Around the local soccer community, some people have been waiting on this week for every day of the four years since the United States, Canada and Mexico were awarded hosting rights to the 2026 men’s World Cup.
Other people have been waiting for the 12 years since FIFA awarded this year’s men’s World Cup to Qatar — a decision since shown to be laced with bribes and corruption.
Richard Groff has been waiting even longer than that.
More than 30 years ago, he was the US Soccer Federation’s treasurer when organizers of the 1994 men’s World Cup were considering cities. Philadelphia, America’s birthplace, seemed an ideal place on paper.
But efforts to bring games here fell flat out of the gate. Franklin Field wouldn’t work, with artificial turf and all those old bleacher seats. Veterans Stadium needed grass installed, plus work to build out VIP areas and expanded press seating for the world’s media.
On top of all that, the Phillies would have had to leave town for a month and a half.
“That would have been a real hardship,” Groff recalled. “We made sure we got a lot of publicity, but that was a tough ask on the Phillies.”
So the dream of bringing the world’s biggest sporting event here died before it could really begin.
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On Thursday, the dream might finally come true. Just after 5 pm, FIFA will announce the 2026 host cities with a TV show in New York (on FS1 and Universo), and Philadelphia is one of the favorites to win.
There will be a big-screen viewing party in LOVE Park, free of charge, starting at 3 pm It will be soccer’s equivalent of college basketball’s Selection Sunday, with cameras rolling to capture the celebrations or heartbreak.
This time, there are no automatic bids — at least not officially among the US contenders. FIFA has gone to some lengths to ensure that nothing is revealed before it says so.
So there has been speculation across the continent, from media reports to behind-the-scenes power players. Almost all say the same thing: Expect Philadelphia to be picked.
The city’s biggest asset, as it should be, is Lincoln Financial Field. Its pristine grass surface is wide enough for international soccer, which requires a wider field than gridiron football. And many of the stadiums among the 16 bidding cities lack grass, width or both — even the palatial NFL venues in Inglewood, Calif., and Arlington, Texas.
There’s also a distinguished soccer history at the Eagles’ home, from the 2003 women’s World Cup to multiple Concacaf Gold Cups and the 2016 Copa América Centenario. The US men’s and women’s national teams have drawn big crowds for friendlies, as have international club teams. Indeed, the first event ever staged in the stadium was a soccer game: Barcelona vs. Manchester United, 19 years ago.
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Now add in how easy it is to reach the Linc by public transit and nearby highways. SEPTA is viewed in a far more positive light by FIFA than it is by many Philadelphians.
Finally, there is the city’s proximity to other potential hosts, including the New York and Washington areas. FIFA and national teams like reduced travel times between games.
New York’s games would be at the Giants and Jets’ stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, potentially including the final. Washington’s bid combined forces with Baltimore to put games at the Ravens’ home and everything else in the nation’s capital.
Boston is also bidding, with plans for games at Foxborough, Mass. — a site of games in the 1994 men’s and 1999 and 2003 women’s World Cups. But there’s a widespread belief that Boston won’t win this time. The city’s chances appear sunk by a lack of regional cooperation and a distaste for the long drive from downtown to the Patriots’ stadium, which has minuscule public transit access.
The expectation has long been that FIFA will pick 10 US cities, and three each from Mexico and Canada. The tournament will have 48 teams and 80 games across the continent, making it the largest World Cup in soccer history.
Mexico’s part of the equation is easy. All three bidding cities will be approved: Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey. But in Canada, there’s been a plot twist. Sportsnet reported last Thursday that Edmonton will not be picked, leaving Toronto and Vancouver to split however many games (likely 10) the country gets.
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That news hit the US bidders, too. Will FIFA now take more than 10 American cities or stick with its original plan?
They’d especially like to know in Kansas City, Mo., which of all the competitors seems to be the ultimate bubble one.
The conventional wisdom is that New York, Los Angeles, and Miami are as close to locks as there are. Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston are the next batch, because their stadiums have roofs that allow for air-conditioned games in the afternoon — prime time in Europe.
Then come a group of four: Santa Clara, Calif., and Seattle on the west coast, and Philadelphia and Washington/Baltimore in the east.
That’s 10, and Kansas City is No. 11.
Seemingly out are Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, and Orlando, and some of them seem to know it. But for as long as FIFA is able to keep its secret, nothing will be official until Thursday evening.
In the decades since the ’94 failure, Groff has seen everything there is to see in American soccer. He was part of the 2022 US hosting bid that lost to bribe-fueled Qatar, and has served multiple terms on US Soccer’s board of directors (including right now).
Will Philadelphia finally win now?
“I believe,” Groff said, “that this time, without question, the Philadelphia bid is one of the very best bids that FIFA has ever had from a local city.”
We’ll soon find out if it’s enough.