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Five Aside

Despite concerns, U.S. bid for 2018 still strong

The U.S. seemed to be building momentum toward its goal of being awarded the 2018 World Cup. But the USA Bid Committee received a loud wake-up call after Chicago was rejected by the International Olympic Committee early this month.

And, a recent Telegraph story rates Europe ahead of the U.S. for 2018 and noted that Franz Beckenbauer is recommending Australia for 2022.

The Telegraph, naturally, is backing England for 2018. And, the Telegraph displays some flawed reasoning in dismissing the U.S. with the following evaluation: "FIFA vice president Jack Warner made it clear he would help bring the World Cup to North America, and the U.S. is helped by the withdrawal of Mexico. 32 stadiums with an average capacity of 64,000, but still likely to miss out to Europe in 2018."

The two-sentence writing off of the U.S. bid raises questions because:

-- Warner's backing is major, since he virtually controls the CONCACAF region and knows how to make the deals that could attract support from Africa and/or Asia;

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-- Mexico pulled out of its attempt to land the World Cup, indicating further solidarity within CONCACAF;

-- The 32 stadiums with an average capacity of 64,000 is unmatched by any other country. Do the math: 64 matches times 64,000 spectators equals a seriously good chance for a successful bid.

The Telegraph story could just as easily have concluded with "but UNlikely to miss out to Europe in 2018."

But executive director David Downs is expressing cautious optimism.

"At this point, everyone is hard at work on documentation," Downs said last week. "Limited campaigning is going on. But, first, we are making sure we have the right cities and the right stadiums lined up, and contracts are signed, sealed and delivered.

"It is amusing and educational for us to see stories about how it is all going to play out. But it is way too early to start worrying about handicapping the favorites and voting scenarios."

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The committees are working toward a May 14 deadline to present a bid book to FIFA. The U.S. plans to present a short list of 18 cities when it makes a presentation at the World Cup draw in Cape Town Dec. 4.

The path for the U.S. seems clear. Overwhelm FIFA with infrastructure advantages and a chance to set records for attendance and profits. But avoid being arrogant or presumptuous. The U.S. already played the executive office card and, unlike the IOC, which rejected Chicago's Olympic Games bid, FIFA president Sepp Blatter seemed impressed with President Obama's support for the World Cup.

"We would love to have the first one [2018] rather than the second one [2022]," Downs said. "It's like when you were 13 and your father said you could have a bike either this year or next year. You would want it this year. But we would be just as enthusiastic about 2022."

Downs is reminding one and all that the U.S. facts don't necessarily speak for themselves.

"We like to believe one of our main strengths is we have all the things you have to have for the World Cup to be a success on the field, and we are in the process of documenting that," Downs said. "We can't assume everyone knows that. We feel we have an outstanding chance to win and the economic prospects would be enormous for FIFA. But there is a lesson to be learned from the Chicago vote. We have to be prepared to accept that a vote doesn't transpire purely along rational lines.

"It is hard to believe that Chicago was the fourth-best of four options, but there is a process, and it led them to elimination on the first ballot. I don't tend to think they are going to eliminate us on the first ballot. But, Chicago had a compelling bid, and it would have been a terrific site for the Olympics. That sobers you up. Just because you can put an event on, it doesn't mean you are entitled to have it. And that is forcing everyone to take their job seriously, as required, and not make any assumptions that, because we are the U.S., we have any advantage, whatsoever."

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The abundance of stadiums means there is a strong competition to make the short list of 18 cities. The U.S. actually has enough qualified stadiums to play host to two World Cups. But other countries are not going to try to match the U.S. for quantity.

Europe will appeal to a sense of tradition, citing the success of 1990 (Italy), 1998 (France) and 2006 (Germany). UEFA will unite, probably behind England, which believes it is due for the World Cup.

Australia has more than adequate infrastructure and modern stadiums, and will campaign behind opening a new market. Plus, Beckenbauer, who is on the 24-member FIFA organizing committee, is endorsing the Aussies for 2022.

Indonesia is a long shot, but will appeal that it is an emerging market, and a large one with 200 million people. Japan had hoped to tie its hopes to a Tokyo Olympics in 2016, but was trumped by Rio de Janeiro; now, the Japanese have postponed plans for a 100,000-capacity stadium in Tokyo. Qatar is making an ambitious bid, but is another long shot.

The path for the U.S., then, is not clear. But the strength of the U.S. bid will be difficult to match.

Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.


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