Los Angeles Soccer: 2026 World Cup
Our countdown of 2010's top 10 soccer stories and newsmakers -- from a Southern California slant -- continues.
- Stories/No. 4: Dead dreams of 2022
The best-attended, most lucrative World Cup occurred 16½ years ago in a country that didn't know nor care about international soccer. Well, at least not as much as nearly everywhere else in the world.
The 1994 tournament was a starting point of sorts for everything American soccer fans today take for granted: Games from around the world on TV at all hours, summer treks to these parts by the biggest clubs in the world, a capable and competitive national team, an army of likeminded fanatics (and millions more who follow the sport casually).
The Rose Bowl, of course, figured prominently in '94 (a record 94,194 were on hand to watch Brazil beat Italy on penalties in the final), and again in 1999, when the Women's World Cup caused a sensation around America (and 90,185 squeezed into the venerable stadium to watch the U.S. beat China on penalties in the final).
Oh, how we were looking forward to bringing the world back to L.A. -- to all of America -- again in 2022. And it appeared a sure thing after U.S. Soccer bid to stage the tournament again (initially, the bid was for 2018 or 2022), with a proposal that featured the world's best stadiums (Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas, New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey), the most complete infrastructure and support from dignitaries from nearly ever walk of life.
The Rose Bowl, again, was part of the proposal, but one of the proposed new NFL stadiums, in downtown L.A. or out in Walnut, appeared the likely home for games in 2022 -- and possibly the final.
But FIFA runs on different ideas than we do, and its executive committee has members from every continent, and not all of them necessarily impressed by American know-how. Money talks and backroom politics dictate the walk, and so by the time Dec. 2 -- the date of the vote at FIFA's Zurich headquarters -- rolled around, the whispers had Qatar, a tiny Middle East nation with tons of cash (but no soccer heritage to speak of) the likely choice.
The World Cup will not be coming to the U.S. in 2022. Qatar, no surprise, was awarded the tournament Thursday in Zurich, a decision seemingly about money that will add to FIFA President Sepp Blatter's legacy of taking soccer's great showcase to new lands.
Oil-rich Qatar hasn't the stadiums nor the soccer pedigree of its competitors to stage the 2022 Cup -- and add in searing summer heat -- but it had emerged as a favorite in recent weeks, a nod to the backroom politicking (fueled by great sums of cash) and Blatter's desire to bring the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.
Blatter was pivotal in South Africa's selection to stage last summer's World Cup, the first played in Africa.
The U.S. reportedly reached the final vote after a bid presentation that featured former President Clinton, Galaxy captain Landon Donovan and actor Morgan Freeman. Australia, Japan and South Korea also had bid for the 2022 event.
The Rose Bowl, which staged the 1994 World Cup final, was part of the U.S. bid, although a new NFL stadium -- venues have been proposed for downtown L.A. and the City of Industry -- likely would have superseded the historic Pasadena facility.
Qatar's bid was judged "high-risk" by FIFA's inspection committee -- the only bid so criticized -- and the country's national team has never qualified for a World Cup.
Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament over England and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium; it was a surprise only because Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declined to travel to Zurich for the final presentation. He reportedly was en route to Switzerland following the decision.
Al Jazeera reported before the announcement that Qatar had won the vote and that Australia exited following the first round of voting, followed by South Korea and then Japan, leaving the final vote between the U.S. and Qatar.
The 1994 World Cup was the best-attended and most lucrative in history, and it has had a profound effect on the growth of the sport and of soccer's fan base in the U.S.. No word yet whether U.S. officials will consider a 2026 bid, although it is expected they will.
UPDATE: Japan was eliminated before South Korea in the 2022 balloting. Here's how the voting went in Zurich:
First round: Qatar 11 votes, South Korea 4, U.S. 3, Japan 3, Australia 1 Second round: Qatar 11, U.S. 5, South Korea 5, Japan 2 Third round: Qatar 11, U.S. 6, South Korea 5 Fourth round: Qatar 14, U.S. 8.
UPDATE 2: U.S. Soccer President (and 2022 bid chief) Sunil Gulati on the process: “It's politics, it's friendships and relationships, it's alliances, it's tactics. There are far too many permutations, especially with these two World Cups being decided on the same day, and I'm not smart enough to figure out how all those played out in these two elections.”
And on the possibility of bidding for the 2026 Cup: “All of us that have been involved in this for quite some time want to sit back, not very long, but at least until the end of the night before we think what else we might do in the future.”