NEW YORK — When Alejandro Bedoya joined the Union six years ago, his having played for the U.S. men’s soccer team at the 2014 World Cup was still fresh in everyone’s memory. And when he watched the Americans’ failure to qualify for 2018 from the bench in the decisive game, it hurt him deeply.
In the years since, the North Jersey-born, Florida-raised Union captain has watched his adopted hometown blossom into a great soccer city. On Thursday, he watched that reach historic heights when Philadelphia was announced as a host city for the 2026 tournament.
“This is putting Philadelphia on the world stage,” Bedoya told a cheering crowd at LOVE Park. “There’s a reason why we were chosen, and that’s no doubt because they saw the passionate sports fans that are in this city. I’ve experienced playoff atmospheres for all the Philly sports teams, but I’ll tell you something: I look forward, and I know everybody looks forward, to seeing that atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field in a World Cup match.”
Of course, there are lots of other reasons why Philadelphia was chosen. But there’s no doubt that the Linc will be electric when some of the world’s best soccer teams come here in four years.
Especially if Bedoya’s old squad gets to do so, which a lot of people across the country want to see.
‘It’s an international city’
Union manager Jim Curtin never got to play in a World Cup. In fact, he never got to play for the senior U.S. men’s national team. But when he came back to Philadelphia after a nine-year playing career in Chicago and Los Angeles, he could tell that the city was changing.
Curtin, an Oreland native, settled in Queen Village with his family. He still lives there, not far from an Italian Market that these days is as much Mexican and Vietnamese as its traditional name. At one of Curtin’s favorite Mexican places on South 9th Street, the staff knows him and his accomplishments in their favorite sport.
“Watching the city shift and change culturally — the restaurants, the buzz, the feel when you walk outside now, it’s totally different,” Curtin said. “It’s an international city, it’s a very diverse city, and it’s a cool city.”
He has lived through, and often personified Philadelphia’s inferiority complex to New York, Washington, and other cities with more money and (more importantly to some people) more sports championships. And he has seen that complex disappear in recent years.
“We don’t care anymore what we’re thought of, and that attitude and mentality, I think gives you more respect,” he said. “You kind of go about your business, you do things the right way, you recognize we have a great city here. We have a great soccer culture here in Philadelphia, with tremendous history. And maybe we don’t need to feel inferior to a DC or a New York.”
Curtin offered proof, too — with just the right amount of spice.
“The amount of New Yorkers that are moving into my neighborhood now answers that question as well,” he said. “Your dollar goes a little bit further. There’s a lot going on here, and good people.”
‘We do it to ourselves’
Perhaps the strongest words came from a true Philadelphia lifer who was among the most influential people in Philadelphia’s bid effort: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
“Every once in a while, you do need to step back and say, ‘How much has the city evolved and changed?’ ” Roberts said. “And the chance to show it to the world, which is maybe uniquely the World Cup, is going to be a game-changer for the city and all that’s been achieved and built and invested in.”
He, too, has seen Philadelphia shed its inferiority complex in recent years.
“The passion of Philadelphia is sort of legendary,” Roberts said. “We’ve all experienced it, the highs and the lows rooting for the teams. But when we unabashedly show off the city to the world, I certainly believe it is an incredible moment and I can’t wait to think ahead — we’ve got a long time to go, but it’ll get here before we know it.”
And as he added a moment later, showing off even more of the Philadelphian in him: “People underestimate our city. We do it to ourselves sometimes.”
Roberts’ company helped host Thursday’s announcement festivities. The news was made on Comcast’s Spanish-language cable network Universo (and on FS1 in English), and a news conference with FIFA officials took place high up in Comcast’s Rockefeller Plaza skyscraper.
Over the past decade, Comcast has spent around $4.5 billion to broadcast some of the highest-profile soccer events on the planet, FIFA men’s and women’s World Cups and England’s men’s Premier League. Games have aired on NBC and Telemundo’s flagship broadcast networks, a slew of cable channels, and the company’s online streaming platforms.
The decisions to write those big checks came across Roberts’ desk, and he said yes.
“I’d seen the passion with another generation coming in addition to passion for other more ‘traditionally American’ sports,” Roberts said, noting that his nephews played it and their father is a big fan.
“To actually host the World Cup, I think, and experience it in person with the global diverse, passionate, extraordinary fandom — stay tuned,” he said, “We have seen it as a business matter. It’s really helped define NBC Sports the last decade.”
Now it will define the city that Comcast has long called home.
“The ultimate win-win moment for the city, for the sport, and for our company,” Roberts said.