New York, New York – “We have the full support of the United States government in this project, the President of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid. He is especially pleased that Mexico is part of this bid.”
With that sentence, delivered just over two minutes into his opening remarks to the world soccer media gathered high above New York City on a sunny Monday afternoon, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati addressed the elephant in the room in an attempt to diffuse what may be the one issue that could prevent the World Cup from coming to the United States, Canada, and Mexico in 2026.
Gulati, CONCACAF and Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, and Federación Mexicana de Fútbol president Decio de Maria came together Monday afternoon at One World Observatory, a hugely symbolic space high above New York City, on the 102nd and top floor of the One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
With the Statue of Liberty raising her torch to the south and sweeping vistas west along the Hudson River and north to the Empire State Building, as the 9/11 Memorial sat approximately 1,300 feet below, it was impossible to miss the symbolic importance of this venue.
Gulati’s Mexican counterpart de Maria was less bold, preferring to keep it to soccer, or football, saying, “saying through a translator that “this is not the forum,” to discuss politics, border walls, etc.
Gulati had previously made his dissatisfaction known when U.S. Soccer was surprisingly left at the altar in favor of Qatar when the 2022 World Cup was awarded and this joint bid can certainly be seen as a strategy to avoid a similar disappointment in this latest round of bidding.
It was less than two years ago that Canada hosted an all synthetic turf Women’s World Cup over the objections of many of the top female players, so GotSoccer asked Montagliani if we could expect to see a first in 2026, a men’s World Cup match played on something other than real grass.
The CONCACAF and Canadian supremo laid the 2015 decision at the FIFA’s door, saying, “after we actually got the bid FIFA made the decision.” Montagliani added, “we changed a couple of fields to meet that, we invested in training facilities and so the decision was made by FIFA.”
Montagliani noted that FIFA would again determine the playing surface but also observed, “that every World Cup, men’s World Cup has been played on grass, I assume this would be the same.”
On Monday Gulati was seated centrally on the dais with Montagliani, nominally the most powerful man in CONCACAF on his right, and de Maria on his left but when the details of the three-nation World Cup were revealed it was clear that Gulati and U.S. Soccer was the axis on which this bid turned.
Under the deal worked out by the three federations 60 of the 80 matches at the 48 nation 2026 World Cup would be played in the United States, including all of the games from the quarterfinals onward.
Mexico and Canada would have 10 games each in the negotiated agreement, which all three federation Presidents signed at the end of Monday’s ceremony.
Speaking to a cluster of reporters after the official program Gulati indicated the U.S. had the upper hand in negotiations with their new partners, saying, “if we went alone we had the strongest bid.” The U.S. Soccer President admitted that “we considered bidding alone until very, very recently, even until about a month ago.”
So, who might challenge the North American alliance for the right to host the 2016 World Cup? Here is Gulati: “by the rules, Africa can bid, South American can bid,” although Gulati expects his southern neighbors to hold off until the 2030 Mundial.
The U.S. supremo mentioned Morocco as another potential rival but sounded supremely confident in the power of the Yankee dollar.
“A World Cup in North America with 60 games in the United States will be by far the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA in terms of economics.”