Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thoughts on the USSF's bid for the '18 and '22 World Cups

As I'm sure you've heard by now,* the United States Soccer Federation officially announced its bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Monday afternoon.

(*I apologize for waiting two days to write this. Yeah, I definitely finished my 18-page paper, but no sooner did I complete it that seven short stories, and a paper on those selections awaited. Homework. It never ends.)

Although it's just the first of many steps required to actually clinch the bid, it's worth noting that Monday's announcement marks third time in the past 25 years that the U.S. has officially bid on a World Cup.

On a personal and completely un-newsworthy level, that is three times during my 27 years on this planet that my home nation's soccer federation has bid on the its premier showcase. Think about that. The USA - a country which, historically, has struggled to field a world-class national team - has manned-up three times to ask for the World Cup to be played right here on its own shores. Pretty awesome, isn't it?

With each bid, the USSF had something more to offer. In 1984, when Colombia dropped out of its 1986 World Cup obligations at the last minute, FIFA scurried to find a replacement. The U.S. and Mexico were considered. The USSF posited that a recently-successful Summer Olympics in Los Angeles proved that it could host the quintessential large scale international convalcade. It had the stadiums. It had the money. It had Henry Kissinger, Steve Ross, and Pele' pushing for its bid. But its first division league - the NASL - was on life support. FIFA awarded the Cup to Mexico instead.

Undeterred, the U.S. renewed its bid in 1986 for the 1994 tournament. Many of the same factors - large stadiums, money, television, HenryKissinger, and a wealth of American sponsors (Coca-Cola, Gillette, Marlboro, Budweiser) - helped boost the bid in FIFA's eyes. Two years later, the U.S. was awarded the Cup, even without a national first division league.*

(*As part of its conditions, FIFA required the USSF to install a first division league by the time the Cup was held. Hence, Major League Soccer. Its first season - originally scheduled to begin play in the spring of 1994 - was pushed back twice, until it finally kicked off in '96.)

Now, 23 years later, the U.S. has cast its third bid for the Cup. And it is stronger than any bid imaginable, in my humble opinion. The stadiums that the USSF bragged about a generation ago have been replaced by bigger and better structures. A successful league is now in place. Many key sponsors are still American corporations. Plus, the passion for soccer in this country is no longer speculative. It is real. This country loves its soccer more now than ever before. It has never been more ripe to host a World Cup.

With that being said, I will be severely disappointed - crushed - if both the U.S. bids are defeated. I will be utterly inconsolable. I will lock myself in my house and eat PB&Js for the rest of my life. E-mails to FIFA will be pounded out incessantly until the smoke from my keyboard chokes me.

Call me ignorant, sheltered, or Brian. It makes no difference. The '94 Cup is still the highest-attended tournament in World Cup history, even though it proceeded without the benefit of a first division league or an expanded qualifying field (it was 24 until 1998, when the field expanded to 32). This country is a sports nation. Our culture is bathed in sports.* A Stateside tournament, whether it occur nine years or thirteen years from now, would not only top the attendance records set fifteen years ago, but it would absolutely obliterate even the most optimistic attendance figures projected by other country's bids.

(*For reference, see last Sunday's Super Bowl, or any other Super Bowl since the Reagan years for that matter. We're a bit obsessed.)

On a personal level, many of the kids who didn't get to see USA '94 in person - i.e. me - will get the chance to witness a World Cup in our backyards. The idea of witnessing a World Cup here almost brings man tears to my eyes. Not just for my sake, but moreso the idea that I will be able to take my future kids to a World Cup match. It gives me the jibblies. Ohhh...the jibblies.

And who knows? Maybe - just maybe - the kids and I will get to see the Yanks claim a World Cup on home soil.

Did I mention I'm excited about this?

No comments: