OPEN GOAL FOR US WORLD CUP BID

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BY STEVE BRENNER

Timing is everything.

The United States unleashed their bid for the World Cup in 2026 last week, sneaking in at the back post with the defence asleep and the goalkeeper nowhere to be seen.

The net is gaping and US Soccer chief Sunil Gulati, having done all the hard work in the build up, won’t miss from here. With the tournament in nine years time bloated to 48 teams from the normal 32, this joint bid with Mexico and Canada looks like an unbelievably easy slam dunk.

No European or Asian country were allowed to enter the race thanks to Russia and Qatar staging the next two. South America, meanwhile, are building up to a 2030 World Cup co-hosted by Uruguay on what will be the greatest show on Earth’s 100 year birthday.

The massive logistical difficulties in staging another African World Cup means Uncle Sam is locked in a one-horse race.

Following the official announcement in New York, it was revealed that 60 games, including everything from the quarter-finals onwards, would be staged Stateside with the other two countries hosting 10 games each. Cue, anger from Mexico City. ‘Mexico could get crumbs’ cried a newspaper. Fans were up in arms.

“People aren’t happy,” a Mexican source told me. “They expected the US to get most games but were hoping to have a big one – a semi or the final – at the Azteca. That would be something.”

You can understand the dismay. The amount of games is paltry in the grand scheme of things though this isn’t Mexico’s party. They’ve been invited along for the ride knowing, with FIFA politics and financial muscle pulling the strings, it was always going to be this way or nothing at all. Gulati worked the floor at the FIFA congress last year ensuring Gianni Infantino was appointed Sepp Blatter’s replacement. Now it’s payback time.

Calling the shots: FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Like it or lump it, amigos. You won’t hear a squeak from Canada.

The Maple Leafs have made just one World Cup appearance in 1986 and following on from the successful women’s version of the tournament two years ago, this is a welcome boost. Oh, and of course, the new CONCACAF President, Victor Montagliani, is Canadian.

Keen to put up a united front following the disgraceful FIFA scandal which revealed toxic widespread corruption, Montagliani and Gulati were desperate to show their intent of inclusion.

President Donald Trump is said to be behind the bid though whether some countries will be stuck behind his wall and visa protocols come 2026, remains to be seen.

He was, apparently, “especially pleased” to hear his Mexican chums were involved. Of course he was. There is a lot of time for debate – bids must be submitted by next December and a decision won’t be made until May 2020. Nothing is set in stone and Mexico will certainly push for more action.

Though, expect the US to hold firm. They don’t need the Mexicans or the Canadians.

All the funding, sponsorship dollars and infrastructure won’t be problematic. With soccer specific stadiums popping up all the time plus some of the best sporting arenas in the world already in place – imagine a semi-final in Dallas in front of 90,000 at the sparkling, hi-tech $1 billion AT&T Stadium – the United States are ready to go.

Their last attempt to stage the World Cup in 1994 saw one of the least memorable tournaments ever at a time when soccer was still fighting for air under the mainstream. Nevertheless, it set attendance records which stand today – quite a feat considering there were less teams and matches 23 years ago.

Yet, fast forward to 2026 and the times will have seriously changed. I have been living here for four years and the game has undeniably been thrust in the public’s conscious like never before.

All the press reports here have been glowingly positive too.

Of course, TV reporters will walk down a street in Chicago and draw blank looks from men wearing baseball jerseys who think David Beckham is an underwear model.

But don’t be fooled. This wouldn’t be like the Rio Olympics where the locals didn’t appreciate what was unfolding on their doorsteps. It will be bold and brilliant.

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