How the U.S., Canada and Mexico came together to bid to host the 2026 World Cup
Mexico needed the United States more than the United States needed Mexico.
NEW YORK - The United States, Mexico and Canada joined forces Monday on a bid to host the 2026 World Cup, and while representatives from each soccer federation saluted the cooperation in formulating an unprecedented proposal to stage the sport's spectacle, one country stood above.
If the regional effort wins out - and right now, there are no formidable opponents on the horizon - the United States would host 60 matches, including everything from the quarterfinals on, while the other two would stage 10 apiece.
Any complaints from Mexico or Canada about inequity faced this cold, hard fact: With its stadiums and infrastructure, the United States could have gone about it alone and won the bid.
Why didn't it?
A greater variety of cities and venues, U.S. Soccer Federation boss Sunil Gulati said, would strengthen the bid. And while "we don't believe sports can solve all the issues in the world, especially with what's going on in the world today, we think it's a hugely positive signal and symbol of what we can do together."
But is 10 matches enough for soccer-hungry Mexico?
"Definitely, no," said Decio de Maria, president of Mexico's federation. "We know most of the people would like to have more. . . . Ten was what was [on] the table."
He acknowledged that Mexico would not have been able to place a solo bid on a tournament that, in 2026, will expand to 48 teams (from 32) and grow by 16 matches.
In other words, Mexico needed the United States more than the United States needed Mexico.
"Yes, it's going to be 10 games in Mexico, but it's also going to be games in Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix. And for us, it's home," de Maria said, a reference to the millions with Mexican ancestry living in the United States.
"The key principles," Gulati said of coming to agreement, "was we felt we should host a lion's share of games, and if we went alone, potentially had the strongest bid. Mexico and Canada then had to assess the same thing we did."
With the weakest case, Canada had the most to gain from the arrangement.
"Listen: You have to be reasonable, and everybody knows the U.S. infrastructure is enormous, second to none maybe in the world," said Canadian federation president Victor Montagliani, who also heads CONCACAF, the regional governing body. "You can't look at this event always from a possessive standpoint and say, 'I'm an American and I need the most, I'm a Canadian I need the most, I'm a Mexican I need the most.' I think you have to step back and say, 'This is a World Cup for us, the region.' "
The executives signed a memorandum of understanding to submit a bid to FIFA, soccer's global governing body. FIFA meetings next month in Bahrain could provide greater clarity on the bidding process and timetable. A vote is tentatively set for May 2020.
FIFA will have the final say on venues and match distribution, but the outline provided by the three CONCACAF countries isn't likely to change much. Specific cities and stadiums won't be finalized for several years.
Mexico hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986. The United States welcomed the tournament in 1994. Canada has hosted youth World Cups and the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar in 2022.
To go forward with this bid, the United States needed to solicit support from President Donald Trump, whose controversial comments about Mexico and his plans to construct a border wall have raised tensions between the countries.
Through back channels, Gulati said the USSF received assurances that the White House will back the bid.
"The president of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid," he said. "He's especially pleased to have Mexico as part of this bid. We're not at all concerned about some of the issues that other people may raise."
In evaluating the bid, FIFA will need assurances from the U.S. government that individuals and groups from all countries will be able to enter the country and cross borders perhaps multiple times. Politics aside, a multi-nation World Cup will present logistical challenges for both organizers and governments.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Gulati said, "with the level of support we've gotten from the president."
Gulati emphasized the plan to utilize existing stadiums in all three countries instead of constructing new venues. Cities that have hosted recent World Cups and Olympics have been left with abandoned facilities and enormous debt.
"Building sports facilities that don't have a long-term use is not one that is particularly inviting for anyone," he said. "We have stadiums that exist. It's a far better solution than spending hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, on stadiums, especially that don't have use beyond the tournament."
On other matters:
Montagliani said Canada would, if required, install grass in stadiums currently using artificial turf. In 2015, FIFA and Canada were criticized for using synthetic surfaces during the Women's World Cup. A men's World Cup match has never been played on turf.
Gulati and Montagliani pointed out that World Cup host countries have always bypassed the qualifying stage; South Korea and Japan were automatic participants in their shared World Cup in 2002. A three-nation tournament, however, would be a tougher sell for FIFA, though an expanded field of 48 teams would help the bidders' cause.