Surprising omission for U.S. bid
So much for home-field advantage.
The USA Bid Committee announced on Tuesday its list of prospective host cities for either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup. The list of 18 lucky locales will be included in the official bid document that will be submitted to FIFA later this year. Yet the most surprising development involved one metropolis that didn't make the list, Chicago.
That's right. The very city that the U.S. Soccer Federation calls home, the third-largest media market in the country, and the town that hosted the opening game of the 1994 FIFA World Cup will not be among the list of cities included in the bid.
Of course, just how fluid this list is remains to be seen. In the unlikely event that the U.S. lands the 2018 edition (sentiment is running high to award the tournament to a European country), then the festivities would still not take place for another eight years. That number rises to 12 if the 2022 tournament is the one that lands stateside. And who knows what the political landscape will be in a given town or what stadiums might be built in the interim. Chicago's omission could be nothing more than a stern message from the bid committee to get its act together.
But if today's announcement is set in stone, it leaves one to wonder if by omitting Chicago, the bid has been weakened. Granted, the U.S. is a country awash with cities and stadiums more than capable of hosting World Cup matches, and it's hard to imagine the exclusion of a single city putting the bid in jeopardy. But what kind of message does it send to FIFA that one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country -- one no doubt still smarting from its failed bid to land the 2016 Olympics -- couldn't muster the requisite enthusiasm to crack the presumed final list? It's certainly not a development that committee chairman Sunil Gulati will be trumpeting when he submits the official document to FIFA on or before May 14.
Time will reveal all, of course, and Chicago was by no means the only metropolis wearing a frown on Tuesday. Yet the others fell along more predictable lines. The lack of a suitable facility appears to have doomed the San Francisco Bay Area. The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum isn't the most intimate of venues for watching soccer, and Stanford Stadium's capacity of just over 50,000 (the average of the chosen venues is 78,000) likely undermined the San Francisco effort. As a result, the Bay Area joins Chicago, Detroit and Orlando as 1994 World Cup venues that failed to make the cut. Charlotte, Cleveland, Jacksonville, and St. Louis were also not among the 18 chosen.
The list of cities that did make it: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York-New Jersey, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.
From this list, Chicago's loss was certainly Indianapolis' gain as the city long used to hosting "the greatest spectacle in racing" finds itself still in the running to host World Cup matches.
Another area that will be bear watching is Southern California. It seems unlikely that both San Diego and Los Angeles will host games, and San Diego has something that Los Angeles doesn't, namely a suitable venue in Qualcomm Stadium. The Rose Bowl might have hosted the 1994 World Cup final, but it clearly lacks the amenities of more modern stadiums that have been built since then. Therefore it seems likely that Los Angeles will need to construct a new stadium, or refurbish an existing venue to become a World Cup host city for the second time. Otherwise, Los Angeles could suffer the same fate as Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The U.S. bid certainly has plenty going for it, especially given that practically no money will be needed in terms of building new stadiums or infrastructure. Its history of successfully hosting a previous edition also bodes well.
That's why many feel that the U.S. is the favorite to host the 2022 tournament. But beware Australia, a sports-mad country that has hosted some big events of its own. Gulati and Co. can only hope that possibly excluding three of the six biggest media markets from the list of host cities is deemed irrelevant.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks. He also writes for Centerlinesoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.