If there's one undeniable strength of the USA's bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups, it's our stadiums. You want big facilities? We got 'em. Lots of 'em. There are enough venues in this country to host three World Cups at the same time. With the US bid due next May, today the committee narrowed the list of potential venues down to 32 stadiums in 27 markets.
In April the committee contacted 70 venues to gauge interest. While the efforts to include the entire country were noble, it was unrealistic to think World Cup games would be coming to Lincoln, Nebraska or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In June requests for formal proposals went to 45 stadiums in 37 markets. (Note to US Soccer: Someone please fix the typo in the headline of that article. "Porposals?") Following the RFP process we have the 27 remaining cities announced today.
The final tournament will most likely include a dozen stadiums as hosts, so here's my take on which 12 US venues would make the best choices in 2018 or 2022.
Soldier Field (Chicago), Cowboys Stadium (Dallas), New Meadowlands Stadium (New York): Giants Stadium hosted one of the two semifinals in 1994, and the new stadium would be among the favorites to host the Final this time. Jerry Jones new monstrosity in Arlington is getting rave reviews, with a Super Bowl and Final Four already on the way. The seating capacity could be expanded to 100,000 for the World Cup. And while 61,000 seat Soldier Field would be among the smaller venues, there's no way Chicago isn't on the list.
The Near Locks
Georgia Dome (Atlanta), Gillette Stadium (Boston), Reliant Stadium (Houston), Qwest Field (Seattle), FedEx Field (Washington): Atlanta isn't known as a soccer town, but the city's experience with the Summer Olympics and the number of flights to and from South America and Hartsfield Airport make Atlanta a logical pick. Houston also has experience with big events and a huge airport to handle crowds. Seattle's enthusiastic response to MLS shows it's one of America's soccer hotbeds, while the Boston area has long supported the game. The only thing keeping FedEx Field off the list of "locks" is the thought that M&T Bank Stadium in near-by Baltimore might get the nod instead due to its downtown location, but the Beltway region will certainly be included in some way.
The California Question Marks
Rose Bowl (Los Angeles), Stanford Stadium (San Francisco): LA and the Bay Area will definitely be hosts, but the question is which stadiums will do the hosting. Issues regarding proposed NFL venues have dogged both regions for over a decade. Recent talk centers around a new 49ers home in Santa Clara, and a stadium in City of Industry designed to lure the NFL back to SoCal. Neither of those are on the current list. Will these projects come to completion? Who knows. For now I'll pencil in the Rose Bowl and Stanford Stadium.
The Last Two In
Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis), Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia): One of the disadvantages to a US World Cup bid is that the size of the country makes it more difficult for fans and players to travel from city to city. To overcome the issue, clustering host cities close together works well. With that in mind, Indy and Philly are my last two selections. Indianapolis is a dark horse, but the city has earned strong marks as a frequent Final Four host and in 2012 gets the Super Bowl. Plus it's just a three-hour drive from Chicago. Situated between New York and Washington, Philadelphia could be part of a "Soccer Express" train taking fans from Boston, New York, Philly and Washington.
Who's Left Out?
The heat of Orlando and Dallas' Cotton Bowl aren't fondly remembered by anyone who played in or attended the 1994 World Cup, so outdoor venues in the Sunshine State are off the list. Games in 108,000 seat Michigan Stadium sound like a cool idea, but anyone who's ever been to Ann Arbor knows that would be a logistical nightmare. Charlotte is a great soccer town and could be a nice pick over Indy, but doesn't have the reputation for hosting big time events.
Finally, I was surprised to see New Orleans not make the cut today. The Big Easy has long been a popular Super Bowl and Final Four venue because of the compact downtown area, including hotels, tourist attractions and the Superdome. On the other hand, setting a group of international soccer fans loose on Bourbon Street might not be the smartest idea, so this could be for the best.