Tuesday, February 20, 2007

International Soccer (Football) News -- USSF President Sunil Gulati has announced the U.S. will bid on the 2018 World Cup. This is a rather surprising development, given that FIFA has already indicated a preference for holding the 2014 tournament in South America, with Brazil probably being a unanimous choice. It's also a rather presumptuous move, given that reports suggest FIFA wants to hold the 2018 tournament in Europe, and the British government has announced it will support a bid to hold the tourney in England.

Still, Gulati reports that FIFA is receiving favorably the U.S. interest in hosting the tournament, and has not determined whether any South American countries will satisfy the organization, when the decision is made in November. The U.S. and Mexico remain outside possibilities for the 2014 tournament. According to Sepp Blatter, FIFA's chief, "We have said that the 2014 World Cup will be staged in South America, but if there is no candidate strong enough, then we would go north instead as the logical thing."

Any U.S. bid will consist of the huge American football-specific stadia. Few, if any of the stadia used in 1994 are likely to repeat. I have previously noted that Seattle would be at the top of any U.S. bid, but the new stadium outside Phoenix, where the U.S. took on Mexico, would also be a strong candidate. The U.S. committee would also have to consider the new stadium in Houston. The altitude in Denver is an issue, but that city should not be ruled out, especially given a natural desire to promote the sport there and support the local MLS franchise. It's even possible that Columbus could host some games, though I suspect the USSF will lean towards more popular tourist destinations. I happen to think Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia might be part of any U.S. bid, but the city's proximity to New York might cause the USSF to look farther afield.

Some cities might repeat. Detroit has a nice new stadium, and Chicago's renovated Soldier Field would be attractive. I suspect the USSF would want to skew a little more west, the next time around, with only one or two Midwest home sites, and fewer Eastern sites. I would expect Chicago and Columbus to be the top two prospects from the middle of the country. Even with a western tilt, the Washington D.C. area might warrant repeat duty, with the cavernous FedEx Field in nearby Landover, MD. If San Francisco can resolve the city's problems with the 49ers, and build a new stadium, that could also merit consideration. Of course, the new football stadium that will soon replace Giants Stadium could well be the centerpiece, though a rebuilt L.A. Coliseum would merit consideration for that honor, as would the Rose Bowl, again.

It's fun to speculate about such possibilities, but I still think the U.S. will have to be somewhat patient. I think it unlikely that FIFA will turn to the U.S. so soon, but the U.S. should be the frontrunner to host in 2022. There is another factor to consider, and that is the United States' poor standing in the international community. The New York Olympic bid was not even among the top two contenders for the 2012 Summer Games, which were awarded to London. Given only four years to rehabilitate its image, the U.S. might face strong resistance when FIFA votes to award the 2018 World Cup. Eight years from now, the U.S. might fare much better. Presumably, U.S. troops will have withdrawn from Iraq even four years hence, but the world might need more time to forgive the U.S. for its cowboy ways.

Meanwhile, it's a Champions League week, with games across Europe, between the top clubs. ESPN broadcast the Arsenal-PSV Eindhoven match. It was an interesting match-up as the two squads are so indicative of the new international face of European soccer. Arsenal had one Englishman in the starting 11, while PSV had two Dutchmen in its starting side. Though Arsenal controlled much of the play, the decisive effort was a long-range strike by PSV's Ecuadorean star, Edison Mendez, who beat Jens Lehman to give PSV the lead in the 61st minute. A few minutes later, PSV's goalie, Garcia, made a nice save to keep out a blast by Arsenal's Fabregas. After that, PSV simply ran down the clock as they kept Arsenal from mounting any further serious threats. The loss really puts the pressure on Arsenal, which reached the Champions Cup final last year, only to lose 2-1 in a memorable struggle against Barcelona. The defending champs, Barcelona, take on Liverpool tomorrow.

It's also Champions Cup time in North America. Although some matches were played last week (including a huge upset loss for Chivas of Guadalajara), play begins tomorrow for the two MLS sides in the competition. The Houston Dynamo take on Puntarenas FC (Costa Rica) and D.C. United takes on CD Olimpia of Honduras. This competition isn't going to have the flair of the European tournament, and the MLS sides will not be in top condition, but it should still be interesting for MLS fans.

For Americans who are more interested in the national side, there is also some news. The U.S. learned its draw for the Copa America. This summer, the U.S. will play in the Gold Cup, which is the championship for the North American/Caribbean region, and the Copa America. The Gold Cup is patterned after the Copa America, which is the competition for South American national teams. In recent years, the top team from CONCACAF has been invited to the Copa America, making the tournament one for bragging rights in the entire Western Hemisphere. This year, both Mexico and the U.S. have been included in the Copa America.

The U.S. has got a tough draw for Group C in the Copa, where they will face Argentina, Colombia, and then Paraguay. The only saving grace is that Mexico may have gotten a tougher draw, having to get through against Brazil, Ecuador and Chile. These are odd draws, as the only serious contenders are all in Groups B and C. Group A consists of Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru, a group that the U.S might have won, if we'd been drawn into a group with any three of those four countries. As it is, the U.S. might be considered the underdog in each of its scheduled Group C matches. The fun starts in June with the Gold Cup and continues into July, with the Copa America.

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