Copa America Centenario will be the biggest men’s soccer tournament hosted by the United States since the 1994 World Cup. It will be a gathering of the best teams from all of the Americas and bring the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez to American shores for a real, competitive tournament. For 23 days, across 10 stadiums, the best that the Western Hemisphere has to offer, will battle it out for regional supremacy in a spectacle the U.S. hasn’t seen in 22 years.
It also begs the question: when will the U.S. next host a mega tournament? Or more accurately, when will the U.S. host a World Cup again?
The U.S. bid on the 2022 World Cup, only to be beaten out by Qatar. It was that entire process that led to the investigations into FIFA corruption that have resulted in more than a quarter of the governing body’s ruling body suspended from the sport, including former president Sepp Blatter. It also led U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to make clear that the country would not bid on another World Cup until the process was cleaned up. That appears to be in the works and many have already called the Americans favorites to win the bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
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That’s because of the country’s existing infrastructure. The airports and hotels are already in place, as are gigantic, state-of-the-art stadiums.
MetLife Stadium sits across the river from New York, with a view of the city’s skyline, and seats more than 80,000. Levi’s Stadium is just two years old, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and with a capacity nearing 70,000, has been called the most technologically advanced stadium in the world. University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona and NRG Stadium in Houston feature retractable roofs.
All of those will host matches at Copa America Centenario, along with six other venues that have an average capacity of 70,745. Other countries that have hosted the World Cup don’t have more than one stadium that can seat that many.
And then there are the stadiums not included in Copa America. Like AT&T Stadium in Dallas, with its retractable roof, massive center-hanging scoreboard, prized art collection and a capacity that can touch 100,000. Or SunLife Stadium in Miami, current undergoing a massive renovation to add a roof over all of the seats. Even the new stadium being built in Los Angeles, which will be able to fit 80,000 fans under a clear roof in what is being billed as the greatest entertainment venue in the world.
A World Cup in the U.S. would show off all of these venues, packing in fans to the tune of 75,000-per-match. It will be unlike anything the tournament has ever seen and the biggest stage ever for the world’s biggest sporting event.
Fans would travel from all over the world to the U.S., as they do for every World Cup, but there they would be a diverse population unmatched by any other in the world. The U.S. would play host to the world in a way no other country can.
Even the issues of travel could be mitigated by a pod system that would assign groups to specific regions of the country. That would limit the travel for not just the players, but the fans too, eliminating the risk of constant cross-country flights.
Soccer in the U.S. was very different when the World Cup came to American soil in 1994.
The entire event would be a boon to the sport in the U.S., too. MLS was born from the 1994 World Cup and now, 20 years after the league’s first season, it is stronger than ever. Participation in the sport continues to increase, as does the infrastructure and fan support. Never before has the sport been as popular in the U.S. And a World Cup on American soil could take it to another level, permanently catapulting it into the sports mainstream.
Copa America Centenario will be a glimpse of that. The tournament will open in front of 68,500 at Levi’s Stadium, all on hand to see the U.S. take on James Rodriguez and Colombia. And it will conclude before 82,566 at MetLife Stadium, in the shadow of New York. In between, some of the best players in the world will traverse the country in pursuit of a major tournament title, giving Americans a taste of the best international soccer to grace these shores in 22 years.
Kids will fall in love with the sport and adults will scream and cheer just like those kids. The eyes of the country will be on Copa America Centenario, from the packed stadiums to the millions that will watch on TV. It will be a celebration of the sport, and a display of some of its best, unlike anything we’ve seen in a generation.
And as incredible as that sounds, imagine what a World Cup would be like? It may only be 10 years away.