The United States has been the favorite to win the 2022 World Cup bid since it dropped its 2018 bid to clear the way for a European nation. Going up against a Middle Eastern country, two Asian nations that previously hosted, and an island nation with little soccer culture, the U.S. has the money, media presence, and soccer infrastructure to guarantee a successful World Cup. But as we approach the December 2 announcement date, the rumors continue to pop up that the U.S. is at best dead even with Qatar and another of its competitors. So we have to consider what was once the unthinkable – what is the U.S. loses out on the World Cup?
How could America lose out on a bid? Qatar, while disgustingly hot in the summer, has a lot of money that it can dedicate to the World Cup, and FIFA can justify giving them the World Cup as a way to promote peace in the region. Australia is an untapped market and they could be viewed as the U.S. in 1994 – a nation where a World Cup will jump start the popularity of their soccer league. And it would be odd to give Japan or Korea a World Cup so soon after they jointly hosted one, but they could be viewed as safe bets. Plus we cannot ignore what wheelings and dealings occur behind closed doors.
The first thought that would come to many people’s minds if the U.S. lost out on December 2 is that we can reapply in four years for the 2026 Cup, and would have to be considered almost a lock. The World Cups have gone Africa (’10), South America (’14), Europe (’18), and Asia (’22), so unless Antarctica were to boom in population, North America would be a logical next step. This of course FIFA is logical and continues to rotate continents years from now when the 2026 Cup is selected, but let’s just assume. But to assume the U.S. would definitely be that country could be a mistake. Between the 2022 and 2026 selection processes, Mexico (who has already hosted World Cups), could stabilize politically and has a large soccer market. And to the north is another untapped market – Canada could be targeted by FIFA as the new soccer infrastructure building project. They have the money, government stability, and infrastructure to host a world-wide event. Plus, as we have seen with Toronto FC and lower division teams, Canadians will support soccer.
What does the loss of a World Cup do to MLS? Initially nothing, as where the international event will be held does not really impact MLS players. But what it could impact is MLS governance. We know FIFA hates some aspects of MLS, especially the schedule, and we assume that it would not deny the U.S. a bid because of simple MLS dislikes. But what if FIFA wanted the U.S. market to conform with the rest of world enough that they denied the bid? MLS could do one of two things – it could basically move further from FIFA or, more likely, begin to adopt FIFA guidance completely. This means fall-to-spring schedules like most of the rest of the world.
And what does this mean for the U.S. national team? It cannot be understated how important home field advantage is in the World Cup – the U.S. made the round of 16 in 1994, Italy placed third in the 1990 World Cup, Germany made the 2006 semifinals, etc. The United States would lose a vital goalpost for progress – the USSF can build its entire structure with the goal of playing in front of the home crowd in 2022 and making a run for possibly a title. But without that goalpost, it’s harder to have an end date for a building project which, frankly, the U.S. could use. It can be done, but the advantage of a World Cup in your front yard cannot be understated.
So would losing the World Cup be catastrophic for the USSF? No, but it would hurt. A lot.