The United States is going to host the World Cup again and odds are it will be sooner rather than later. Whether it's in eight years, 12 or 16, the world's biggest sporting event will likely be played on American soil once more.
There are many reasons FIFA wants to return to the U.S., but the biggest is the money the tournament could put in their coffers. Thanks to the giant population, their love for big events, the number of giant stadiums and the country's economic power, an American World Cup would be extraordinarily lucrative. It would also give FIFA a chance to further grow the U.S. soccer market, with the organization's No. 2 Jerome Valcke praising the Americans' fan support in Brazil and musing about their potential. Toss in the country's array of already-built stadiums, existing infrastructure and proven capability of hosting mega events and it's an enticing proposition.
And when the World Cup does return to American shores, what are the hurdles? What has to be considered? And most tantalizingly, what could it look like?
The issue for the U.S. isn't building stadiums, but deciding which ones to use. The NFL, and to a degree college football, has blessed the country with dozens of venues that seat 60,000, 70,000 and even up to 90,000, and they are state of the art gems ... mostly.
As many great stadiums as the U.S. has, they don't have a great stadium in every city they would like to. FIFA requires that all World Cup stadiums be all-seaters, with back rests. That means benches are a no-go. They also require that stadiums have one covered stand for the press and VIP's, something that most stadiums can work around with their vast press boxes, suites and premium seating that don't exist in many venues around the world.
Those rules put a major crunch on Los Angeles. The Rose Bowl seats tens of thousands on benches, while the Coliseum has no cover and a small, inadequate press box with virtually no premium seating. Unless a new stadium is built by the time the U.S. next hosts the World Cup, the nation's second biggest city will not have a stadium capable of hosting.
There is also the question of turf. Many of the countries' best stadiums have artificial surfaces and while the Silverdome hosted matches in 1994 on a temporary grass surface, they spent months cultivating it. Stadiums now have events year-round and convincing them to give up concerts and other events for months would be a tough sell. Meanwhile, the short-term temporary grass surfaces aren't very good -- some say worse than turf.
Would FIFA allow World Cup matches to be played on turf? Would the short-term grass be given the OK, and could it stand up for a month? Will there be a new solution by the time the U.S. hosts?
The U.S. organizing committee and FIFA will have some tough decisions to make, both in terms of stadiums and surface. A smaller issue is some stadiums are not wide enough for a World Cup pitch, but getting around that should not be a major obstacle. Some of those stadiums can be remodeled to have seats removed for a wider pitch or FIFA could allow for narrower pitches, as they did in 1994.
The U.S. is a very large country
One of the biggest problems managers had with the 2014 World Cup was the travel that was asked of teams. Brazil is a massive country and teams had to fly from one end of it to another repeatedly, putting extra wear and tear on the players.
The U.S. is even bigger and the organizing committee would surely like to limit travel if possible. Luckily, it is possible.
If the World Cup is split into regions, be it three or four, and each group was assigned to a region, they wouldn't have to travel extraordinarily far in the first two weeks. For example, if a northeast region was created, teams could play their group stage matches in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., a much more manageable travel schedule than say, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago. That regionalization could even be continued into the round of 16 and, to a degree, the quarterfinals and semifinals. It's possible no team would have to travel cross-country until the final.
Regionalization does create somewhat of a problem in that it could keep the 12 cities the organizing committee most wants to host matches from doing so. Only three or four host cities could come from any region so while they may have five or six capable hosts, they would be left on the outside looking in, while another good, but maybe not great city in another region plays host.
How to work in MLS markets
When FIFA awarded the U.S. the 1994 World Cup, it came with a requirement -- start a pro league. That led to the birth of Major League Soccer, a league that has grown and flourished, but it is not yet competing with the best in the world. They know it, the world knows it, but it can be a major cash cow if it ever does. If growing the game in the U.S. is a part of the country's allure then at least to some degree, growing MLS has to be part of the plan.
The best way to do it is to engage MLS markets. New York won't have a problem with that: they have two MLS teams and will host World Cup matches, but what about places like Columbus, Salt Lake City and Portland? They wouldn't be likely to be hosting games -- but they make for ideal training locations.
Salt Lake City, for instance, could provide easy access to some of the cities that will host, and especially if Denver is in the mix, a chance to train at altitude. Columbus is a middle ground between the east coast and the midwest, while getting anywhere on the west coast from Portland is easy.
Some countries have to build training grounds for the World Cup -- or if you're Germany in Brazil, you build your own -- but that won't be a problem in the U.S. MLS teams can do the job, using their grounds and even stadiums to give the World Cup teams a place to train. That allows MLS to get their big cities involved -- you can bet the StubHub Center in Los Angeles will be home to some team -- as well as the small ones.
What would a U.S. hosted World Cup look like?
Let's assume the tournament is broken down into four regions: the northeast, the south, the central and the west. That means three host cities per region for a total of 12 host cities.
Four regions makes for the ideal number because it allows for two groups to be assigned to each region, with the two groups in each region paired up in the round of 16, then the northeast and south regions paired, as well as the west and central, so nobody has to endure a cross-country flight until the final. Bear in mind that this is being done under the assumption that field width is solved and there is a solution to the turf issue, because if that becomes an insurmountable hurdle, a U.S. bid becomes a lot tougher.
New York, NY: MetLife Stadium isn't quite in New York, but it's right across the river from Manhattan. It is New York's stadium, and the U.S. can't host a World Cup without its biggest city, so pack people into the 82,566 seat, $1.6 billion venue and get to playing.
Washington D.C.: The nation's capital has been a rabid soccer market and it's tough to imagine it not being a host city. FedEx Field isn't the ideal stadium -- it needs to allow for a wider surface -- but it will do and by the time the U.S. hosts a World Cup, there might be a new stadium in the city anyway. In the meantime, 85,000 seats will do.
Foxborough, MA: The final northeast spot would very much be up for grabs, but Gillette Stadium would probably win out. Foxborough has a great soccer history (for the U.S., that is) and Robert Kraft still has some sway in American soccer circles, so it would be tough to imagine him not using some political clout to get it done. It would also be a way to engage New England and with 68,756 seats, the building is definitely good enough.
Others: Philadelphia has a 69,111 seat stadium in Lincoln Financial Field that is near the city center. The area has been a soccer hotbed for decades and is probably the biggest challenger to Foxborough for the final spot in the northeast. Baltimore, with its 71,008 seat M&T Bank Stadium, would also be in the mix.
Arlington, TX: If the U.S. hosts a World Cup, you can guarantee that Jerry Jones' 80,000 seat AT&T Stadium would be part of it. It's arguably the most modern stadium in the world, has every amenity you could ask for and Jones will throw all the cash necessary to make sure it hosts a match. It's a lock to host, even if FIFA's all-seater policy keeps them from running with a capacity over 100,000.
Miami, FL: Few cities do glitz and glamor like Miami. It is one of the country's most international cities and it is the gateway to Latin America. Throw in that it has extensive experience with mega events after hosting five Super Bowls and five college football title games and the World Cup is going to South Beach. Sun Life Stadium holds 80,120 and while it needs some upgrades, it should be Florida's representative at the World Cup.
Atlanta, GA: The de facto capital of the south is getting a new stadium right in the middle of the city and Arthur Blank is making inroads in the American soccer community; Atlanta's case looks very strong. Oh, and one of FIFA's biggest sponsors, Coca Cola, is based in Atlanta.
Others: Reliant Stadium is one of the country's best stadiums, and Texas is so big that Houston has a compelling case to be a second host city in the state. Orlando will also try to get into the mix, pushing their renovated Citrus Bowl as well as their giant tourism infrastructure, while New Orleans has the Superdome and is a great party city. Charlotte and Nashville also figure to get involved, but they would be longshots, at best.
Chicago, IL: In 1994, Chicago hosted the opening match. Since then, Soldier Field has undergone a renovation and is now sparkling. The case against the city is that the venue only holds 61,500, making it the smallest of any in the U.S. bid, but Chicago is the nation's third-biggest city and the infrastructure is too good to pass it over because of a few thousand fewer seats.
Denver, CO: The Rocky Mountains' representative, Denver has long been a strong sports market, as well as the home to a founding MLS team, and Sports Authority Field is one of the best stadiums the country has to offer. It seats 76,125 and would ensure that the tournament truly covers every region of the continental United States.
Kansas City, MO: The self-dubbed "Soccer City, USA," Kansas City is an undoubtedly strong market for the sport. While it's not as big as some of the other potential hosts, and it's definitely not as sexy, it has become a part of the country's soccer fabric. That alone makes it a strong candidate, and with a renovated 76,316 seat Arrowhead Stadium, it has the building to complete the bid.
Others: Outside of Chicago, there aren't any really obvious cities in the central region, which means there are a lot of potential hosts. Minneapolis will have a new 73,000 seat retractable roof stadium by then (and possibly an MLS team), while Indianapolis is one of the country's best big event hosts, as well as the gorgeous 70,000 seat Lucas Oil Stadium. Detroit will try to get involved, as will Cleveland or Cincinnati, but they would have an uphill climb.
Los Angeles, CA: This one takes some faith because as of now, the city doesn't have a stadium. There have been plans to build a stadium for a NFL team since the early 1990's, but nothing has gotten done. Maybe a stadium will get approved in the next few years -- there are possibilities, like the City of Industry project, a Hollywood Park hope and perhaps even the Dodger Stadium parking lot -- but a World Cup without Los Angeles would be weird, so fingers crossed.
Seattle, WA: The posterchild for incredible local soccer support and a city that provided a great atmosphere for the U.S. last year, Seattle has catapulted itself from just another market to a major soccer city. With a gorgeous downtown stadium that holds 72,000, Seattle could host the World Cup with ease -- and provide some of the most fervent local crowds of the tournament.
Santa Clara, CA: San Francisco might not have a stadium, but Santa Clara is right down the road, and it's about to have a shiny new one. Levi's Stadium will be one of the most modern stadiums and seat 75,000, plus it is hosting the Super Bowl and Pac-12 Championship Game so they will be plenty comfortable with big events by the time the World Cup comes along.
Others: The uncertainty of Los Angeles makes the other options important, and there good ones out west. Phoenix has a sparkling 72,2000 seat stadium with a retractable roof and field, plus they have Super Bowl and college football championship game experience. San Diego will also be a candidate if they get a new stadium built.
Who hosts the big matches?
There are four marquee matches in the World Cup: the opener, the semifinals and the final. The competition to host those four matches is fierce and they usually go to the biggest stadiums, biggest cities or biggest monkey makers. For a U.S. World Cup, the candidates for those four matches would likely be New York, Los Angeles, Arlington, Chicago and Miami.
In 1994, Chicago got the opener, while New York got a semifinal and Los Angeles got a semifinal as well as the final. But this time, Chicago gets left out because of Soldier Field's smaller capacity.
The opening match goes to Los Angeles, who will (theoretically) have a new stadium and be able to put on as good of a party as the World Cup kickoff needs. The city will also play host to a semifinal, along with Arlington as Jerry Jones' sparkling stadium and money wins out. That leaves the final for New York, giving the country's biggest city the biggest match. And just to spread things around, Miami gets to host the draw.
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The last time the U.S. hosted the World Cup, 3,587,538 fans attended the 52 matches, a record that stands to this day despite every tournament since having 64 matches. But with these 12 cities, the average capacity would be over 75,000, which means the total attendance would be right around 5,000,000. It would smash the previous record and be nearly untouchable.
When the U.S. next hosts the World Cup, it would be a cash cow for FIFA, U.S. Soccer and pretty much everyone involved. It would be gargantuan. It would be unlike any World Cup ever before.