World Cup inspectors wrap up U.S. visit

The inspection tour of potential 2018 and 2022 World Cup sites wrapped up a brisk three-day, five-city look at the U.S., and Los Angeles wasn't on the itinerary. No surprise.

A FIFA delegation headed by Chilean federation president Harold Mayne-Nicholls looked at stadiums and training sites and met with dignitaries in five of the 18 venues in U.S. Soccer's bid, then declared the visit a success. No surprise there, either.

Everyone said all the right things and U.S. officials were left with the impression that their bid for the 2022 tournament, if not the 2018, has a very good shot at winning the Dec. 2 election.

“All the stadiums we have visited, with some very small adjustments, would be great World Cup venues. There's no doubt about that,” Mayne-Nicholls told media when the visit concluded Thursday in Houston. “We have seen a number of excellent locations. All requirements and expectations should be met.”

The delegation visited the White House and five excellent stadiums, all home to NFL teams, on visits to New York, Washington, Miami, Dallas and Houston, and the decision to visit those rather than Southern California, where the 1994 World Cup final was staged, has to do with geography and the need to make the best possible impression.

Los Angeles and San Diego are among the 18 venues in the U.S. bid document, with the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium listed as potential venues. All are aging stadiums that lack the kind of amenities that New Meadowlands Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.), FedEx Field (Landover, Md.), Sun Life Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.), Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas) and Reliant Stadium (Houston) can provide.

Not all of the 18 venues -- there are 22 stadiums, 17 of them home to NFL teams -- will make the final cut should the U.S. be awarded the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, but it's unthinkable that Los Angeles would be left out. How prestigious the matches in L.A. would be likely will depend on whether a newer, better venue can be built in the next half-decade or so.

The best bet is the proposed $800 million NFL stadium in the City of Industry that the city's council approved in June. Construction wouldn't begin until the resolution of expected lawsuits; the cities of Diamond Bar and Walnut have threatened to file suit to halt the project.

The Rose Bowl staged the 1994 final, in which Brazil defeated Italy on penalty kicks in front of 94,194 fans, and the 1984 Olympic final, with France beating Brazil in front of 101,799. FIFA is well-acquainted with the facility, and likely with the Coliseum, in which the 1991 and 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup finals have been played. (The 2002 final was at the Rose Bowl.)

The Rose Bowl is one of three 1994 World Cup stadiums in the 2018/2022 bid, along with the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and RFK Stadium in Washington, which also are aging facilities. Two other stadiums in the bid have replaced 1994 facilities: Gillette Stadium (for Foxboro Stadium) in Foxborough, Mass., and New Meadowlands Stadium (for Giants Stadium).

FIFA's delegation, which also included 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee CEO Danny Jordaan, had concerns about field widths -- FIFA prefers fields at least 75 yards wide for its competitions -- but U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, also the U.S. bid committee chairman, said alterations could be done at low cost.

“We did have some private conversations on things that I thought we could make improvements in,” Gulati said in a teleconference with media Friday morning. “We had a frank discussion about government guarantees, those sorts of issues.

“Security is an issue for everyone, and that's true for any major international event. But I think they recognize that we've dealt with all of those issues, whether it was during the previous World Cup, whether it's in our Olympic proposals, certainly in this bid proposal, or in events that happen all of the time.

“When you can show them an NFL stadium that has 70 or 80,000 people in it eight to 10 times a year, plus playoffs in certain cases, I think that's a pretty good starting point.”

The U.S. is considered a long shot to be awarded the 2018 World Cup, which likely will go to Europe after successive World Cups -- 2010 in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil -- away from the continent. England, Russia and joint Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands bids also are bidding for the 2018 tournament.

Gulati acknowledged that the U.S. would pull out of the 2018 race if asked to by FIFA president Sepp Blatter or UEFA president Michel Platini. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is part of the U.S. bid committee, on Friday told The Associated Press in Geneva that “it's reasonable for Europe to get it in 2018. I hope that we get it in 2022.”

The U.S. is competing against Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea for the 2022 tournament. Australia is considered the Americans' top challenger. FIFA delegations have visited eight of the nine bidders for the tournaments and will be in Qatar next week.

The U.S. bid committee includes former President Clinton as honorary chairman, Galaxy ownership group AEG owner Philip Anschutz and president/CEO Tim Leiweke and Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. Others on the committee include California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, U.S. Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn, New England Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft, comedian and Seattle Sounders minority owner Drew Carey, women's soccer legend Mia Hamm, The Walt Disney Co. president/CEO Robert Iger, boxing legend (and part owner of the Houston Dynamo) Oscar De La Hoya, actors Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt and film director Spike Lee.