Earthquakes

North America mulls soccer World Cup bid in Trump era

world-cup-trophy.jpg
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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

bernardez-1-usatsi.jpg

A heartfelt thank you to former Quakes defender Victor Bernardez

This week, the San Jose Earthquakes announced they would not be bringing back Victor Bernardez next year. 

For most people, this news barely registered on their radar, if at all.  For me, it is the end of the line for one of my favorite players, on my favorite team.

Who was Victor Bernardez?  He was an attacking central defender for the Quakes.  When he played, he constantly made you wonder if he was being overly aggressive, or out of control.  My heart would skip a beat when he would dive in on a tackle, and more often than not, he would come away having made an amazing play.

The first thing that stands out physically about Victor is his strength.  He’s like a bull or an angry rhinoceros -- he played fearlessly and with passion.  I constantly underestimated his offensive abilities.  I can’t count how many times it would look like he was just kicking the ball wildly to clear it, and it was actually a long pass in a perfect place for a counter attack to start.  Through some of the lean years, Victor’s long balls started many of the team's best offensive chances.

He was a relentless player who provided me some of my happiest moments as a fan.  I can clearly remember how despondent I was and how happy I ended up being at the 2012 California Classico at Stanford Stadium.  I had organized a trip for my kid’s soccer club and had over 200 people in our group.  For many, it was their first time to an Earthquakes game.  I wanted them to love the Quakes as much as I did.  Steven Lenhart scored an early goal (and did some pull ups on the goal). Then David Beckham scored, Jason Hernandez scored an own goal, and Landon Donovan put Galaxy up 3-1 in the 41st minute after a misplay by the Quakes defense. 

We were sitting in the end zone, pretty close to the Galaxy supporters group, and I was dreading things would get worse for my boys in the black and blue.  Then, in the 44th minute, Big Vic scored his first MLS goal on a swinging redirect off a Marvin Chavez corner kick, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before or since.  It changed the whole outlook of the match.  Chris Wondolowski capped off the comeback with his unforgettable whirling, back-to-the-goal finish for the game winner.

I won’t forget the free-kick goal Victor scored that same year against Chivas where he took about 14 steps before he shot the ball around a 3-man wall and into the corner of the goal.  Nor will I forget the same approach he took when an opponent try to discourage him from a restart after a foul and stood about 3 yards from the ball.  Instead of asking the referee for 10 yards, he ran up and drilled the guy with the ball.  It deflected out of play for a throw-in and Victor had made his point. I don’t remember an opponent ever taking that same tact with him around.

Victor was listed as six-foot-two, but I was fortunate enough to share an elevator with him once.  I’m 5’10” and all I can think is that they measured him while wearing his longest studs on his cleats.  The truth is, while on the field, he played like he was six-foot-two -- and with the ferocity of lion. 

It was pretty clear this season that the club did not have plans for a 36-year-old center to come back in 2018.  In the middle portion of the season, other players found themselves where Victor had been a constant for years on the back line.  One of the things I am most grateful for is that Victor got a chance to be an impactful player on the run to the playoffs.  His passion for the club, and the game, shone bright.  His aggressive play in the September 30th must-win 2-1 victory over Portland showed the team how it needed to play if it was going to make the playoffs.  In spite of having trouble keeping up with speedster attackers, he was able to shore up a defense that ended the season -21 in goal differential, and get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

There are other ways Victor has impacted my life.  He made me care about the country of Honduras, and how their national team is doing.  I openly cheered for a man nicknamed “Muma”.  I have no idea what it means, but it just sounds cool and makes me feel closer to him, even though our paths have rarely crossed.  He showed me how to be ready for when my number is called after feeling left out for a while.  He exemplified so many of the great things about the game and were a part of my growing love for the sport.  Most importantly, he showed me what can happen if a person puts their heart and soul into their craft, and complements it with humility, humor, and love.

Victor, I wish you well in whatever lies ahead.  Thank you for all the wonderful memories you provided me and my family as we got to watch you ply your trade.

Joe Washington is the senior coordinating producer for NBC Sports Bay Area/California  -- and a lifelong Quakes fan 

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

stahre2.jpg
Michael Erichsen/Bildbyran

Why Quakes' hiring of Stahre is surprising, but not shocking at the same time

When the San Jose Earthquakes named Chris Leitch their head coach around the halfway point of last season, the biggest question wasn’t why, it was why not — as in, why not assign him the interim tag most people hired during the middle of a year get?

At the time, general manager Jesse Fioranelli's sans-interim approach was the GM saying that not only was the label not necessary and that Leitch was the in-house solution the Quakes needed to end a playoff drought going on five seasons but also that he was the right person to guide the team into a brighter future. 

And so that vote of confidence, coupled with Leitch guiding the Earthquakes to their first playoff appearance since 2012, plus the lack of an official announcement by the team that a coaching search was underway makes Friday’s hiring of Mikael Stahre a bit eye-popping and provides no clear-cut answer to what happened behind closed doors when the Quakes came back from Vancouver following a brutal exit from the postseason. 

Rumors began swirling midway through the week that Fioranelli had Stahre, the front man over at Sweden’s BK Hacken, in his sights. And there are those people who would argue the writing was on the wall for Leitch given the team’s inconsistent play — especially on the road. But were it not for some ambiguous, less-than-reassuring endorsements of Leitch following the 5-0 playoff loss that left the door open for just about anything, there are others who would say that Friday’s hiring of Stahre was completely out of left field. 

If anything, it appears Fioranelli, who Quakes fans knew very little about when he was hired as the GM back in January, is continuing a precedent that he’ll pull any trigger at any time. 

Whether Fioranelli’s decision to hire the Swedish head coach is the right thing to do is yet to be seen, obviously. Stahre built his name in Sweden, rising from the junior ranks to the front of a first team that last year jumped six spots in the standings. It’s one of many coaching statistics San Jose lists to try and assure fans they’re getting a true soccer mind for the job in Stahre. 

Fioranelli and team President Tom Fox are saying all the right things to welcome Stahre into the fold, mentioning his ability to relate to players — who reportedly gave Stahre glowing endorsements — as a key reason why he was ultimately chosen to lead the Quakes (read between the lines what you will there given the rumored-sour and still-unofficial departures of former Quakes mainstays Simon Dawkins, Cordell Cato and David Bingham once Leitch took over). 

Moreover, Fioranelli reiterated some of the points in the team’s press release during a conference call Friday afternoon. He mentioned that Leitch would stay on as the team’s technical director — the role he had before becoming the head coach and that the club’s decision to relieve him of the head coaching job had nothing to do with where the club was coming from (read: playoffs) but more so where they wanted to go moving forward (read: as of right now, unclear). Fioranelli said the search was extensive and that Stahre was one of three finalists for the job — including one from South America. He again pointed out that Stahre’s values align with those of the club and he’s a man his former players vouch for.

So, at least at first glance, San Jose is doing its best to make pretty and tie a bow around what was at-a-minimum an awkward firing of Dominic Kinnear and hiring of a man in Leitch who did just enough to justify the change but not enough to warrant extending Fioranelli’s experiment any longer. 

Only time will tell exactly what Fioranelli is creating over at Avaya Stadium.