MOSCOW — Carlos Cordeiro, the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, says he has lost track of the exact number of countries he’s visited and people he’s individually lobbied the past four months as part of an exhaustive effort to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada.
London one day, Bratislava the next, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg …
“We end up in these godforsaken airport hotels,” he said of three well-traveled delegations on separate whirlwind tours. “We tease each other about the shirt that wasn’t washed.”
The campaign is almost over, the final step coming Wednesday when, on the eve of the 2018 World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium, 200-plus national federations in the FIFA family will choose North America or Morocco to stage soccer’s quadrennial tournament in eight years.
The World Cup was most recently in North America in 1994, a U.S.-hosted competition that smashed attendance records and accelerated the sport’s growth in one of soccer’s last frontiers.
On paper, the United Bid, as the three-pronged effort is known, should breeze to victory with a portfolio of existing stadiums and infrastructure, experience hosting major sporting events and the promise of sellout crowds and billions in revenue.
But FIFA is an unpredictable organization, one that eight years ago rejected a solo U.S. bid and awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a small but wealthy Gulf state. Morocco’s bid seemed to gain momentum early this year, but since embarking on their world tour, United Bid officials are growing in confidence.
Asked if their chances have improved since late last year, Cordeiro said in an interview Sunday with several U.S. reporters: “One-hundred percent. We were maybe behind when I think back to where we were in February, but I think we’ve changed the whole face of the bid.”
With co-chairs Decio de Maria (Mexico) and Steven Reed (Canada) making their own trips around the world, Cordeiro said he believes the group has secured support from a growing number of countries.
“We have a path to victory,” he said. “We know where our support is. We are very confident, but a lot can happen in 48 hours. You saw what happened in 2010.”
What has changed since 2010 is the winner will not be decided by a 22-member executive committee but by all eligible federations. The vote is no longer by secret ballot, either. Soon after the results flash on a video screen at Moscow’s expo center, FIFA plans to release the list of how countries voted.
Even with a democratic process and greater transparency, the United Bid has had its work cut out for it.
To help prevent another upset, the first order of business was shoring up support in the Americas. The South American confederation and Central American cluster have said they are on board. Some in the Caribbean have wavered, but Cordeiro said most, if not all, will end up supporting the bid. (As bidding countries, the United States, Mexico and Canada are ineligible to vote.)
The group then targeted Asia, which carries close to 50 votes and doesn’t have strong historical soccer ties to either contender. “An opportunity for us,” Cordeiro said.