a contender, it was always just the one.
Let’s presume of the 12 host cities that get selected by the bid committee, two each will go to Mexico and Canada, giving all of those venues a potential for four to six matches over the month-long event. That only leaves eight cities in the United States that will get to host matches.
During the 1994 World Cup in the United States, nine cities hosted the 52 matches. All nine are part of the 34 United States cities on the list, including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Orlando, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. (For the full list, click here.) If the United States gets just eight host cities, one of those cities will miss out. Moreover, there are more and more cities that have become soccer hotbeds in this country since the mid-90s, Philly included.
But there’s also Atlanta, which now has an MLS team, Charlotte, which is a big soccer area, Cincinnati, which has turned into the hottest soccer city in the country right now, Denver, which has an MLS team and routinely gets to host U.S. Soccer games, plus Kansas City, Seattle and Nashville, which host big MLS and international matches routinely. Nashville has hosted the U.S. men’s national team twice in the last three years, averaging better than 40,000 fans each time.
Philly has become something of a go-to city for international soccer matches lately as well. In addition to hosting a knockout game in this year’s Gold Cup, Philly was a selected venue for last summer’s Copa America Centenario, even getting the chance to host the U.S. team. The other cites that hosted home matches: Chicago, Seattle, Houston and Phoenix.
In this year’s Gold Cup, the USMNT drew 31,615 at the Linc in a win over El Salvador (a doubleheader with Costa Rica and Panama), which was a pretty solid crowd for a meaningless tournament. And yet, meaningless or not, the American stars were mostly at the match and it was a knockout-stage contest. In Nashville, when the U.S. took on Panama in the group stage, more than 47,000 people showed up, and their second match was Nicaragua and Martinique.
Philly might be in trouble.
Now, the United States may figure out a way to sneak 10 cities out of this deal, but even then Philly has some really stiff competition to be picked. I’d say the following cities are locks: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas. There’s no way the semifinals and finals won’t be in the LA and NYC markets, and surely those cities will get group stage games as well. Dallas has maybe the best stadium in the United States right now and a huge fan base in the area, plus it’s very close to Mexico, so expect a semifinal there. Chicago is the biggest city in the midwest and is also the home base for U.S. Soccer. There’s no way Chicago doesn’t get a big set of matches.
The likely next four cities would be Phoenix, Boston — Bob Kraft has a ton of stroke in U.S. Soccer — Washington, D.C. and Miami or another city in Florida. It could be Tampa or Orlando, but it’s definitely going to be one of those three.
After that, expect Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver and Nashville to make the best case for inclusion, as all have hosted major events in recent years for U.S. Soccer. Add in Detroit, too, which hosted matches in the ’94 World Cup, is close to fellow host-nation Canada and was one of the host cities for this summer’s International Champions Cup — a made up tournament that serves as a money grab for top European clubs each summer — along with Orlando, Nashville and some of the aforementioned other contenders.
And…that’s 15 cities, plus the two Florida cities that don’t make the first cut. That fails to account for geography, which could play against Philly. While it is centrally located and teams and television crews have lauded the use of Lincoln Financial Field in the past — truly the biggest reason to think Philly will get games is because of the Linc — if New York and D.C. are both getting matches, Philly is the last place one would expect the committee to pick for another host city.
The last World Cup here had two host cities in California, one in Texas, one in Florida, two in the upper midwest and three in the northeast. If that same model follows suit this time around and the option for three cities in the northeast comes down to a debate between Boston or Philadelphia — figuring either Montreal or Toronto will be getting some matches — there is no way Boston will lose out to Philly. It’s the reason Bob Kraft got named honorary chairman of the bid committee.
Chances are, Philly could get one of the pre-tournament events like the press conference to announce which countries are in which groups. We’re close to New York and have an international airport, so it makes sense. But if that’s all we get, it will be a shame for one of the fastest-growing soccer markets in the country. The 2026 World Cup is nine years away, but suddenly Philly doesn’t feel like it’s growing fast enough.