Earthquakes

North America mulls soccer World Cup bid in Trump era

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AP

North America mulls soccer World Cup bid in Trump era

GENEVA -- When Donald Trump was just a presidential candidate, there was a belief in soccer that the United States, Mexico and Canada would be a strong choice to team up for a North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

That still holds, even now the candidate is now President Trump.

A widely speculated three-way hosting bid by Canada, the U.S and Mexico looks a good option for FIFA. It might yet be the only credible bid - albeit one needing federal governments' support to keep teams, officials and hundreds of thousands of visiting fans safe and secure.

Those visitors - and likely some players - will be from countries that President Trump's administration says are today not welcome.

There is broad agreement in FIFA circles that a World Cup in North America is overdue.

In 2026, it will be 32 years since the regional soccer body known as CONCACAF last had its turn, at the U.S.-hosted 1994 World Cup. The four other continental confederations able to host will have all had at least one turn since then.

What's more, FIFA has barred Europe and Asia from entering the 2026 race by a rule that encourages giving a fair shot to all.

South America and Africa can bid. But South American soccer leaders prefer a centenary World Cup in 2030 including original host Uruguay, and bidding experts say privately that Africa is not a realistic option this time round.

And now the 2026 World Cup will have 48 teams instead of 32, there is even more demand for FIFA-standard stadiums, training camps, hotels and transport links for teams, officials and spectators.

The hosting rights are currently set to be decided by FIFA's 211 member federations in May 2020 - during campaigning for the next U.S. presidential election.

Here are some things to know about the 2026 World Cup, and how it could be affected by President Trump, who will no longer be president in 2026.

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RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Right now, there is no official 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

No FIFA invitation to potential bidders. No American pledge to enter. No formal deals to work with either or both of Mexico and Canada.

More should be known in May. FIFA has said it "defined a set of principles for countries to bid" with new emphasis on human rights compliance after consulting with a Harvard University professor.

The rules should be announced around its annual congress, on May 11 in Manama, Bahrain.

Expect officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico to be the center of attention. It is for them to lead a member federation's bid, not governments.

Still, FIFA seeks assurances that lawmakers will support staging a month-long tournament where federal planning and spending on security is vital.

In the most recent World Cup bid contests, Russia's then-prime minister Vladimir Putin and Qatar's then-Emir were closely tied to their winning bids and were in Zurich to celebrate.

Former President Bill Clinton lobbied in Zurich to support the American 2022 bid which lost a final-round vote to Qatar.

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WHY DOES THE U.S. WANT TO BID?

The World Cup will be the most-watched sports event in 2026. The final draws a verified audience of at least one billion viewers to watch some of the game.

If it is mostly hosted in the United States, it will set tournament records for attendance and commercial income for FIFA.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors would travel to join Americans watching 48 teams play 80 matches over 32 days.

In the 12 host cities - perhaps eight or 10 in the U.S. if co-hosting is approved - and elsewhere, the opportunity to build a stronger soccer culture will be huge.

The 2026 World Cup has seemed destined for the U.S. since the Dec. 2, 2010 loss to Qatar.

Ever since, CONCACAF leaders have said the World Cup must eventually return to the region. That feeling survived the soccer body's turmoil and rehabilitation after many officials were removed by the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation of bribery in international soccer.

Three weeks ago, the prospect of American-led hosting improved when FIFA agreed to add 16 more teams in 2026. That extra organizational load can be carried only by hosts with high-level infrastructure, or willing to fund a multi-billion dollar building spree.

The U.S. could do it alone. It is unlikely Canada or Mexico could.

Three-way co-hosting shapes as an appealing and more diplomatic path for the diverse FIFA membership.

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GOOD NEIGHBORS

The North American option is safe and bankable for FIFA, and a strong message was sent on Jan. 10.

The U.S. and Canadian soccer presidents, Sunil Gulati and Victor Montagliani, were in the FIFA Council room deciding to expand to 48 teams.

Mexico's soccer president, Decio de Maria, also made the trip to Zurich, and took part in informal three-way talks.

The signal was clear, and it helps that both Gulati and Montagliani are fluent Spanish speakers.

There is warmth across North American soccer that is currently missing between President Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, who abruptly canceled a planned visit to Washington this week.

No one is yet ready to confirm that three-way hosting is on, but no one will rule it out.

"We will look at it. We have great relationships with Canada and Mexico," Gulati said in October.

Border issues and a big wall between the U.S. and Mexico could be problematic for a co-hosted World Cup.

National security is always the responsibility of major sports event hosts and FIFA would not want two administrations which are unable to cooperate on World Cup projects.

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VISA ISSUES

Of the seven Muslim-majority countries subject to Trump's executive order banning entry to the U.S., which might qualify for a 2026 World Cup?

Iran and Iraq, maybe, on current form.

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Uzbekistan are also contenders for an expanded lineup.

World soccer has had issues and found solutions to previous entry visa problems for fans and officials.

FIFA insisted Russia should ease its strict visa application process as a condition of hosting the 2018 World Cup. A law signed last year calls for fans buying tickets to get an ID number instead of a visa from the government.

The FIFA meeting in May in Bahrain has already been affected by visa problems. The original venue of Kuala Lumpur was withdrawn by Malaysia, citing problems allowing entry to some delegates, including officials from Israel.

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TRUMP'S PERSONAL SUPPORT

Gulati and Montagliani have spoken cautiously about having faith in Trump's support of sports.

"We will work with him," Gulati said on the sidelines of a U.S. vs. Mexico World Cup qualifying match days after his election. "A bid, if it should happen, relies heavily on cooperation with the government in a number of areas. I look forward to working with (President Trump). He is an avid sports fan."

"A big sports guy and he's proven that in the past," Canada's Montagliani official said at FIFA on Jan. 10 of the U.S. President.

As president-elect, Trump offered backing for Los Angeles' 2024 Olympics host bid which is decided in September.

When the U.S. last bid for the World Cup, Trump was the long-time landlord to CONCACAF in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The soccer body has since left Manhattan for Miami.

Trump Tower also housed the now-disgraced Chuck Blazer, then the most senior American at FIFA during the 2018-2022 bidding, and the star cooperating witness in the DoJ's case that rocked FIFA since May 2015.

One indicted suspect in the case still resides in Trump Tower under house arrest: Jose Maria Marin was chairman of 2014 World Cup organizing committee in his native Brazil.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

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Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

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AP

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.